Rethinking “China’s Peaceful Rise”

Although I occasionally mourn my inability to be in two places at once — as Sichuan and Tibet come immediately to mind — the benefits of being in the Puget Sound region in the autumn, I now recall, are multiple, as these perks include the ability to spend time talking with, and hearing from, Sidney Rittenberg.

A new film project, “The Revolutionary” — a preliminary screening of which I was able to attend in Tacoma — calls Rittenberg “the most important foreigner in China since Marco Polo.”

Rittenberg has subsequently undertaken a lecture series on the campus where he and I are both members of the Chinese Studies faculty — Pacific Lutheran University.  The intersection of Rittenberg’s vast experience and unique deep background on China along with our students is enjoyable to observe and to navigate.  One of the most interesting juxtapositions of worldviews comes when with military backgrounds get a chance to think through the elder Rittenberg’s assessment of China’s place in the world, and the global outlook for what some folks call “China’s peaceful rise” (or what students with a DoD connection, urged on by events and information, might rather call “China’s peaceful rise with aircraft carriers and ICBMs”).

Today I received a truly interesting communication from one of my students growing out of Rittenberg’s lecture, and I thought it might serve as a solid pretext for “breaking out of the [writer’s] blockade” which I seem to have imposed myself recently upon this blog.


During Sidney Rittenburg’s lecture he portrayed a very (as we stated in class) rosy view of China especially on the military side. In short, he stated that the idea of Chinese imperialism does not fit the culture of China. The one exception he provided is Chinese territories (Taiwan, Tibet, ect.). Over the years, China has used many forms of soft power to force nations to recognize the “One China Policy” and deal primarily with the PRC over the ROC.

Sidney also recognized the danger of growing ultra-nationalists (especially amongst the youth of China) and their affect on China’s foreign policy.

I was wondering what your thoughts were on the possibility of ultra-nationalists (or even moderates) within the government extending the “One China Policy” to other areas within East Asia under the precursor of China’s historical ownership over the land and how China’s soft-power can be defined as a form of Chinese neo-imperialism ultra-nationalists may utilize to carry out their agenda.

Thank you for your thoughts. I understand this is a complex question.I have a reason why I am asking this question that I may be able to discuss with you later in the semester. In short it has to do with the strategy used in weiqi.

Before dropping down a fuller answer, and in its stead, I cannot recommend highly enough this piece from Foreign Policy on the form and function of the Global Times or Huanqiu Shibao, one of the foremost means by which China could and does justify its policy of military growth. [Update: In keeping with the heavy comments that follow this particular post, Global Times has a riposte to the Foreign Policy summary of its activities available here in English; Kaiser Kuo’s always-worthwhile Sinica podcast this week covers the same issue in style and itself links to one final takedown of Huanqiu Shibao’s “Top 10 Screeds” and take-no-prisoners editorial style.]


  1. I don’t know what Rittenberg’s definition of “ultra-nationalist” is, did he specify? I have a hunch that the nature of the “angry youth” in China and the menace they are supposed to cause (driving China away from the “peaceful rise” model?) were probably exaggerated. These days, any Chinese person with a patriotic concern with regard to China’s relations vis-a-vis the US and the western world is labelled a “nationalist” in the western academic and journalistc circle. The same set of criteria would never be applied to folks in the US. There are only patriotic Americans, there are no American nationalists, let alone American ultra-nationalists who drink the “American exceptionalism” koolaid everyday, believing that America is born to lead and the rest of the world, especially the non-western world is born to be shown how to get things done. The same type of folks who are revered in America would have been despised (by the west) have they been in China.

    Hypocrisy really knows no bounds.

    1. My first instinct in responding to your comment, JC万岁, was to point to the rise of official nationalism in the 1990s in China, punctuated by the anti-NATO/Belgrade embassy bombing protests in 1999 and then capped by the anti-Japanese protests of 2005. The best scholarly summation of this period is Peter Hayes Gries’ _China’s New Nationalism_, which analyzed a host of best-selling books one could purchase for those long #13 train rides from Huilongguan to Dongzhimen or what have you. Gries didn’t really need to even delve into the internet aspects / online nationalism, but he had plenty of grist, and I would argue that his work was fairly influential (certainly it impacted me) in helping to buttress this category of “aggrieved student nationalist” in a way that, unlike Rana Mitter in _China’s Bitter Revolution_ or a sociological study of campus ecology like Zhao’s _The Power of Tiananmen_, was not rooted in May 4 assumptions or some idea that Chinese students were in some way striving toward a democratic model.

      Now some seven years later, the communications environment has accellerated massively, and there is simply so much easily accessible evidence of “Chinese nationalism.” I sort of missed the whole kerfuffle over “fenqing/angry youth” and do agree with you that the phenomenon is basically overplayed in Western media outlets (it’s a common trope that needs to be trotted out every so often along with the steady stable of China-themed stories, after all), but I think the key point that still sticks is not about support for “neo-imperialism” among Chinese youth (there is very little support for costly foreign adventures, I think; the prestige element is completely overestimated) but instead very similar to everything else interesting in China — it’s about State intervention and stimulation and direction of a given movement or group, in this case, students. The 2008 protests in the aftermath of the Tibet outbursts were a bit of a turning point where the CCP’s control over information and historical-ethnic interpretation whereby foreign imperialism or its perceived agents (think CNN’s Wolf Blitzer) can indeed be blamed for poking unwarrentedly at China’s vulnerable extremeties…

      There are also vast variations when it comes to student nationalism. Anti-Korean nationalism is alternately flaccid and paternalistic, whereas anti-Japanese nationalism seems motivated by genuine historical fears (and is, of course, much more steadily primed and prodded by state propaganda). Anti-Vietnamese nationalism is on the rise, and is tied to the increasing Vietnamese ties with the US, etc.

