China, a power arisen in the region and globally – Weekly editorial

Author: Peter Drysdale

China’s sheer scale, its geography and, of course, its history made it a significant power in world affairs before its remarkable economic rise over the last three decades (see our Quarterly). China has suddenly transformed itself from being a ‘small’ economy to being a ‘big’ economy, in terms of its impact on world trade and output, world prices, its role in international capital flows and financial markets, its impact on the global commons (including the environment and climate) and its stake in managing the international economic and political system.

This week’s essay, by Satoshi Amako, a noted Japanese scholar of contemporary Chinese politics, observes that the dominant concerns of Chinese political leaders are domestic, focused on China’s economic and social transformation. In that context, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have emphasized the notion of a harmonious society. They are acutely aware of issues that threaten this vision, such as unemployment, problems of environmental degradation, dissatisfaction among minorities and nationalism amongst the country’s youth. These challenges seem to recommend that China adopt a low posture on the global stage and concentrate of dealing with its considerable domestic problems.

China may hanker for the time when, as Deng advised, it could concentrate on domestic affairs and sort out the immense problems of development in that huge country. Amako reminds us that, as a great power already, China no longer has that luxury. Its impact on global affairs causes such feedback effects on its own development ambitions that it must now deal with its global role as a priority and we must help it in order to succeed on any front. This is a new circumstance for Asia and the Pacific, although we know something of the dangerous problems that can come with it through experience in the transition of power that accompanied the rise of Japan historically.

This is where ideas about how regional architecture might evolve to assist with the accommodation of China’s new economic and political power are important.

China’s vision for regional integration, Amako argues, fits neatly into its current strategy to project what is predominately ‘soft,’ rather than ‘hard’ power. In recent years China has actively courted countries outside East Asia, such as India, and this augurs well in facilitating China’s continued integration into both the East Asian region, and the global community more broadly.