An Assertive China the 'New Normal'?
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An Assertive China the 'New Normal'?


Recent diplomatic and economic disputes between China and the West have caught many by surprise. It wasn’t all that long ago that China could do no wrong. Besides its seemingly unstoppable economic growth, the country was said to be acquiring soft power, earning respect and charming its way around the world. Its leaders were regarded as smart, sophisticated and far-sighted. Its diplomats were praised as diligent, knowledgeable and smooth.

It’s doubtful that such adjectives would be applied to them today.

Economically, Beijing’s mercantilist trade policy is seen by many as one of the principal causes of global economic imbalances. Its foreign policy is criticized as assertive and bullying. Meanwhile, China’s harsh response to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a leading dissident languishing in a Chinese jail cell, has struck nearly everybody in the West as excessive and counterproductive.

So what’s going on? How could a country that had been relatively effective in calming fears of its growing power and portraying its rise as ‘peaceful’ so suddenly engage in such nasty disputes with the same Western powers that have played an essential role in its astonishing economic ascendance? Is this dramatic downturn in relations between China and the West a temporary aberration or a new normal state of affairs?

Before trying to answer this question, it’s necessary to point out that the Chinese themselves—both its leaders and ordinary citizens—don’t see their recent conduct as assertive at all. In their eyes, China has merely been defending its legitimate national interests. There’s nothing wrong with claiming the South China Sea as part of China’s ‘core interests,’ resisting US-led pressures for currency revaluation, confronting Japan over disputed islands, or expanding its economic reach in resource-rich developing countries.

And this is precisely where the problem lies. At one level, it can be seen as a problem of conflicting perceptions: the Chinese and the West simply see the same set of issues from starkly different perspectives. At a deeper level, however, the growing tensions between China and the West originate from more powerful and enduring dynamics. As long as such dynamics continue to shape Chinese definitions of their interests and Western responses, the world is likely to see repeated disagreements or even acrimonious confrontations between China and major Western powers.

The most important—and obvious—dynamic at work is the rapid shift of the balance of power between the West and China. An inevitable consequence of this shift, which has strengthened China rapidly in relative terms, is how Chinese elites perceive their interests and pursue them. Before China acquired its current economic, diplomatic and military capabilities, some realists in the West predicted that China would act like a great power when it became one, regardless of its rhetorical commitment to a ‘peaceful rise.’ Recent Chinese foreign policy conduct seems to have vindicated this forecast.

Yan Xiansheng
January 26, 2011 at 08:03

Without the “cheap” and “not qualitative” (nevermind your grammatical blunder) goods that the world recieves from China, people throughout the world who cannot afford western-made (and much more expensive) products would suffer drastic decreases in their standards of living. Imagine, sir, if you would, a department store you may be familiar with (preferably one frequented by people from all walks of life). Now, imagine that same store without any goods made in China. Not only would that leave only goods at the very least twice or three times more expensive than goods made in China, but if the Chinese goods were truly removed from the market, the overall market supply of almost all manufactured goods would be significantly reduced. As a result the already more expensive western-made goods would be even MORE expensive. Perhaps you, as what, an engineer and manager have the kind of income that could sustain purchases of such expensive goods. Consider, however, that there is a far greater population that cannot afford to live in such a world without seriously reducing their consumption.

Would a little more quality control be nice? Certainly, but financial feasability is no joke.

Small Head Filling Big Hat
November 28, 2010 at 16:11

Albania? Of all white European nations, this is surely one nation with such an oddity to claim itself as an integral part of a pedigree white, Christian-Protestant mainstream Caucasian brotherhood.

Just look at this country’s embarrassingly misfit role in the EU: a 4th-world impoverish economy, leftover medieval Islamist-fascist feudal state credential, an ex feverishly Stalinist-communist-anti-imperialist/capitalist-state turned ardent pro western nation which owes its existence only as a convenient tool of the west to subvert & dismember the old Yugoslavia (an ultra nationalist Slav-based neutral state acting stubbornly & inconveniently as a bulwark against Nato’s eastward expansion & more……

With this famously shameful past behaviours (turning so easily & effortlessly left & right in search of political & economical largesse), can we take any utterances seriously from any of its nationals? Dreaming of a Greater White Europe? Wishful dreaming, for Albania is never considered a rightfully & legitimately an integral part of mainstream European nation in the first place!

yang zi
November 26, 2010 at 07:24

very funny.

who do you think you are? in this globalization age, the elite in the West (you are not included) makes money globally, they are the ones profiting from China. you on the other hand, will be left behind eating dust by your fellow man, just like poor people in China, who is marginalized by the rich in China.

yang zi
November 26, 2010 at 04:13

If US want to be a Nazi country, your plan might work.

