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.

Thus:

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.]