      In any event, as to your point about calling every Chinese student “nationalistic” whereas Americans (or Brits, or Germans or French for that matter) never receive the label, I think you’re absolutely right. The kind of totalizing effect of such a label doesn’t necessarily help us understand nuance, that’s self-evident, but more importantly, it places an arbitrary mindset over an entire generation of Chinese youth who, once you get to know folks individually, almost never cohere absolutely or even partially to state desires or CCP imperatives. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle the problem — which I most recently experienced last year in Chengdu, when a few thousand university students went nuts on a Japanese department store and scared the bejeezus out of some of my Japanese friends in Sichuan _to help elementary school students with their post-earthquake PTSD_– or avoid the potential negative consequences of a possibly growing Chinese jingoism or overconfidence when it comes to foreign affairs. As for not calling American students “nationalistic,” sure, maybe we should, and maybe more Chinese students and scholars should be studying support for imperialistic or aggressive policies among American students. I’d rather not do it myself, but might even appreciate the armchair psychoanalysis (perferably in Chinese) describing how upper Midwestern Reagan-children have been inculturated through some combination of patriotic school assemblies, family military ties, and galvanizing doses of Toby Keith combined with anthrax paranoia and thrilling steath bombers flying over baseball stadiums in imaginary-mushroom-cloud-spewing Octobers to passively accept and even actively support foreign wars. Perhaps that book has already been written, though?

      1. Adam,

        I am a little confused here. I thought you said the vast majority of the “angry Chinese youth”, aka “Chinese nationalists” don’t support foreign adventures or any forms of neo-imperalism? But then why would the label of “nationalist” only be applied to those Americans who hold “support for imperialistic or aggressive policies”? Again, can someone be kind enough to define “nationalist” for me?

        Sure there is no denying that there are nationalists in China, both online and offline, and I would definitely consider those students going nuts nationalists. But having these extremists represent all nationalists in China is a bit misleading, to say the least, as I believe they are on the fringe. Perhaps they are many shades of “nationalists”, ranging from the ultra-nationalists you described in Chengdu (I have no knowledge of that particular incident) ransacking a Japanese department store, or those skinheads in Germany, Russia and Mongolia etc. to soft-core nationalists who are more defensive in nature. I consider myself a nationalist but I don’t identify myself with those extremists, those xenophobic (and sometimes racist) folks consumed by ill-conceived pride.

        I suspect that American nationalists are not that different from their Chinese counterparts. Simply visit and read the comments on those news articles and stories and you will be amazed. The same types of vitriol and nonsense you would find on a Chinese BBS. We are really not that different. Actually I was thinking about starting a blog or a site that is similar to China Smack, aiming to translate English language stories, comments etc., respecially those that have something to do with China into Chinese for the Chinese readers. But then I am a lazy person and I don’t have enough time (my excuse) out of a day dedicating to this. I have more pressing concerns like amassing funds to add more items to my collection of WWII Wehrmacht and Waffen SS headgears, 🙂

        1. I did see Huanqiu Shibao in one case use completely crank-crazy comments on a Portland city newspage to smear the Portland mayor in the case of a city resolution to declare “Tibet Awareness Week,” but you’re right, in general, China gives the US the benefit of the doubt and does not take whacko internet comments into account when trying to gague “US public opinion” or American nationalism or whatever we wish to call it. What complicates things is the immense (and growing) apparatus of professional internet commenters afffiliated with the state in China in tandem with granular censorship…and this renders any comment, to exaggerate slightly, as a semi-official statement….

        2. Adam,

          Several comments:

          (1) Huanqiu Shibao is totally fucked up and we all know it. Therefore using it as a place (especially if it is the prime example) to gauge Chinese public opinion is self-defeating.

          (2) I think you have overestimated the power of the 50-centers. I am not surprised if they are pretty prevalent on the Huanqiu Shibao forum, but elsewhere? To this date I have not found any solid evidence of 50-centers trying to direct (or mis-direct) public opinion or sentiment. Anything you have found? I am extremely curious.

          (3) Perhaps we should take “whacko internet comments” into account to gauge American public opinion. After all this is how Chinese public opinion is gauged, especially with regard to “anti-US nationalism”, “anti-Japanese nationalism”, “anti-Korean nationalism” and “anti-Vietnamese nationalism” in China. “Anti-Chinese nationalism” is alive and well in the US.

          (4) I just wanted to add that any American who subscribes to “American exceptionalism” is an American nationalist in my opinion.

  2. It is very interesting to see Western’s concern over China miltary force vs. China peaceful rise.

    Peaceful rise doesn’t equal to giving up miltary development. How can we get peace without a strong miltary force! Waiting for American or Japanese troops to protect us?

    Peaceful rise actually came out from The Art of War, in which the author, Sunzi, said clearly bellicosity leads to subjugation. It actually means a country needs a strong miltary but has to be cautious in using miltary force.

    I believer Western’s concern rooted from their own culture problem. Western cultrure, from Europe to US, is actually very aggressive culture. Look into history and see how western culture expanded to Aisa and South America. They simply did so by using miltary force. That is why they worried if China is going to over-use miltary force when expanding its business supply chain worldwide.

