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It has been several years now since China surpassed Japan to become the second largest economy in the world. Becoming the world’s No. 2 economy was an important milestone and an exceptional feat that proves China’s leaders were right to reshape and open up the economy.
Thirty years ago, China’s open-door policy pulled the nation from the brink of collapse. And since 2003, one by one, China’s GDP has surpassed that of Britain, France and Italy – all members of the G7 group of industrialised countries. This growth has helped China accomplish much more than a title on a list—as the global economy sank to its lowest since the Great Depression, China’s economic engine was able to keep humming along.
Firmly embracing its economic success, China has underpinned its leadership on a regional and global scale by adopting a policy that bases its relationship with its neighbours on economic opportunities. Through trade and investment, China has sought to share the fruit of its growth with others in the region. To a great extent, this strategy has been beneficial in promoting a more stable region and in helping to ameliorate the global economic crisis.
However, now is not the time for China to take it easy. On the international stage, debates are raging over how China should manage its power, and how the rest of the world should react.
China in the face of America’s Asia Pivot
A stronger economy has given China a greater voice on the global stage. As a result, much talk of late has centered on how China should play a responsible role in the global community. As the challenges thrown up by America’s strategic pivot towards Asia have shown, China’s strategy of building relationships strictly on economic co-operation is not enough, and political and security concerns must also be addressed. In fact, the nascent geopolitical disputes in Asia have already begun to rise to the forefront.The US presence in Asia will only grow now that the Americans are slowly extricating themselves from the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is throwing a spanner in the works of China’s relationship with the rest of Asia, particularly its neighbours. US officials and analysts like to describe the bilateral relationship as one of co-operation and competition; in the context of China’s relations in its neighbourhood, Washington and Beijing are clear rivals.
China is prepared to meet the challenge, but it should also fully prepare for any crisis. Moreover, Chinese diplomacy in the region must be more proactive to shore up the country’s influence.
Sino-US rivalry is risky, and leaders on either side are well aware that any mishandling could lead to devastating conflict. This is why, over the past year, China has been clear that it is seeking a new path, which, according to the outgoing President Hu Jintao, can “prove that the traditional belief that big powers are bound to enter into confrontation and conflicts is wrong, and seek new ways of developing relations between major countries in the era of economic globalization.”
Strategic moves as important as economics
It’s important to know that America’s policy in Asia is founded not on economics, but on a vision of a secure and stable strategic order in the region. That this vision of a common good – coupled with the values that America likes to champion – is attractive to countries in the region is unsurprising.
For the rest of this article, and other in-depth features, visit The BRICS Age Magazine.