China's Rise: To Fear Or Not To Fear?

Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Alter reflects on a recent trip to China and attempts to diffuse fears of China’s rise by highlighting an emerging outlook of moderation expressed by Chinese experts as their nation asserts itself on the international stage:

I talked to a senior Chinese policy analyst about the new attitude. He had always heard that money talks, he said, but now it seems that all of China’s money still doesn’t let it get a word in edgewise at the International Monetary Fund and other global forums. He compared the U.S. to the Qing Dynasty, which he said had the highest GDP in the world but collapsed a century ago because it grew complacent and failed to reform. His critique of the U.S.’s failure to get its act together on issues like education and budget deficits was accurate, but startling in its intensity. We learn from you, he said, but you think you have no need to learn anything from us.

And yet like the other sophisticated analysts we met, he showed no sign of thinking the military can solve political problems. He argued that China has benefited so much from international institutions that it has zero interest in disrupting them or jeopardizing all its accomplishments by threatening world peace. Problems should be solved by lawyers, he says, not soldiers.

Happily for the world, the “other means” for extending politics has so far meant economic competition and integration, not Clausewitz’s war. Being vigilant doesn’t mean that we always have to assume warlike intentions on the part of other major powers. When China’s top general, Chen Bingde, visited the National Defense University in Washington in May, he quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

That’s good advice for both countries.

Meanwhile, as Europe looks to China to bolster its rescue fund, Reuters reports that political winds in the EU have hindered China’s offer for aid in exchange for increased influence at the IMF:

China had offered help in return for European support to grant it either more influence at the International Monetary Fund, market economy status in the World Trade Organization, or the lifting of a European arms embargo, said the sources, both of whom have direct knowledge of the matter, including one who has ties to the leadership in Beijing.

The IMF route would have been the simplest diplomatically, especially after European Union leaders last month laid out a plan to leverage up the resources of its crisis-fighting fund through an IMF-backed investment vehicle.

But the sources in Beijing say that this option was abruptly closed to China when it became clear to EU politicians that any investment from China would be contingent on gaining a greater say in IMF decision-making and a more rapid path to inclusion of China’s yuan in the IMF’s special drawing rights (SDR) currency unit.

See also previous CDT coverage of China’s rise and its role in the resolution of Europe’s debt crisis.


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