    No matter what Westerns say about it, a strong miltary forced is needed to protect ourselves and gain a real peacful international environment. Glad we made tremondous improvments on it.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cloud. Seeing Sunzi as the origins of the “peaceful rise” strategy (because it _is_ a strategy, and not just a marketing slogan/口号) is particularly interesting. However, the China as compared to West in terms of overt aggression is a little-too well-worn for my tastes, although (as with using bloody westward expansion of the white population in the United States as a comparison to make CCP moves into Tibet seem reasonable and measured by comparison) it has its place and is going to be trotted out irrespective of what I think.

      Perhaps more productive is a line of comparison with reference to Sunzi made recently by some students of mine where China was seen as very quietly implementing Sunzi’s strategy, whereas North Korea was overtly bellicose and had to resort to loud statements of domination, whereas China was moving towards dominance inexorably but rarely with a kind of pure arrogance that we associate with the DPRK’s statements.

      The other thing about “China’s rise” that needs repeating (and as regards the original question on in the blog post [am I “lou zhu /l.z./搂住?]) is that China is really still hemmed in and “contained” by its neighbors. All of the American (because face it, is France really nervous about Diaoyu Islands or the Taiwan issue or even Sino-Vietnamese relations?) concern about China’s military build up has to come to grips with the fact that China is surrounded by rivals, many of whom are increasingly powerful. The Americans were upset about the DPRK detonating a nuclear device, but in fact if US generals thought a bit more about things, they might realize that North Korean military power and nuclear might is just another thing that makes PLA generals worry at night, not to mention India, etc.

      So now we are back to King Tubby’s earlier remark about Pakistan…

      I don’t disagree, Cloud, at all about China’s need for a strong military and your pride in the PRC’s accomplishments in military modernization. Li Xiaobing recently wrote a history of the PLA which I am looking forward to reading more in-depth. Oh yes, one more point about naval power and nationalism, and thus to the original question in the post:

      The thing to watch out for is the balance between military-based nationalism and internal dissent. In other words, the Huanqiu Shibao model of nationalism, with its local roots in the 1990s but its ideological roots much more linked to Liang Qichao’s era and Darwinian vision of Chinese power, is that pride in military accomplishements creates a kind of national unity which can transcend local issues as well as anti-government feeling. Most recently, I experienced some friction with this idea — that is to say, I see it not so much as a convenient formula but actually as a paradox — when I was in Dalian this past summer. Within about a week of one another, China’s new aircraft carrier was launched (yee-haw! even though Chinese official media was not going full-bore on this, it was a pretty big build-up and a significant trope all summer) and then a massive protest broke out against a chemical plant in Dalian.

      This is not to say that I, as a Westerner, am interested only in pointing out China’s flaws, or in fomenting unrest in China or glorifying in fractious debate which I associate with a healthy “civil society” and which others (like the Huanqiu Shibao) might associate with “meddling in China’s internal affairs” even though I had nothing to do with setting up the Dalian protests and in fact missed them by a single day as I had to go to Shenyang, but I think it is important to note the kind of tension inherent in a government expecting that military achievements alone can adhere the people to the Party. Mao himself recognized that the military had to play an important role in the artistic and material life in the Soviet and then the Republic, but China will never be able to advance if it goes in a kind of “songun” (military-first) policy direction only, and of course needs to, and usually does, manage to privilege the position of living standards, etc., over military spending.

      1. Adam,

        It is so interesting to see you guys make such a connection between Dalian’s protest and China aircraft carrier. I just don’t see such a connection.

        Dalian’s protest doesn’t make any senes to me. Where were those people when the factory was built years ago? All of sudden, they wake up and realized the dangerous of that chemical factory? Or they just want to get some money out of that factory owner, since that factory is a private owned, rather than government owned? Look at the way those people dress and talk…just a bunch of low life feeders… in normal days , I won’t talk to those people… they are just like those non-sense protesters in NY.

        Speaking of those China’s neighbors, you used a very intersting word, rival, which I don’t agree. I don’t think they are qualified as China’s rival. Some of them are rich, but not powerful as you said. To me those are just some second class countries, even Japan is second class country. Inthat sense, German is also a second class country.

        The root of those so called rivalry is the competition between US and China. Those second class countries are followers. They only follow who can give them food. China should never be abstracted by those weak ‘contain’. China should focus on the root cause of problem and find a new and more civilized way to show people that China way of life can be better than that of USA’s. If we can prove that those second class countires will automatically become China’s follower. In that time, do you think there will be those terrtory and containment problem?

        1. I think that in terms of military power, Germany is obviously a “follower” of the United States (the Libyan case being just the most recent — and not uncontroversial — example, not to mention the presence of about 80,000 American troops stationed in Deutschland), but in terms of cultural power, Germany is absolutely first-class and gives China a run for its money.

          Just as one example, as I’ve written about before, even the head of Hanban/Confucius Institutes in China admits in the Huanqiu Shibao that for all the press the endeavor has received, that there are still far more Goethe Institutes than Confucius Institutes. You can go down the line — classical music, popular music, contemporary art, drama, literature, film, etc., China is still very much getting a run for its money from Germany. Combine German and French cultural power alone (not to mention the nachfolger of Cervantes) and you’re talking about China often losing in the cultural skermishes.

