Does the rise of China signify the end of the international system, as we know it?


There has been much heated debate over the rise of China. For some, China’s rise is a problem that must be nipped in the bud. For others, change is inevitable and it need not be all bad. Since Deng Xiaoping, former leader of China, passed a serious of economic and political reforms in the 1970s, China’s GDP growth has rocketed. Despite recession, China’s GDP is on track to meet its 7.8% target for this year. The 2013 edition of the Forbes China Rich List states that China has 168 billionaires, surpassing its previous records; the USA has 442 by comparison. Though significantly larger, China’s growth rates are consistently surpassing its own records, year on year. Its offer of a, questionably, viable alternative to the Washington Consensus, quaintly referred to as the ‘Beijing Consensus’ – authoritarianism mixed with a market economy – together with its steady integration into the current international system and disregard for human rights, has marked its rise as a potential threat to international politics and the global order as we know it. Its impressive rise over the past 30 years has made into an economic powerhouse with interests in increasing its status within the system. However, whilst it cannot be denied that China’s rise does present new challenges to the current order, this does not necessarily suggest that we must cut the head off the dragon before it is too late.


For one, it’s in China’s interest to maintain the stability of the international system for its own economic and political gain. China has largely realized the benefits of a market economy, and with it has recognized that due to globalization, the world is becoming ever more interconnected. As a result, though China’s strength and influence is growing, so too is its dependency on the developments that occur outside its borders. To further its economic gains, China must trade with the outside world; this includes liberal democracies in the West. It can be argued that with its membership of the WTO (World Trade Organization), and the IMF (International Monetary Fund), China is somewhat a keen supporter of the international economic system. Due to economic interdependency, maintaining the current system serves China’s interests as a rising power more then it would to overthrow it.


Not to mention, China’s acceptance of globalization as a fact of international politics, has forced it to pursue more stable and cooperative relations with its immediate neighbours as well as major powers in the West. With globalization adding fire to security threats such as terrorism, AIDs/ HIV epidemic, trafficking and the spread of contagious diseases, China has in turned adopted a New Security Concept as part of its foreign policy. In other words, China has become an ardent advocate to the notion of increasing national security through diplomatic and economic interaction. This includes democratizing international relations through encouraging cooperative relations with other states and joining multilateral institutions to solve global issues collectively. In light of this, it can be suggested that China’s rise may not signify the end, but rather an opportunity to foster better relations between states through shared interests.


China’s relation with the US, though at times strained, arguably suggests that it is still a far cry from the end of the current international system. Perhaps, the biggest reason is the fact that though a strategic competition may exist between the two powers, with each threatened by the other’s intentions of pursuing their interests, to the potential detriment of the other. Given that the two are so economically enmeshed, undermining one may have negative consequences for the other. Issues, like Taiwan, will undoubtedly prevail as a sore spot in the US-China relations, but given their economic power, size, huge populations, and possession of nuclear weapons, it is unlikely that their mistrust of one another will result in conflict anytime soon. Stability of the international system serves the interests of both China and the US. War would be bad for economic growth.


Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that it is China’s intention to remain a status quo power, accepting liberal values without question and changing its national identity to conform to Western ideals. Rather, it is clear between its chronic history of human rights violations and lack of interest to democratize anything but the international system for its own gain, China has no interest in ever fully emulating Western ideals. Yet, in spite of this, it can be argued that the rise of China does not necessarily mean it is a threat to the international system. Not only does it have no immediate interest in destabilizing the global order, it has no means to do so either. What the course of action should be in regards to China’s rise is to accommodate its influence and reform the international system, to give it no good reason to rebel. Though, China may not overthrow the system in the foreseeable future, as history has demonstrated, theories are often an unreliable source for prediction.

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