In my previous article, I discussed how China took proactive foreign policy in the financial and economic context. I will now move on to China’s extensive military expansion locally and internationally.
Recently, China has taken proactive measures to demonstrate its hard power. In July 2017, China drew the attention of the international spotlight when she sends off personnel to Djibouti for its first overseas military base. This exceptional step forward remarks China’s military power extending its global reach. The construction of a logistics base in Djibouti serves to supply navy ships participating in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in Yemen and Somalia. Moreover, in a military showcase hosted outside Tiananmen Square, the People’s Liberation Army displayed its fruitful return of the $152 billion defence budget invested. The showcase demonstrated new weaponry that was never seen before. However, in a research conducted by Credit Suisse, a financial company based in Zurich, China was ranked the third with a Military Strength Index of 0.79. The U.S. and Russia secure the top two places with a score of 0.94 and 0.80 respectively. The indicator took account of the number of active personnel, tanks, aircrafts, attack helicopters, aircraft carriers and submarines into consideration. Although pouring in huge investments and adopting proactive policies, China’s military strength is still far behind that of the U.S. The U.S. is manipulating its hard power to suppress China’s influence by expanding its military presence in the region.
As discussed above, China’s proactive measures in international affairs have shaken the previously U.S.-dominated world order. In her paper, Chan stipulated that Washington launched a rebalancing policy in the Asia-Pacific region during Obama’s first term as U.S. president. This is an acknowledgment of China’s strong position within the region as it poses a threat to the U.S.’s hegemony position. I contend that China’s proactive foreign measures are likely to cause the restructuring of power relations, transforming current world power structure with the U.S. as the dominant power to a bipolarity structure with China and U.S. as the dominating states. To evaluate the extent of power restructuring, I think it is worth to revise different theories of world order and discuss which one China has adopted and might be adopting in the future. World order is the fundamental rules and institutions that guide sovereign states to achieve individual and collective benefits. It is subdivided into different schools of philosophy, I will focus mainly on Realism and Liberalism in this context. Realists believe that world order is built around the domination of powerful state(s). To sustain power, states desire power to ensure one’s survival. Whereas liberalism, one of the core values of the Westphalia world order, holds that non-state actors are also important international institutions in providing a platform for cooperation among nation-states. Liberalists believe that order is constructed by a balance of power around a dominant state. Nonetheless, the aforementioned world order does not exist independently; situations are rather complicated in the reality. While Western nations still dominate international relations, liberalism is not the only element of the current modern world order. In order for countries to excel in the international realm, they invest in the military in order to uphold its national security. The notion of realism attributes to such investment due to the fact that military strengths are required to sustain powers.
Putting this into China’s context, the approach that she has adopted swung towards to realism. With its vast economic growth, China established itself as an economic giant in the world with large producing capacity and capitals. In addition, the increase in investment in the military and weapon testing also poses a threat to other states. However, in modern days, views held by liberalists also play an important role. It is my strong conviction that China’s approach will slowly tend towards to liberalism until a balance is reached. In order to gain integrity, countries have to respect international organizations and comply with their rules. Political repression and human rights abuse issues are under high surveillance by international human rights institutions. China is compelled to respect international organizations and comply with their rules if she wants to gain more influence. Yet, due to various cultural factors and political factors, notable hurdles might have to be overcome.
Firstly, China’s soft power is limited by its domestic values and policies. In his book, Joseph Nye introduced the notion of soft power, it is a power that directs and attracts forces derived from intangible aspects such as national cohesion, ideology, and influence on the international realm. Culture is an important component of soft power; it helps countries consolidate their position in the international order. One of the fundamental elements in soft power is the idea of basic human rights enjoyed by citizens. However, this is still a contentious topic in China as scandalous incidents happen on a daily basis. A recent example was when groups of fundamental citizens were expelled from their homes as officials cleared illegal residential apartments. The evicted population is now left stranded on streets. After such brutal eviction, violent outbreaks broke out between the police and the victims. Another notorious example would be the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who participated actively in the writing and publication of Charter 08. The Charter 08, stipulates that freedom is the core of universal human values and that human rights are not bestowed by the state. Liu claimed that China’s recent history is a direct consequence of a ruling regime that undermines human rights issues. Ironically, Liu’s trial and imprisonment became another example of what was condemned in the charter.
However, since the post-Mao period of reform and the opening of its trades, China has started to invest funds and resources to strengthen her soft power. China has been proactively promoting traditional Chinese philosophy all over the world with an annual budget of $200 million. Confucius Institutes are set up across 23 nations to educate foreigners traditional Chinese philosophy and to view Chinese political agenda from Beijing’s perspective. On the other hand, a significant increase in international students’ enrolment in China allows Chinese values to slowly influence the future generation. In the last decade, there is a three-fold increase in the number of international students studying abroad in China. In which, over three-quarters of them studied in academic areas regarding disciplines of arts, history, and philosophy. These changes will facilitate China in promoting its cultural affection in foreign elites. Their experience in China will likely to open their minds to Chinese worldviews and interests. Yet, such influence takes time to occur and the result is yet to be observed in the future.
The measures I discussed in these two reports definitely triggered a reconstruction of power relations. China is the fastest growing nation in the past thirty years. Under its current growth, it is reasonable to predict that China will grow into a major component of the U.S., creating a bipolarity situation. Although acknowledging the fact that China has caused a change in world order, I am reluctant to say that such growth will sustain in the long run. This is because China faces various limitations in her quest of being a global major power. I have illustrated my argument by providing examples of limitations on soft power and her economic growth model. Major human rights issues have not been addressed properly. Human rights abuse and limitations on personal freedoms attributed to China’s negative image among other states. Moreover, an unsustainable economic growth model will inevitably drag her economic growth behind. The success in growth in the long term depends on how China can effectively utilize its resources in research and development. As a result, it is plausible to conclude that China has inevitably altered current power relations. However, due to its limitations, such strong power might not sustain in the long run unless China acutely resolves these paramount limitations in due time.