Monday, May 3, 2010

Rise of China Triggers External Response Syndrome

In the recent period, international commentaries that discuss the shift in China's foreign policy have increased. These international commentaries opine that with the increased influence of China in the international arena, the attitude of China toward the outside world has also become tough, arrogant, and is gradually giving up its traditional strategy of 'keeping low profile to conserve power.'

The forming of such opinions by international commentaries about China in recent months is based primarily on China's tough stance that was different from the past as reflected in Chinese leaders' handling of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, Washington's arms sales to Taiwan, Chinese currency Renminbi (RMB) exchange rate issue and a series of other incidents such as the withdrawal of Google Search Engine portal from China.

However, through this series of recent events, what the writer of this article observed is that China has neither changed its foreign policy nor has China suddenly become tougher in the international arena than in the past. Such perception is formed when the West becomes worry and concern about the speedy emergence of China and with that concern; the West has developed a sense of loss.

Stand Toward International Community
Let us first take a look at China's reaction at the UN Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen. At the UN Copenhagen Conference, China only insisted on adhering to the 'Kyoto Protocol' and ascertained the Bali roadmap fundamental principles. China did not come out with any new request. On the contrary, it was the United States and European countries that sought to deny the existing global warming negotiation framework and tried to start the negotiation all over again. Therefore, at that Copenhagen Conference, instead of saying China has taken a tough attitude, it is better to say the western countries have kept changing their minds.

As for the so-called incident whereby Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao did not attend the small scale multilateral summit as invited and thus reflected the arrogance of the Chinese leader, such accusation was indeed baseless. For what has transpired on this incident, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has already given a good explanation at the press conference held during the 'two sessions.'

On US President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, although the Chinese Government did come out with strong words and statement in protest of the US President's meeting with the Dalai Lama, such statement was only limited to diplomatic protest. China in fact did not take any concrete action toward such protest. In the past, when the previous US presidents met with the Dalai Lama, China had always staged strong words to protest such US action. As such, judging China's traditional stand on the Dalai Lama issue, although President Obama has met with the Dalai Lama, China's position on this has been the same in the past. China did not sudden change its attitude over this issue.

Enacting Taiwan Relations Act
Now let us look at the US arms sales to Taiwan. Some US scholars opine that in the past the United States has also sold arms to Taiwan, but the Chinese Government's reaction toward it has not been as strong as the current one. However, they claimed that for this round of arms sale to Taiwan, the protest from Beijing was extraordinary strong. However such claim cannot stand the test of time. Ever since the United States enacted the 'Taiwan Relations Act' with Taiwan, the United States has engaged in arms sales to Taiwan for more than 50 times. But unlike the recent one, all the past arms sales to Taiwan only involved tens of millions of US dollars or hundreds of millions of US dollars. In other words, the amounts of arms sales to Taiwan were relatively small in the past.

Even with such a small amount of arms sale to Taiwan then, the Sino-US ties in the past 30 years have gone through many rounds of confrontation over the arms sale to Taiwan issue. In 2001, the US arms sale to Taiwan and the fleet conflicts between China and the United States along the South China Sea have added together and resulted in massive and strong anti-US protests by the people in China. As such as compared with the Obama administration's approval of arms sales to Taiwan, the protest coming from Beijing cannot be considered as too harsh and tough. Moreover, President Obama's announcement on arms sales to Taiwan was as high as $60 billion dollars. For such a large amount of arms sales to Taiwan, China's reaction and the people's response to it has not been particularly strong as compared with in the past.

Google Controversy
Another issue that has led the West to support the 'China becoming tougher and more arrogance' theory is based on China's reaction to the Google search engine portal. Some US media commentaries opined that China did not make any compromise with Google and that China has taken a tough attitude in handling the Google case. But in fact, the network filtering policy was not made by China when the Google controversial emerged recently. Several years ago when Google decided to enter the Chinese market, Google has already accepted such network filtering request from China. The initiator of the Google controversy was not China but Google. Therefore, if people interpreted that the Google case as China trying to impose stringent and tougher controls of network filtering on Google alone, such presumption is difficult to convince people.

Now let us look at China's currency RMB exchange rate issue. Some US media believed that in the past when the United States bought up China's RMB exchange rate issue, China would make concessions and compromises; but this time, China has stood firm on the currency issue. As a matter of fact, each year the US Congress would raise the RMB exchange rate issue however, it the past the annual US Treasury report released in April had never regarded China as 'currency manipulator.' This year, speculation that the US Treasury report would put China as currency manipulator was stirred very hot; and for the first time the US Treasury has delayed releasing such report but it did not refuse the request of US Congress in wanting to list China as 'currency manipulator.' Therefore, on the Chinese RMB exchange rate issue, it was the United States especially the US Government that has taken the hard-line attitude and not China.

Comprehensive Response to Rise of China
As explained above, it is difficult for us to observe that China has become tough. We also cannot observe that China's foreign policy has gone through major adjustment. Nevertheless, why has the international community, particularly the western nations think that China is becoming more rude and arrogant? I am afraid this is due to the fact that the rapid rise of China has triggered such external comprehensive response syndrome.

Since the outburst of global financial crisis, the emergence of China has become even more obvious। While China's speedy economic recovery was obvious, the western economy on the other hand, has become stagnant. As a kind of psychological sense of loss, the West has shifted blame to others. Even China has not changed its foreign policy; the economic rise of China will inevitably continue to become the target of western anger. To describe this phenomenon figuratively, it is as what the Chinese proverb says: 'when the tree becomes big, it will attract wind.'

Global Financial Crisis
In fact, in the process of China's emergence, the West has always maintained suspicious, jealous or even a resistant attitude. As such, during different period of time, all sorts of theory on the so-called the collapse of China, the threat of China, the stakeholder responsibility of china has come to the surface.

After the global financial crisis, China has shown stronger signs of recovery. Some people in the West have again come out with worry and concern about what direction a rising China will go. Moreover the international community has also become even more concerned about how the emergent China will play its influential role in the international arena. Therefore, regardless of what China does and what China says, the international community would like to put China's words and deeds under spotlight to magnify them and to come out with their own interpretation.

The influence of a strong China and the influence of a weak China in the international arena are of course different. As such the attention and the impact caused by the words and acts of a strong China are different from a weak China. This is like what will happen to our daily life as a human being. When a celebrity's words and deeds will attract attention and result in wanton speculation, but an ordinary people's words and deeds are rarely of any concern to anybody.

Toward International Spotlight
Therefore, to the emerging China that is moving toward the international spotlight and international platform gradually, when the same words and deeds China in the past might not stir strong reaction from the international community, but the similar words and deeds carried out by China this year might suddenly lead to media speculation. This is an inevitable response syndrome that can happen to China during the rise of China. This can further explain the reason why when the Chinese feel that their own words and actions have not changed, but the West feel that China is getting tougher and become more arrogant.

Nevertheless, this is the 'growing pain' of most major powers when they began to emerge in the international arena. To the speedy emerging China, this growing trouble has resulted in China has to deal with the increasingly complex range of domestic issues, and that at the same time, in the international arena, China will always have to be concerned about the reaction and feelings of the international community toward its words and deeds of China now. From analytical perspective, if China can keep adjusting its conduct and behavior during its speedily emerging process, China can make the international community feels that there is indeed no change in China's foreign policy.