          Based on my personal experience I would respectfully disagree with your characterization of the Dalian protests. The people I know who work in that area near the offending plant are all white-collar professionals with higher degrees and standards, and I was working in the special economic zone for about a week (just another foreigner in China with a Ph.D. and a desire for clean air, clean water, and fast WiFi). My connection between those protests and the aircraft launch is admittedly arbitrary, but these were two major events that happened when I was in Dalian and received varying levels of attention, for very different interpretive purposes, from China’s state media.

        2. Xu,

          Japan a second-class country? Germany a second-class country? What are you smoking?

          China must not underestimate the challenges posed by those countries that you consider “second class”, and China must not simplify (and I am sure the Chinese leadership is wise enough to not) the regional power dymanics in East, South and Southeast Asia to something solely driven by the Sino-US rivalry. With or without the US these countries are bound to be suspicious of China, given China’s perceived power and its authoritarian, not-so-transparent nature. China needs to still abide its time and work hard to woo the neighbors. To me appeasing and wooing the neighboring countries is much more important than appeasing the US and the US-led west, since the neighbors are here to stay, you can’t pick and choose.

        3. I’m a second-class moderator, and taking about twelve (or 24) hours off….thanks for the discussion, let’s do it in Chinese next time

        4. 这个讨论现在有点儿无聊,我们应该把我们的对话改变一下。。。对我来讲,那个句子‘中国的”和平崛起“’已经陈词滥调,大家能不能创造新的口号或者概念呢?我们美国知识分子特别无能,我们也没有未来你知道吗,在世界上,所有的未来主义者是中国人!!!那怎么办?

        5. 其实,强调“和平崛起”根本没必要,给人一种“此地无银三百两”的感觉,何必呢?中国崛起就崛起,实在没必要为了让美国,西方国家还有其他那些中国的邻国放心而造出一个如此生硬的名词。再退一步,也许根本没必要谈什么“中国崛起”,过去那些老牌强国,霸主什么的,比如西班牙,荷兰,英国,美国什么的,哪个提到“崛起”了?中国强就强了,没必要广而告之,以免给别人以口实来造成恐吓世界,打压中国的借口。


  3. Bullshit. Many of China’s neighbors are at least as worried as the “aggressive West”, as the West itself. The difference is that aggressiveness – ones own included – can be discussed openly in many countries outside China. Chinese aggression is never named as such – it’s a legitimate issue, based on historical seamaps. (Any hint that they were drawn with a ballpen will hurt the Chinese people’s feelings and will lead to legitimate and justified retaliation.)

    1. Justrecently,

      Certainly every culture, every country has a tendency to become aggressive. Being aggressive is not limited to certain cultures and countries. That said, one could argue that certain cultures and countries were, at least historically more aggressive than some other cultures and countries.

      With regard to China, I think you are being confused with claims it makes and the actual acts of aggression. Germany wouldn’t have been considered aggressive had it only claimed that Sudetenland rightfully belonged to Germany, if the Fuhrer had not actually invaded it and annexed it. Until China starts aggressively inforces its claims in the South China, I doubt you can argue that it can be regarded as aggressive just yet.

      1. Good point, JCM, and welcome back! You’re quite right about China in the sense that the country does have overt historical claims and that, most of the time, is the issue that, for the Chinese government, completely obviates the idea that they are acting in an imperial fashion. The thing to watch out for, then, is changes in how expansively history is interpreted and what is being claimed. I think that you and I have discussed before (possibly even over on the recently-sputtering One Free Korea) the somewhat ridiculous claim that China would make historical claims to large swaths of North Korean territory (not just a few islands or all of Mount Paektu, but all of Pyong’an province or North Hamgyong) based on some history project discussion. As usual, China’s smaller neighbors are far, far more vigilant about such things than the United States, which would rather sit back and watch China develop Africa and the Middle East and then start crying “wolf” (fitting metaphor for the Korean-War era song literature when America had “the heart of a wolf”!) when it’s already a fait accompli. As Huntsman says, and I agree in many ways with this, we have to stop complaining about China’s rise, accept it as quickly as possible, and then get fully in the game of economic competition. There is a reason that Chinese companies are doing well in countries like Sudan, and in part it’s because, to my knowledge, American companies are not competitive there! China is then stuck with this kind of neo-imperial label when primarily what they are doing is filling a market niche.

        Of course, Maerzke or others might convince me otherwise. There is still a great deal that I have to learn about PRC military capabilities in sea lanes (which Huntsman also discussed recently, the need to work with and sometimes against a powerful China to keep open), claims in the Spratleyes, Sino-Philippines relations, etc.

    2. JR, correct on the power of the language in China, where media (just like the US self-image, in which we only “liberate,” even when in the most questionable cases of warfare [when talking about media and self-regard, I think that explicit Sino-US comparison or Sino-German comparison for that matter is definitely warranted]) only allows the PLA to serve as a force of enlightenment and just national interest.

      What I want to know is if China and India are indeed going to “settle” their long border dispute this year. There was some discussion that things were moving amicably in that direction, much like the damn-near endless line of military trucks I ran across last October in Tibet on their way to that border!

      1. India has added to its border troops, too, Adam, two divisions at least, if I remember that correctly. The pessimistic interpretation would be that they prepare for an unfriendly stalemate, or for a war. The optimistic one would be that they expand their negotiation positions. But either way, I don’t think the two sides will settle their border issues within a year…

        1. Thanks, JR, and I’m on the warpath this weekend towards Bozhu incompletions!!! (Seriously, and with reference to Ai Weiwei as well, I shall not shirk my prose generation responsibilities, ich bin verpflichtet!

