Will a more mature, developed, and self-confident China be a cooperative partner or a strategic adversary? For more than three decades, American foreign policy has been predicated on the desirability of encouraging China’s entry into the global community of nations, with the expectation (as articulated by Richard Nixon in a famous 1967 essay in Foreign Affairs) that a globally engaged China would be less hostile, less dogmatic, and more “civilized.”
Opinion remains deeply divided on how well this optimistic prophesy has fared to date. On the one hand, China’s rise has been marked by a generally cautious, non-confrontational approach to international relations. With the sole major exception of the Taiwan issue, on which Chinese policy remains rigid and unyielding, the PRC has acted flexibly and pragmatically in world politics since 1980. Among other things, it has become a responsible member of the World Trade Organization; refrained from exercising its veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council; supported international nuclear nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, and anti-drug trafficking initiatives; actively participated, since the late 1990s, in 15 UN peacekeeping operations in such places as Cambodia, Haiti, East Timor, Lebanon and Congo; taken the lead in organizing and hosting six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament; become an active, cooperating partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and entered into negotiations to resolve longstanding territorial disputes with several of its neighbors, including Russia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Vietnam, Nepal, and India. This is an impressive record of responsible behavior.