I think what you see is the fact that many Chinese love the culture and values of US, but hate the policies of US as a country. This is a contradiction that many Chinese can’t get use to. Even though U.S. is a democracy and has a lot of freedom domestically, but it is a bully in the international affairs, a fierce defender of self interest.

Many Chinese, even though well educated, cannot deal with this duality. Their thinking is more simple and straightforward. They believe you have to be consistent and do what you preach. The hostile words they say towards US, is actually come from the values and culture they learn from US. Ironic, but true.

Case in point, the fiercest pro independent Tibetans in China, are the ones with good education in China. Chinese education is full of text against imperialism, colonialism and Japanese invasion. This ideology is handy when they think Tibetan vs Han Chinese.

just like sanctions cannot stop N. Korea’s progress in atom bomb technology, your suggestions will not stop China’s so called “rise”. China is already in a stage that you can’t contain. it might get stronger and definitely more hostile if you do. China can make thousands of nuclear bombs on its own, can hit the whole US. this will not take too much effort.

last point, China can go nuts, since they are defending the interests dear to them, sort of life or death if you will, they are more resolved to retaliate than US, which is just trying to maintain to be a top Cop, not a “core” interest.

the final analsys, it is better to coexist. US need to reflect on its role, it is currently paying security bills for the world but not getting real returns. this model is not sustainable. US need to be patient and wait for China to come around and be a real partner, this might take 10 years.

John Chan
November 26, 2010 at 02:02

@George Mifflin, you comment is menacing and disturbing. From your comment I guess you either work as prison guard in Guantanamo Bay, in Homeland Security, TSA, CIA or any organization needs insanity or hideous character. I guess the era of Cuban crisis and McCarthy is more suitable for you than the current era of apparent peace and prosperity of the world. “1984” is a fiction for the author to make a living, it is not a reality.
The current failed state of the US is its own making, not caused by China, USSR, Iran, North Korea, or anybody else. The paranoia in the US, the EU, Japan and India is created by the Wall St. and the Military Industrial Compound to divert attention of their sin of egoism from the general public.
The following videos tell you what the concerned US citizens are doing to save their beloved nation instead of carrying burning hate like you toward scapegoats like China. Please watch these videos, it will make you a better man, and make peace with yourself as well as the world.
“The Crash Course” –
“End of Liberty” –

Drita Cico
November 26, 2010 at 01:27

China for a long time very carefully and professionally observed the West,
copied and applied West achievements especially after ’70s.

It is not honest at all from the side of China to provide extensively to the West its cheap, not qualitative products, with a very bad and strange smelling air of its products Made in China. This happened around 2000. This led to crises or closure of many private activities in Europe, while China made a lot of money in e few years and is “frantically” becoming ready to “buy” the West, when West had somehow snare in its throat. All that at the time when the West was in its first step of global crises, exploited two years ago because of reaching its economical saturation point of its free market application.

Europe needs a well-organized and united bourgeoisie responsible not only for its own business, but for the Europe as a whole.
The time of torn door policy is over.
The bad smelling air of products made in China or elsewhere reminds me what my oldest son Parid told me sometime ago about the great Romans of 2000 years ago.
I asked Parid, where are today these great Romans. He replied me that they disappeared. Astonished, I said: How? Parid told me that they were degraded because of drinking wine, kept for years in barrels with lead content, therefore they gradually got sick and died.

China must be satisfied with its huge domestic trade. This will bring a much better life for all of Chinese people, so they will become “fat” people, lazy
and thus less sly and ambitious as they have been towards us, after WW II.
On the other hand, Europe from the West to Russia should make its life fully based in its economy characterized so far by its very good products made in Europe. So, we will keep on our factories, get people employed and improve our lives and protection from outside Europe.
We whites should be careful and never forget that we live in the time of
revanche from other races in a growing stage and level.
We, whites, should be able to read inside the spirit of other races and act
according to the reality.
That, I think is an united Europe from the West to Russia (including Russia), and “closure the door around Europe” and live in it with open eyes.
In figurative way we are in the position of Roman’s protection with shields over European heads.
It is a popular expression, which I have heard since I was little girl in my town Korca, that is:
“When the gypsy had become with a lot of money, he killed his father”.