        2. Take your time, Adam – after all, it’s an intermittent series, and it’s meant to be informative, but it’s also meant to be fun. It was a light idea, but I’ve been just the more impressed with the replies I got on some of my questions from several bloggers so far.

  4. Every person gets his or her chance to have a discussion with me, provided that they want to have one, and that they remain civil.

      1. OK, I’m glad we got that cleared up. Two intelligent commenters, glad to have you both on the boards here.

  5. While I understand all your points in regards to military intervention, doesn’t placing political / economic pressure on other nations in order to “persuade” them to adhere to CCP policies violate the concept of peaceful rise? In other words, doesn’t utilizing soft power (political and economic pressures) rather than military intervention constitute Neo-Imperialism and violate the concept of peaceful rise?

    1. Well, I’d think you will have difficulties naming any major powers in today’s world that offers trade agreements, business deals and aids etc. with absolutely no strings attached. And if by your definition that utilizing soft power constitutes neo-imperialism then I’d argue that all major world powers are guilty, with the worst offender being the United States.

      Again, what irks me the most is the blatant double standard. It is perfectly OK for the US to do certain things but if China were to do the same, hell breaks loose and everyone is up in arms.

    2. Maerzke, I am presently working on an essay precisely about how “soft power” is used as a supplement to “hard power” and economic leverage in the case of Germany. In general I consider myself a fan of, and in fact a practitioner of, cultural diplomacy and we in the States do win with China via cultural relations, but you’re correct in your general skepticism. The question for many countries in, say, Africa or the Middle East, is the extent to which expanded economic ties with China (which, in the case of Iraq, we expressly welcome) force countries to kowtow to Chinese imperatives in the global forum. But these kind of pressures on the Taiwan issue have been perpetual and completely predictable.

      Carole McGranahan at U. of Colorado has been one of the scholars looking at the notion of Chinese imperialism in Tibet (which, as an apparently left-leaning Sinologist-Tibetologist academic [as are most of us, I would suspect], she pairs with American imperialism in the region) in her recent book, and a few Xinjiang scholars look at the same thing. Your question pre-supposes that a country like China which was itself a victim of foreign imperialism (Mao called China a “semi-colony” of foreign powers) can itself act as a victimizer and predatory imperialist in its region or globally. That debate seems to be ongoing, and in China it is normally broached in strongly-worded Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times editorials which instantly rebuff the entire notion that China could behave in imperialist fashion in Africa. Secretary Clinton’s remarks last year got a lot of flack in that regard. In any event, it is definitely something to watch and there is probably more that one could say about it.

      Thanks for the comments.

    3. Soft/hard/smart power are bunk concepts. They have internal logic, and work within certain fields of inquiry, but, in the context of history’s broad sweep, or subject to philosophy’s prodding, they are incoherent, imo. In related news, intimidation and bitching dont seem very soft, or, for that matter, smart. I found zizek’s book, ‘violence’ to be very helpful – at least, where i could understand it. Imperialism is always a violent practice, and the physical violence is a reflection or expression of the attitudinal violence, (for instance, calling some countries second rate/secondary, or however numbnuts worded it). But then empire is always in some measure a two way street, ex genocide.

      1. Thanks for the hard smack of realism, Vertu, important at least to recognize that the whole notion of “_any given spiffy adjective_+ power” is a relatively new construct. Incidentally I picked up Zizek’s _Violence_ last week as an intended follow-up to W.G. Sebald’s _Natural History of Destruction_ lectures, so we’ll see how that goes.

  6. Juchechosunmanse: your referral to my country’s war depends on the old idea about history providing a “mirror” for the future. History may provide people with experience, but it’s no crystal ball.

    When Germany started its mass murder, both at home and abroad, the nuclear age hadn’t yet begun, and war (even a major one) was considered a continuation of politics by other means – by Germany for sure, but by many other countries, too. And given that Germany was an exceptionally aggressive country, it may not have counted its losses in a nuclear age either, provided that it could eliminate all its perceived enemies – abroad and at home -, anyway.

    That however doesn’t suggest that “Western culture” in general would be similarly aggressive. In fact, the biggest aggressions of the past century have taken place east of the Rhine, and West of California. Maoism was one of them, mostly directed at China itself.

    When trying to assess China’s aggression today, one has to keep at least three factors in mind: the ongoing nuclear age, the declining benefit of using military force in the light of asymmetrical warfare (see Vietnam, Iraq, South Lebanon, for example), and the growing benefit of trade, especially when a trade policy is shaped in tune with other political goals. Deng Xiaoping explicitly prescribed the proverbial hiding of ones capacity (韬光养晦) for China’s diplomacy.

    Given that prescription, to which the party has mostly kept afterwards (the idea to make territorial claims which would even involve Malaysia isn’t Deng’s, but a Maoist brainchild).

    If one wants to get an idea of Chinese aggression – there is no public opinion in China on core interests – one has to depend on personal encounters, or on whatever opinion China’s internet allows. In that light, many Chinese nationals can hardly wait for the right time to show their potential. That’s an influence which can’t be quantified, because you won’t get opinion polls there. But this is what the current central committee itself has agreed to last month, in it’s Deepening-Cultural-Reform Decision:

    Patriotism is the Chinese nation’s most profound ideological tradition, which is, more than others, able to move and inspire the sons and daughters to unite and struggle, reform and innovation are contemporary China’s most vivid characteristics, most able to drive the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation forward with acute minds. […] Education in national spirit must be expanded, patriotism, collectivism, and socialist ideology vigorously be promoted, the national sense of self-respect, self-confidence and sense of pride be strengthened, the people must be invigorated with enthusiasm1) to the practice of rejuvenating the Chinese nation, to fervently love the motherland and to devote all ones strength to the building of the motherland must spell the greatest honor, and harm [done] to the motherland’s interests or dignity must spell the greatest shame.

