The years following the triumph of the China’s Communist revolution, the state continued its political consolidation and strengthening. During this period China maintained the strategic position of an observer, holding its position as the world was divided in two ideological camps. As espoused by one of the nation’s great leaders, Deng Xiaoping, the PRC’s survival as an independent sovereign nation lent the country to “observe developments soberly, maintain our position, meet challenges calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, remain free of ambition and never claim leadership (Foot 2006: 84).”
From a period of relative self-enclosure and self-sufficiency after the Maoist revolution of 1959 and during the Cold War era, the People’s Republic of China has since begun to embrace the world. It has been doing so since Deng Xiao Ping’s reforms of 1976. The four modernisations of industry, agriculture, national defence, science and technology could not be achieved without greater engagement with the international community. The focus on domestic economic restructuring necessitated greater external relations. It has thus been the PRC’s ‘grand strategy’ to establish various relationships with key actors and to make China a relevant partner in world affairs. The successive governments in the past years have worked hard to shed its ‘pariah state’ status and to gain a reputation as a responsible international actor. This is a status the PRC must work even harder to maintain and further cultivate as it continues its peaceful development.
Thus in 1979 the leadership worked to achieve détente between the PRC and the United States (Barnett 1977). The Open-Door policy allowed the entry of foreign investors to do business in select Special Economic Zones. In the height of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the PRC showed solidarity with its regional partners, the ASEAN states and South Korea by choosing not to devalue the Renminbi even at a significant cost.
In the area of security China had signed 85-90% of arms control agreements by 1996, including the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. China’s Good Neighbour Policy has also engendered institutionalised security cooperation with its neighbours to the south, north and west. In August 2002 was China ready to be the 1st state to sign the protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. In November of the same year the PRC became a signatory of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Seas during 6th China-Asean Summit. China plays a pivotal role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and has maintained a constructive partnership with the Russian Federation in tackling the threats posed by terrorism, separatism and extremism in the Central Asian region.
The PRC’s attitude towards one of the oldest multilateral institutions, the United Nations, has also changed significantly. It is, after all, legitimate and completely rational in the Marxist cannon for the ideological to follow the material. It has been in the PRC’s material interests – the pursuit of great wealth – to engage the international community. In 1965 China viewed the UN with more than mere suspicion, calling it “a dirty international political stock exchange in the grip of a few powers.” By 1995 it deemed the UN “the largest and most authoritative intergovernmental organisation in the world.” China’s membership in international organisations was a mere 2 in the 1960s. In a span of three decades this rose to 52 (Kim 2004: 42).
Since the reforms of the late 1970s, China has succeeded in the modernisation of its economy by becoming integrated into the global economy.
China’s trade with Asia exceeds that outside the region. Although the United States remains its major export market and the European Union the third. Almost one-third of China’s exports are destined for the US, while 50 percent of total exports are manufactured on behalf of American firms.
The People’s Republic of China has relied on the ‘unipolar stability’ guaranteed by the United States and the institutions it has initiated to regulate world affairs in order to pursue its immediate goals of prosperity. Its gross per capita product has enjoyed an average growth rate of 10.3 percent from 1980 to 1990 and 9.7 percent from 1990 to 2002 (excluding Hong Kong S.A.R.).
Foreign direct investments (FDI) are a crucial component to China’s modernisation efforts. FDI also highlights the enmeshment of Asian economies with that of China. As of 2003 for example, 70 percent of total FDI were from investors in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. 30 percent are from the US and EU.
The SEZs set up across Taiwan have proven irresistible to Taiwanese entrepreneurs. So much so that Taiwan’s National Security Report declared a threat the ‘over-concentration’ of Taiwanese trade in the mainland. As of 2005, 71 percent of approved overseas investment was in China which has resulted to three-fourths of Taiwanese manufacturing is made in the mainland.
China is not yet a major engine of global growth, but in 2002 it generated 15 percent of world economic growth and 60 percent of global export growth (Harris 2004: 62). In choosing to become the ‘factory of the world’ in the international division of labour, China has achieved its goals of becoming a relevant actor and has earned the status of an important ‘stakeholder’ in the current global order.
It is China's strategic choice to maintain the status quo. The modernisation of its economy is indeed reliant on the current system. It remains on the path of what it has called a ‘socialist market economy.’ The leadership recognises that a peaceful international environment is crucial in achieving this goal.
Peace and development remain the principal themes in today's world, and the overall international security environment remains stable...To address development and security issues through coordination, cooperation and multilateral mechanism is the preferred approach of the international community. The United Nations' status and role in world affairs are being upheld and strengthened. World wars or all-out confrontation between major countries are avoidable for the foreseeable future...Hegemonism and power politics remain key factors undermining international security (Chinese Defence White Paper 2006).
Economic security and globalisation have entered the Chinese academia’s lexicon in the mid-1990s (Zhu 2001). These are crucial inputs in China’s new security concept and new security diplomacy.
…China's security still faces challenges that must not be neglected. The growing interconnections between domestic and international factors and interconnected traditional and non-traditional factors have made maintaining national security a more challenging task (Chinese Defence White Paper 2006).The new security concept privileges cooperative or collective security over the Maoist conception of targeting enemies. Threat is best addressed through multilateralism…As a result of China’s growing integration with the global economy, economic and social security have come to enjoy a preferred position in Chinese security thinking.
China’s new security diplomacy is a response to the new threats and opportunities caused by the re-structuring of the global environment after September 11, 2001. Elements of this new diplomacy include a maintaining a stable international environment to focus on internal development, wealth creation that is perceived by neighbours as mutually beneficial, and lastly to ‘counter, co-opt, or circumvent’ those countries in its periphery which may still hold allegiance with the United States but not in a way that will provoke aggressive (military) reaction.
This has been called a strategy of ‘Cooperative Hegemony,’ accommodating US foreign policy preferences and US presence in China’s perceived regional ambit as it continues to pursue internal development and building regional alliances (De Castro 2006).
A ‘cooperative hegemon’ will not directly confront a superior military power, as is the United States. Nor will it set up a counter-hegemonic coalition, rather it will create a “formalised cooperative substructure with the regional system to neutralise the more powerful traditional hegemon (De Castro 2006: 94).”