China's Foreign Policy: The Historical Legacy and the Current Challenge


16 févr. 2014 (il y a 7 années et 5 mois)

251 vue(s)

China's Foreign Policy: The Historical Legacy and the
Current Challenge

China's traditional self
image as a universalistic civilization and a world cultural center has made it difficult to forge an identity in a world of n
states. Against this background, Chinese intellectuals and political leaders have debated the questi
on of how China is to view itself: as a member
of the socialist world, the third world, or the Western
oriented international trading society that encompasses Europe, the Americas, Japan and the
rest of the Pacific Rim. This is not an either/or choice nece
ssarily, but there has been discussion and disagreement within China over what its
strategic stance should be as it forges a new identity as a nation
state in an increasingly interdependent world.

History has bequeathed to China’s rulers three major tasks

in the area of foreign relations.

Task Number One: Economic Development

In the nineteenth century China was invaded by the Western powers, forced to grant extraterritorial privileges, sign unequal
treaties, pay
reparations, and turn to the outside world f
or famine relief, development aid, weapons, and manufacturing skills. To gain its independence the
country had to remake its technology, educational institutions, ideology, laws, and military and political systems on Western

models. Chinese
thinkers believ
ed that nothing less than national survival was at stake.

Chinese economic and technological systems were backward compared to those of the West. This sense of vulnerability created t
he dominating
issue of modern Chinese politics, the search for wealth and

power. Left unsolved by previous governments, the problem remained to be
addressed by the People's Republic when it came to power.

To develop without relying on foreign powers, Mao Zedong and his colleagues devised a system modeled on Stalinism but with a

number of
unique features. They collectivized the land and organized the peasants into communes. The party
state extracted capital from agriculture, used it
to build state
owned industry, and returned the profits to more industrial investment. This led to

rapid industrial growth in the 1950s, although
growth slowed later under the impact of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In three decades China made itsel
f self
sufficient in
nearly all resources and technologies.

However, by the end of
Mao’s life in 1976 China’s economy was stagnant, and technology lagged twenty to thirty years behind world standards
and most Chinese lived in cramped quarters with poor food and clothing, few comforts, and no freedoms. Much of Asia and the w
orld had raced

beyond China toward technical and social modernity.

China’s post
Mao rulers, led by Deng Xiaoping, adopted a different economic development strategy called "reform and opening." Reform meant

changes in the domestic economic and administrative systems, esp
ecially freeing the peasants from the communes so they could farm as families
or engage in local industry, and freeing industrial enterprises to compete in a market environment. Opening meant joining the

global economy,
allowing foreign trade and investmen
t to flourish. China has now become one of the world’s major trading nations and is poised to join the World
Trade Organization which sets the rules for the global trading economy.

Task Number Two: Assuring Territorial Integrity

Traditional China saw itsel
f not as a nation
state, or even as an empire with clearly identified subject peoples, but as the center of the only known
world civilization. In Chinese eyes, other kingdoms and tribes were more or less civilized depending on how close they were t
o China
and politically. Within the sphere of what would later be delineated as Chinese territorial borders, China's cultural and pol
itical influence stretched
from the core provinces, through more remote southern and western provinces, to garrisons in
territories populated chiefly by ethnically non
Chinese peoples.

Beyond these borders, China thought of its relations with most other states as consisting of a tribute system, under which di
stant kings and chiefs
were seen as more or less civilized and loy
al subordinates of the Chinese Emperor. In Chinese eyes, these distant peoples defined their places in
the world in terms of their relations with the Imperial court in Beijing, relations which they maintained by sending occasion
al tribute missions to
their deference to the Emperor. Under the guise of such missions China maintained trade and diplomatic relations with many ot
her countries.

When expanding Western powers reached the perimeter of the Chinese empire, they forced China to define its physical
borders, starting with the
Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. As China became a "semi
colony" in the nineteenth century, it had to give up claims to varying degrees of
paramountcy over Burma, Vietnam, Korea, the Ryukyu Islands, outer Mongolia, parts of Central A
sia and Siberia, and to substantial pieces of
territory which were ceded to India, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Burma, and other states. The bulk of these territorial losses

were accepted by the
People’s Republic of China, but the PRC did fight border wars o
ver contested territory with India, the USSR, and Vietnam, and still has unsettled
claims with Japan and a number of other countries.

The separation of Hong Kong and Macao also had their origins in the nineteenth century. These colonies were returned to Ch
inese control
peacefully in 1997 and 1999.

The most difficult legacy of territorial consolidation was Taiwan. Taken as a colony by Japan in 1895, it was returned to Chi
nese control under the
Nationalist regime in 1945. But after 1949 Nationalist
ruled Taiw
an neither reunified with mainland China nor declared independence from it,
posing one of the major continuing problems for PRC diplomacy.

Within China's borders as well, there are some issues of territorial control. China defines itself as one people cons
isting of the majority Han (ethnic
Chinese) plus 55 "national minorities" such as the Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, and Kazaks. Several of these minority groups a
re dissatisfied with
Chinese rule and harbor significant independence movements. The independenc
e movements have some degree of international support, thus
making internal control within the borders into an issue with resonance in China’s foreign relations.

Task Number Three: Establishing National Identity

The Westernizing May Fourth Movement that be
gan in 1919 was sparked by outrage at Western betrayal of China's interests at the peace
negotiations ending World War I at Versailles. While European ideologies had their roots in European culture, China's ferment

was reactive in both
motive and content.
Chinese tried to decide whether they should totally Westernize their culture, or whether there was something in it that was
worth saving.

In 1949 Mao Zedong declared, "China has stood up." With his "Sinification of Marxism," Mao claimed to have combined a
national identity with a
cosmopolitan one, and to have forged a world
class model of thought and society that was distinctively Chinese.

But Mao's death initiated a new period of debate over China’s place in the world. In the era of reform and opening, the

disagreement between
those who favor and those who oppose Westernization (often referred to respectively as "liberals" and "conservatives") remain
ed the fundamental
cleavage of Chinese politics.

The problem of cultural identity infuses every aspect of Chi
na's foreign relations. Schoolchildren learn about nineteenth century Western
imperialism: Treaty Ports and concessions (foreign
governed areas in Chinese cities), foreign leaseholds and spheres of interest, extraterritoriality
(by which foreigners in Chin
a charged with crimes were judged under foreign laws by foreign judges), "most
nation" clauses which
required China to extend low
tariff treatment to all its trading partners regardless of whether they did the same in return.

Chinese nationalism is

thus powered by feelings of national humiliation and pride. In turn, it generates debates about why China is weak and how
it can be strong; about lost territory; and about reclaiming a leading position in the world. With the fading of the Communis
t Party'
s utopian ideals,
nationalism remains its most reliable claim to the people's loyalty. The only important value still shared by the regime and
its critics, it unites
Chinese of all walks of life no matter how uninterested they are in other aspects of polit
ics. Many Chinese see themselves as a nation
beleaguered, unstable at home because insecure abroad, and vulnerable abroad because weak at home.

The consultant for this unit is Andrew J. Nathan, professor of Chinese politics at Columbia University. The unit

draws from Andrew J. Nathan and
Robert S. Ross,
The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China’s Search for Security

(New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).

Discussion Questions


Assume the role of one of China's leaders and explain why economic development is
important to China's national security.


How did China traditionally view itself and its position in relation to other outlying peoples and cultures? How is this diff
erent from its
position today in a world of nation states?


List some of the factors and sen
timents that contribute to Chinese nationalism today. Would you characterize these as "positive" or
"negative," or both?


Consider and discuss what Mao Zedong meant when he said in 1949 that "China has stood up."