    That’s an approach that makes every national interest – not only “core interests” – an absolute. Combined with “collectivism”, it also modifies personal responsibility. The only criterion here is the (national) collective. War (if war is what you meant with your referral to aggression in your November 3, 11:28 comment) may not be the most obvious choice “just yet”, but aggression is brewing in China to an unspecified, but palpable degree – and as I said before, that isn’t a mere “Western” concern.

    Adam has mentioned economic competition a moment ago. The problem is that from Beijing’s view, economic and political competition are intertwined. The “greatest honor” and “greatest shame” criteria apply there, too. When it comes to shaping our trade relations with China, I want German and European politicians and legislator to be aware of that.

    1. Justrecently,

      “In fact, the biggest aggressions of the past century have taken place east of the Rhine, and West of California. Maoism was one of them, mostly directed at China itself.”

      If I am not mistaken, you meant Soviet Union and China? Knowing where you are coming from, I could certainly understand why you would say so. However, if the aggressions committed by Germany do not count as some of “the biggest aggressions of the past century”, I don’t know what would.

      I think “aggression” probably means different things to you and me. To me those rhetoric or propaganda from the Chinese government, despite perhaps distasteful, do not amount to “aggression”. To me “aggression” has to be accompanied by actual acts of aggressiveness, regardless of the targets, whether be domestic or foreign. The snippet you provided, which I am not familiar with, does not strike me as anything different from what the CCP has been propagating since the founding of the PRC. Is it different this time around? That China’s neighbors, and the US should be afraid? I’d think no. Personally I see China a tiger with no claws, it roars a lot but it hardly acts. When China can’t even get the Filipinos to return those 20 some fishing boats they detained, what makes you or anyone think China will do anything more drastic?

      In my opinion, western cultures and traditions are more aggressive than eastern cultures and traditions in that western cultures and traditions seek to proselytize and preach, or more outward looking if you prefer while eastern cultures and traditions hardly seek to proselytize. Of course, when it comes to wars most of the time wars were fought over interests rather than pure ideological and religious beliefs. In this regard there are no differences between eastern and western cultures, we are all selfish and driven by self-interest.

      Lastly, I don’t think considering economic and political competition intertwined a mentality found in Beijing only. It can certainly be found in Washington, Brussels and perhaps Berlin too. It is naive to think otherwise. Actually I’d argue that all regional and world powers consider the two intertwined. Why is that necessarily a problem?

  7. Knowing where you are coming from, I could certainly understand why you would say so. However, if the aggressions committed by Germany do not count as some of “the biggest aggressions of the past century”, I don’t know what would.
    We are probably very different when it comes to understand people who try to whitewash their countries’ past or present tense, Juchechosunmanse. If I loved my country without knowing my place, it wouldn’t be love (or patriotism). “East of the Rhine” refers to everything east of the Rhine – if you look at a European map, you will find France west of the Rhine, and Germany east of the Rhine. Therefore, my referral to the past century’s major aggressors included Germany – as should be obvious.

    You may not be too familiar with the way entrepreneurial decisions are made in Europe. Private enterprise means profit maximization, not acting in accordance with a certain policy. However, given that China’s government determines the degree to which Chinese companies – state-capitalist ones and private enterprise alike – can make their own decisions, and where the national interest begins, the political competition is quite uneven. Our governments can’t change legislation any way they like. That’s good, but it can only work evenly when these concept work similarly in the countries you are doing business with.

    That’s also why I quoted from the CC’s “cultural decision” of last month, further above. Politics in China is very comprehensive, and totalitarian ambition doesn’t respect the law, when it seems to be in the way of a national interest, no matter how that interest is defined. If a company in Europe finds that legislation messes with its property rights, they will sue the authorities. The problem here is that the authorities are only beginning to realize that China’s approach to trade is quite different from ours.

    1. Justrecently,

      Sorry, my bad about “the east of Rhine”.

      I guess I don’t understand what you mean by “political competition” then, in the context of “economic competition”. When European leaders visited China, like Sarkozy and Merkel, they were often accompanied by a fairly large business delegation and the government did their best to link business deals with China, essentially championing on behalf of the private sector, no?

      1. I’m working on an essay that addresses the question of balance between business interests and human rights/pedagogical cultural diplomacy in Sino-German relations. Seems the economic interests win out most of the time, although in spite of economic upside-downness recently, neither France nor Germany has given up on criticizing China on behalf of dissidents, etc.

      2. One explanation for the delegations you are referring to is that some CEOs overestimate themselves, and underestimate the differences between the West and China, Juchechosunmanse. One of the classics in my CEO-quote collection: “what’s possible in Brazil, must be possible in China, too.” That’s one reason as to why they believe that China will definitely work for the companies they lead. (Many do miserably or not the way expected – but they usually won’t call a press conference to spread the news.)

