Mark Leonard on China’s view of itself in historical context, and it’s relationship with India.
Question: How does China see itself in context of the new global world order?
Mark Leonard: I think most Chinese people think that they know that for most of human history, China has been the most. Sorry. Most Chinese people are acutely aware that for most of human history China has been the most powerful country in the world. So they look at the last couple of hundred years as an anomaly because China has been a poor and a weak country, rather than one of the strongest countries in the world. So they want to build China’s comprehensive national power. They want to be in the premier leagues. But, at the same time, they’re
very cautious about how this is done. There’s a perpetual fear within China that other countries will decide that China’s a threat and will try and unite against it, and balance China’s rise and try and contain China. So therefore for a long period of time even talking about China’s rise was practically a taboo. There was a sense that if the Chinese didn’t mention it, other people might not notice that it was happening. And that’s why people talk a lot about the peaceful rise of China, and various attempts have been made to try and reassure the rest of the world that China’s not going to be a threat, to give other countries a stake in China’s rise, to show that it’s a win-win situation. It’s a favorite Chinese phrase, win-win. And basically try not to frighten the horses. So that’s one very important characteristic of how they’re dealing with it, and it’s part of the fact they’re so self-aware about their power and how they got it. And that leads to a series of polices which they’ve designed to reassure peoples. One approach is to try and learn from other parts of the world that have not frightened countries around them. That’s why Chinese are quite interested in the European Union and the idea of regional integration, because they can see that that allowed Germany to return to the international order without scaring people after World War II. So they’re experimenting with embracing regional integration within Asia, which has one benefit which is reassuring the neighbors that China is not going to crush them and they have a stake in China’s role, and a second benefit of excluding the United States from the development of a nuclear core community. They’re also trying regional integration to the west. They’ve created a thing called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with Russia,
which is allowing them to get involved in Central Asia in a way with Russia’s blessing, because it’s through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Second way that they’re thinking about reassuring the world is they’re trying to become completely obsessed with the idea of soft power, which is an American idea originally. And they’re looking at ways of building Chinese soft power and of reassuring the world and making China more attractive. And that partly by associating China with some ideas that were already attractive, like economic development pointing to the success that China’s had recently, political sovereignty, and also the idea of being independent from Western interference, or the interference of the outside world. So that has led to policies like, for example, setting up Confucius Institutes around the world to promote Chinese culture and the Chinese language, and much more sophisticated Chinese public diplomacy.
Question: China and India…
Mark Leonard: I think the Chinese are interested and hoping some of the things that work well for the Indian economy. There is a degree of strategic competition in places like Burma, where China and India are both kind of active, and trying to build it into their sort of influence. And they’re also quite keen to make sure that India doesn’t become part of a balancing coalition with the United States and Japan. So a lot has been done by the Chinese to rebuild relations with India because, I mean, it’s only 40 years, it’s barely years since China and India were at war with each other, so there was a degree of mistrust which had to be settled. It’s striking when you go to India how much more
obsessed they are with China than the reverse. Chinese don’t sit around obsessing about India in the way that Indians obsess about China, and I suppose that’s because the Chinese economy has been growing a lot faster than the Indian economy, and China is a much more powerful country already.