The Economist recently published a series of six in-depth articles on China. Here are links to all six, plus a very brief quotation from each to set the tone.
Brushwood and gall
'Which [path] will 21st-century China follow? Will it broadly fit in with the Western world, as a place where people want nothing more than a chance to succeed and enjoy the rewards of their hard work? Or, as its wealth and power begin to overshadow all but the United States, will China become a threat—an angry country set on avenging past wrongs and forcing others to bend to its will? China’s choice of role, says Jim Steinberg, America’s deputy secretary of state, is “the great question of our time”. The peace and prosperity of the world depends on which path it takes.'
Less biding and hiding
'China has a keen sense of its growing national power and American decline, sharpened by the financial crisis, which uncovered flaws in America and Europe and found China to be stronger than many had expected. “There is a perception in China that the West needs China more than China needs the West,” says one diplomat in Beijing.'
In the balance
'Asian countries want to have it both ways: to resist China’s power but to continue trading with it; to benefit from American security but without sacrificing Chinese commerce. This is a difficult trick to pull off, and if relations between America and China become harder to manage over the next decade or so, as looks likely, the region will sit uncomfortably between two poles. The lesser powers could even add to the tension between the two giants.'
Friends, or else
'America wants China to be a thriving market for its goods. It also wants China to become an active, responsible power in world affairs. Yet at the same time it feels threatened by China’s growing economic, industrial, diplomatic and military might. When America dislikes a position China has taken, it cries foul. This mix of partnership and rivalry is a recipe for confusion.'
'Mistrust feeds upon mistrust, aggression upon aggression. In geopolitics, as in life, the best medicine is prophylactic. If ever the relationship falls into antagonism, it will be hard to pull back. The leaders of America and China talk volubly about their desire for good superpower relations. If they mean what they say, here are ten goals to aim for.'
The fourth modernisation
'China’s abilities to strike have soared far beyond seeking to deter American intervention in any future mainland dispute with Taiwan. Today China can project power out from its coastline well beyond the 12-mile (19km) limit that the Americans once approached without a second thought. Mr Okamoto, the Japanese security expert, believes China’s strategy is to have “complete control” of what planners call the First Island Chain. Ultimately, China seems to want to stop the American fleet from being able to secure its interests in the western Pacific.'
All six are extremely interesting, and highly recommended reading for anyone interested in China's impact on the future of international relations, trade, etc.
Another very good article on China was published today in Aviation Week's Ares blog. It's by Bradley Perrett, Aviation Week's Beijing correspondent. He refers to the Economist's articles linked above, and writes:
... in China the average person probably wants much stronger defense and foreign policies than the government ... This attitude is rooted in intense and rising nationalism, which is itself encouraged by the ceaselessly nationalistic propaganda of the media, even the media that the government does not strongly control.
Chinese children are also taught at school to be nationalistic.
Even without propaganda, Chinese people would probably be highly nationalistic, anyway, because of their grand and ancient culture, the size of the country and knowledge that it is becoming great again.
As a result, the idea of extraordinarily aggressive foreign policy, or even war, comes up in ordinary conversations with ordinary people.
So, while the Chinese government was badly criticized abroad for the strength of its reaction in the recent flare-up of its dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands this year, at home it was widely criticized as gutless.
. . .
This leads to a surprising conclusion: the Communist Party of China is to some degree a heat shield between the rest of the world and the Chinese people. A democratic China would have no such heat shield. It might be a lot hotter to handle.
If the party gradually loses its control over China, we can probably expect it to listen more to the people. I expect that they will demand better public services, less corruption, lower tax, more social security—and a more aggressive foreign policy.
The party, if it felt it were losing its grip, could also be active in exploiting nationalism to rebuild public support. An attempt to recover Taiwan would be a wildly popular move. The Falklands War is an unsettling precedent.
One senior Western diplomat put it to me this way: “The party basically relies on economic performance and nationalism to keep itself in power. My worry is that if the economic performance weakens badly, it will only be able to rely on nationalism.”
There's more at the link. Again, highly recommended and thought-provoking reading.