        When it comes to German delegations, these usually don’t reflect the German economy as a whole. This economy is widely based on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have their respective technological edges, but never went public / sold shares on the stock market. Corporations are more frequently members of such delegations than SMEs, even if privately-owned SMEs make up most of the German economy. One reason probably is that corporations are usually better connected with politics, but another would be that SMEs are less inclined to investing in China, than big companies. A CEO may lead a corporation for a handful of years, and in many cases, what matters to him is that the numbers and news look good during that period. Politicians, too, are often more interested in short-term results. Besides, just as much of the public, many politicians don’t want to know a real lot about the countries they visit. Many Europeans think of China as a democratizing country, and capitalism under political guidance frequently seems to be beyond their imagination. Someone who owns his business is usually more conservative, and will look at an environment much more closely before investing there.

        What German politicians do isn’t necessarily in Germany’s interest. If too much – still profitable – technology is transferred, for example, it’s a loss for the national economy, and for the job market. That’s how China calculates – but the way CEOs calculate here, as a rule, is if producing in China may be still more profitable, than producing here – at least for a while. Most SME owners want to run their business for decades, or pass it on to their children, and contrary to bigger corporations, they are in no position to simply shed one field of business (because of a one-digit return “only”, for example) and maintain another, because they have only one or two fields of business to operate on, anyway. But even if bigger corporations were usually individually-owned as are SMEs, you’d probably see much less of those corporations in China. France is a different story – there are much fewer SMEs there, than in Germany, and more corporations.

        In short: an SME is more likely to have a truly long-term strategy than a corporation. SME bosses may not apply the latest management methods, but they are cautious, and they know their field of business well – they don’t switch much of the time, but stay with their business, and live with it. That’s one reason why Germany has a much bigger manufacturing industry than other European countries, or America. Nothing will be abandoned easily, when it’s a small company.

        I don’t think that corporations can be restricted from investing in China, no matter the terms. That would violate the prevalent freedom of contract principle. But I do see the know-how at risk there, and that know-how is a product of our educational system, and in the end, German taxpayers’ money. Therefore, a clearer awareness of what determines Chinese business decisions, and businesses from free societies, is important.

        For clarity – not every corporation’s CEO acts short-sightedly, and not every SME owner acts smart. But overall, you will see that tendency in Germany.

        1. Justrecently,

          You lost me there. I sensed a certain degree of bitterness coming from you, perhaps it is your position that German companies, or western companies in general should refrain from doing business with China? I don’t get the “… China must work for the companies they lead” part, China working for those companies? Well, China welcomes foreign capital and technology transfer, therefore it should work to create an environment for these foreign companies to thrive (profit wise) in China. Other than that, China doesn’t need to work “for” these companies.

          What I meant was, China is not the only country which sees economic and political interests intertwined. Every major regional and world power loves to see its own economic and political influence expand and these two often work hand in hand.

        2. Every major regional and world power loves to see its own economic and political influence expand and these two often work hand in hand.

          Sure. But when it comes to a European country and China, these government’s toolkits look very different from each other. To expect an even playing field, and to avoid – whenever possible – the vulnerabilities that come with a freer society, isn’t about bitterness. It’s about awareness for ones own, and for ones country’s, interests.

          If you can imagine that there is no bitterness on my part, concerning this business issue, maybe you can see my position more clearly. On the other hand, maybe the worlds we are living in are too different from each other to bridge such gaps in perception.

          Btw, “China works or doesn’t work for these companies” was meant the way I might also say “this – a certain approach, for example – doesn’t work for me. I’m not thinking of a working contract here.

        3. I see. Thanks for clarifying the “China must work for these companies” part.

          I am still grasping to understand your position. As for me, I guess my position can be described as the following: 求同存异. Certainly the west and China are very much different in many ways and it is not realistic and morally ethical to require the two to see everything the same. Respect each other and compromise when it is necessary. That’s it. There should be no persuading/preaching/pressuring one to be more like the other, none of that whatsoever. And it’d be really nice if some people could get off the high horse sometimes. 🙂

        4. Certainly the west and China are very much different in many ways and it is not realistic and morally ethical to require the two to see everything the same.

          Nobody here is in a position to require the other to see everything the same, Juchechosunmanse – my position isn’t about coercion. The most likely institution which wants the Chinese to see everything their way would be the CCP. I’m wondering how people can be that chippy about “foreign advice”, when party leaders are discussing how to design “the Chinese people’s spirituality”.

          I’m making no effort to convert Chinese people to any kind of belief – I’m no missionary. I’m taking part in a discussion here, and I’m taking part in a discussion at home. But respecting each other and compromising only works when different sides also know each other – knowledge should determine decisions about compromising on the one hand, and staying away when an offer doesn’t look promising.

        5. Justrecently,

          Actually, these days it is the self-perceived morally superior west, including governmental, academic institutions and many individuals that are increasingly nagging, preaching, lecturing to make the Chinese see things the same way they see. The CCP on the other hand has already given up proselytizing to the Chinese since it has no belief (certainly not communism) itself other than holding onto its grip of power. Sure, the CCP would like all of us to believe that it is doing a great job and everything is rosy here in China, but in this regard it is essentially not too much different any ruling government.

          As to “foreign advice”, I think you would understand that too much of it, especially if the tone becomes condescending and coercive, is no good to anyone. I am sure the Greeks feel the same about the Germans and the French these days.

          I absolutely agree with you than knowledge is hugely important. It pains me to see both some Chinese and foreigners who know absolutely nothing about the other opening their blabber mouths spewing nonsense about the other party. Therefore I think it is crucial to hold our thoughts/prejudices etc. before gaining enough knowledge about the target on which we are about to comment. And I believe, ultimately I will never know enough about say Germany or Greece to tell them how they should think or behave. Ultimately it is their life that they are living that I have no business butting in.