Drita Cico, Mrs., 52 years old
Electronic Engineer
Head of Radio Tirana Monitoring since 1981
& Short Wave Frequency Manager from 2005

John Chan
November 26, 2010 at 00:26

This article is a typical production of anti-China machinery disguised as impartial analysis. After reading the article, one cannot help to conclude that the people in the anti-China camp are born double-talker, a man with two faces, and people talk from both sides of their mouths. As illustrations in the article demonstrated that the anti-China clique set specious high bars for China on their own, then they fabricated facts and distorted truth to blame China failed the high bars, after that they use those created failures to demonize China and its people with strong racial undertone. The article indicated that everything the West did is for the freedom in trade, liberty, etc. When China did the same thing, it is destructive, danger to the world and mercantilist. How worse can anybody be than those guys on the Wall St. who brought poverty, misery and chaos to the whole world while they are lining up their pockets with billion of dollars they scammed out from ordinary Joe of the world. China’s defence against the US and Japan aggression is exaggerated as “an-assertive-china-the-new-normal” with peace threatening implication. The author and the people in the anti-China camp are nothing but moral vacuumers.
The world will be a lot more peaceful without those busy bodies like the author and the people from the anti-China camp sowing discord and inserting wedges in everywhere in the world.

November 25, 2010 at 18:06

Change US in the place of China and vice versa, then read your comments – how dreadful it will be !!!
It will sound more like communist propaganda :-D

November 25, 2010 at 14:43

China has every legitimate right on this earth to do what is right and defense itself.
Why China has to be subjected to all kinds of undue interference from the west?
It sounds as if the west is everything and even above God! The west has its good values but not everything on this earth. In term of history and civilization China
stands above all other nations on this earth! Why China`s rise has to go through the west(their approval and non approval)? The model of the west has failed and many its own people are now suffering. Without China the whole western economy would have gone into the abyss. US is technically bankrupt so as most EU countries right now. Moreover, China has the every right to claim back its territories lost after the WW2 and build whatever arms necessary to defense China. China works extra hard and extra diligent and benefit other nations as well China is entitle to do anything it deems fit in term of its economy and military. China is just following the universal laws and no
nations on the surface of this earth reign supreme above such law.

November 25, 2010 at 14:13

I believe Minxin Pei did not balance the equation of “Chinese assertiveness” on one side with the cowardly, degenerative impotence of the US political elite on the other.

The rise and challenge of pigmy powers such as Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Burma, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, etc. could only take place during a period of a slow, debilitating, decline of a former superpower – the US. These are the conditions for China’s rise.

We are seeing the beginning signs of a “multi-polar” world “The Spring and Autumn Period” and it does not look good because it will be followed by a “Warring States Period.”

This weakness of the US political elite is a by-product of its half-century struggle with the former Soviet Union. The political and military elite that led that struggle were more ruthless, confident, and determined.

Today’s US political elite are a pusillanimous lot of corrupt, craven, opportunists who, as Lenin said, “will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

As a dialectical process, “the supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal, and inviolable law of the universe.”

A New China is rising in the wake of the US decline. However, China must be careful; the US is a declining power, it is a “paper tiger” but it has nuclear teeth.

The political elite in the US have lost their vigor, their boldness, their desire to rule; China’s elite, on the other hand, has become stronger, more confident, and experienced.

However, Minxin Pei exhibits signs of naive, adolescent cockiness when he does not warn that a future of “prolonged periods of elevated tensions and frequent disputes” will also end in war.

“. . . in given conditions, each of the contradictory aspects within a thing transforms itself into its opposite, changes its position to that of its opposite.” Mao Tse-tung

The US still has the potential to change its weak, incompetent, “politically correct” leadership in the White House into a stronger, more competent leadership; and China can also change its, so far, cautious, wise leadership into the reckless adventurism of a North Korea.

Minxin Pei needs to re-study the history of rash, rising powers and learn what happens when the “new normal of ‘frequent disputes’ turns into the ‘old normal’ of war.

George Mifflin
November 25, 2010 at 13:23

Wise words, and balanced commentary from Dr. Pei.