        6. The CCP on the other hand has already given up proselytizing to the Chinese since it has no belief (certainly not communism) itself other than holding onto its grip of power.

          Yes, and those people without belief keep tinkering with your spiritual software. I can’t see your point, Juchechosunmanse. I could see it if the CCP wasn’t in power, or if they weren’t running every institution within every branch of state power, plus party cells in every larger organization.

          And you feel pissed off because of foreign peoples’ high horses? I mean, that’s alright – as I said before, I’m not trying to proselytize anyone, or suggesting different priorities -, but your ideas are at least as foreign to me, as mine seem to be to you.

        7. Justrecently,

          So I take your point is that I should be complaining about the CCP being everywhere in China, running everything in my life instead of whining about judgemental foreigners (most of whom are uninformed, if not misinformed) assertively trying to impose their judgements, values and way of life etc. onto us? OK, I concur that both deserve complaining about, it is just a matter of priorities. To me a liberal-leaning nationalist, the latter matters more than the former. It is my individual choice that should be celebrated and cherished, right?

          Perhaps you are a bigger person that I am (and many Greeks are this week), which I applaud. Perhaps I have not broken out of my shell, my inability to see things with a holistic view, I insisit that differences should be cherished (instead of being frowned upon) and that ultimately it is one’s right to determine how to see things and run things in his/her life.

        8. Juchechosunmanse, why should I celebrate and cherish your individual choice? Why should it matter to you if I do or if I don’t?

        9. Justrecently,

          Just sayin’ it, shouldn’t you champions of democracy, freedom and individuality in the west cherish individual choices? Or only those that you like?

          This discussion is not going anywhere and we are back to where we were several years ago. Let’s end it.

        10. No problem with ending it, Juchechosunmanse, but when someone believes that I owe him something, and when there are others who may agree, I wish to make it clear why I don’t think that I owe him what he asks for.

          Freedom doesn’t require me to cherish the things others want me to cherish. I have to be tolerant of very different choices and views, even if I don’t like them, but I don’t need to cherish them.

          It’s my civic and human duty to respect other people and their rights – including their right to hold views I disagree with, however strongly, but I only need to tolerate, not to respect, their views. This attitude may be found in lines such as “it’s your life”. Freedom doesn’t come with an obligation to cherish or celebrate someone else’s choice – and noone is required to cherish or celebrate mine. If they – or I – had to do that, it would be neither freedom, nor individuality.

          Appreciation would become meaningless, if everyone had to respect or cherish everything.

        11. Sure, you and I may disagree on a lot of things and I am NOT asking you to change your views to accommodate mine (unlike what many western governments, institutions and individuals are trying to do), I am simplying asking you to agree to disagree and respect my right to have a view that is different from yours. This is what “respect” means here, respecting one’s fundamental right to hold his or her view. I might not like what a white surpremacist thinks about me but I do respect his or her view and I will not force him or her to change. Call me “chink” all he wants, it offends me but so what. And I am also respecting your and other westerners’ view about China, just don’t try to force me to agree with you and everything is all good.

        12. I think we’ve both done our best to explain our cases, Juchechosunmanse. Maybe leaving it here and just re-reading once in a while will help more to understand each others’ points, than to expand our thread further. Have a good week.

        13. Thanks Justrecently, you too have a good weekend and a good week ahead! On a lighter note I will be watching and rooting for Bayern Munchen and die Nationalmannschaft playing today and next week, without my favorite Schweini!

    2. Just a quick note to reinforce that I think yours is one of the few (only?) blogs out there in English which put this under scrutiny regularly — the interplay between economic and other factors in Germany’s outlook on China. (Or is it more correct to talk about “multiple Germanies” or multiple German interests and outlooks on China? Certainly a museum director and a BMW CEO have somewhat differing agenda, not to mention the neo-Dietrich Bonhoeffer types who one would hope are also proliferating!)

      1. JR, can you recommend one or more of your posts on the Deutsche Welle imbroligio last year (someone was fired for criticizing China, perhaps?). I know you wrote several but I am unable to find out how it all concluded…

        1. Someone was fired for criticizing China at Deutsche Welle? I think it is the other way around. I think what happened was someone was fired for not toeing DW’s anti-CCP line strong enough. Zhang Danhong I believe is her name?

        2. It’s interesting that you mention Bonhoeffer, Adam. I’m only a christian by tradition, not really by faith, but I admire Bonhoeffer for the clarity of his thought – and for his courage, of course.

          Re Deutsche Welle, you are referring to the post-Zhang brawl, right? The Neue Rheinische Zeitung – not a mainstream paper – published an open letter by members (and former members, respectively) of the Welle’s Chinese department in April this year.
          Then there’s a translation of that open letter as published by Huanqiu Shibao on my blog. More in general, if you click this link, you’ll (hopefully) get all my Deutsche-Welle related posts. Not all are equally relevant to the imbroglio, though.

          Information about the more recent issue is sparse, though. Some speculation on why that may be so can be found in this post’s commenting thread.

          (I expect this link-rich comment to get into the moderation queue… If you are looking for the case of Zhang Danhong, just let me know, and I’ll build another batch of links.)

    1. OK, will clean these up forthwith, also have another writing project would like to discuss with you JR.

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