The West has been far too sensitive to Chinese economic and political concerns over the last four decades. It is clear that Wall Street-style globalization leads to the transfer of wealth out of the United States and other non-mercantilist states. The US will have to learn to fight fire with fire: tariffs, tight restrictions on foreign activity (no more PRC grad students in science or math graduate programs) and a narrow favoring of only those foreign individuals and companies who cooperate with American industrial, technological and political goals and advance American interests in their own country. The US will need to monitor the writings and activity of all PRC academics, politicians and businessmen, particularly any traveling through the United States or allied nations. Listening devices should be placed on all these individuals and we should track their movements, speech acts, and other relevant activities. Those PRC individuals who spread anti-American hate should be denied visas to the West (all 50+ NATO countries and allies) their assets should be confiscated; their persons and their relatives and friends, if living or traveling in any of the NATO countries should be arrested and held in detention facilities until due restitution is made. The US has an existing stockpile of thousands of nuclear warheads and the capacity to produce thousands more. We have the will and ability to forward deploy them along the borders of any hostile regimes, and dare any country to challenge US sovereignty. The American people and all of the peoples of the West are tired and angry of hostile foreigners who steal US technology, industry and jobs and then spit in our faces. These individuals need to be arrested, and collective punishment must be meted out to them, their friends and relatives. The time for forgiveness will come only after they have ceased harassing our civilization. The PRC regime indiscriminately arrests foreigners in PRC territory all the time — there is no reason why the US and its multitude of allies can not follow suite.

November 25, 2010 at 02:32

It is about time that China can develop the spine to stop being bullied around all the time at the whims of the West. If the West want to overthrow foreign governments and causes, they can do it to one and another and other weak countries. China is not Iraq. China needs to make the West understand it, use force if needs to be.

yang zi
November 25, 2010 at 01:25

very sobering comments.

My theory is this kind of dispute is good for both China and West. the low level conflicts, as long as it does not get out of control, allows both sides to adjust. by doing this, China can find its purpose in the world, figure out how to coexist with other powers, what kind of values should it adopt. Western powers also need a period to reflect.

China should eventually embrace liberal values and be a part of western culture, but this is a long road and require wisdom and patience in both west and china. but this is very difficult when people are unemployed.

China need to formulate a vision for the world, in this vision, it should explicitly recognize the interests of western powers, sort of a picture of the future in which western values and culture are respected.

November 24, 2010 at 21:58

Peaceful rise was always a smokescreen. More like, we will be peaceful until we judge it in our interests not to be. They have decided ( in my view very prematurely ) that now is time to take the gloves off. Dumb decision but that’s the way it is.

November 24, 2010 at 20:42

The West? Give me a break from the “West vs East” old excuse. China’s ally North Korea just killed two south koreans civilians with an artillery attack after they unveiled a shiny new uranium enrichment plant.

China response to latest security crisis in Asia?

Korea’s clash while China watches
“…What is China’s reaction to all this? “We have taken note of the relevant report and express concern over the situation … This situation will be verified. We hope relevant parties will contribute their part to peace and security on the Peninsula,” said Hong Lei, of the Chinese foreign ministry. It sounds even milder in Chinese than in translation. The verb used for “taken note” is the kind of language you use if you “take note” of two housewives bickering on the street as you walk by in the morning on your way to work. It’s the kind of “taking note” where you decide this is none of your business. In short, President Barack Obama has asked China to “make clear to North Korea that there are a set of international rules that they need to abide by.” But judging by China’s “taking note”, don’t expect officials here to say anything of that sort to Pyongyang…”

Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent based in China.

Chinese media reaction?

“…”North Korea showed its toughness during the skirmish,” the Global Times said in an editorial that also criticised the “failure of the hardline policies” of the current South Korean government towards its northern neighbour…”

Give a pat in the shoulder to North Korea is how China encourage peace in Asia?

And let’s not forget whose fault is that Kim’s monarchy got the machines for the uranium enrichment plant.

“…They also show troubling procurement scheme, particularly with commercial entities in China. I have previously stated my concern about potential cooperation and exchanges in uranium technologies between North Korea and Iran,” he writes…”

U.S. nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University

“…North Korea had used China either directly or indirectly, as a transshipment point, to procure items for enrichment. “Most believe that China views North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as destabilizing to the region,” the report said. “Nonetheless, China is not applying enough resources to detect and stop North Korea’s illicit nuclear trade.” ISIS stressed there was no evidence that Beijing was “secretly approving or willfully ignoring exports” to its neighbor to strengthen the North’s nuclear weapons program. Mark Fitzpatrick, proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said he believed Chinese private firms and individuals, rather than state authorities, may have assisted Pyongyang. “Chinese middlemen, undoubtedly, are a major part of North Korea’s procurement network,” he said…”

China is a “responsible” great power? Do it look like they are helping to keep peace in Asia? Do it look like they are helping to make Korea a nuclear free zone?

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