China’s rise has been one of the most impressive economic success stories of the 21st century so far. This despite relatively high levels of poverty, sub-par healthcare, and education systems and one-party rule for the past six decades. Moreover, prior to Communist Revolution China had a chaotic and violent history. Economic growth came only after Beijing obtained a level of security and stability coupled with an opening to the outside world which ultimately led to a place in the international community. Indeed, China’s rise is thanks to this openness and largely with the international community’s blessing. Today China is less much less of a threat than it used to be.
Officially China was and still remains a communist state. However, today’s Chinese Communist party is far less ideological than it was in Mao’s day and especially since Beijing decided to open up the country to the rest of the world. By opening up, China had much to gain economically despite the new challenges that would inevitably come with it. Today, Beijing predominately faces two challenges on the domestic front. First is figuring out how to quell the near constant domestic unrest that occurs all across the vast country. This unrest is largely either underreported or not reported at all by the international media despite it’s scale which is a huge concern for Beijing. A restless population undermines the Communist’s party’s legitimacy and rule.
Second is to successfully make the transition from a predominately export-driven economy to a mainly consumer-driven one like the economies of many of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. This is a delicate yet crucial transition that if Beijing doesn’t successfully make could also jeopardize the future of the Communist Party. Moreover, each challenge could adversely effect the other if they are managed poorly. That’s why Beijing has a strong incentive to keep it’s current social contract with the Chinese people, namely to provide economic prosperity and to guarantee certain personal freedoms in exchange for the public’s acceptance of one-party rule.
Abroad China’s main objective is to secure natural resources for their growing economy. Already, Beijing has managed to pull 500 million of its people out of abject poverty and yet, there is a sizable portion of the population that remains in poverty. An entirely separate task is providing basic foodstuffs, needs and services to the newly-enfranchised Chinese middle class. For this, China has been instrumental in developing constructive relations the West, particularly the United States. Over the years Chinese politicians, scientists, engineers and business leaders have studied and visited the United States to learn how to better run their own country in a variety of ways. Moreover, having received Most Favored Nation Status with the United States China has enjoyed one of the strongest bi-lateral relations of any two countries. Beijing’s widespread and full-fledged membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and accession to the G-20 has further solidified its important place in the international community. By contrast, revisionist powers of the past such as Nazi Germany flat out rejected such ties with the international community.
China also possesses nuclear weapons and although the United States believes it has almost 200 such weapons they have rarely been seen as much of a threat. Rather, it can be argued that China has become less of a threat with nuclear weapons. Ever since acquiring a nuclear arsenal, China has maintained a ‘no first use’ nuclear posture vowing not to strike first. Although this posture seems to have changed recently, chances of a nuclear escalation remain low making China much less of a threat today.
Granted, the Middle Kingdom is still an authoritarian state accused of a slew of human rights violations, widespread theft of American intellectual property and hotly disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea. For the latter, China’s neighbors in the South China Sea will be looking to the United States to play a pivotal role in helping to resolve the dispute peacefully. The hope is that international pressure will resolve these issues given how well integrated China is into the global economy. In fact, it’s very integration into the international community is why China is not labeled a rogue state. By contrast Iran, a country labeled as a rogue state is accused of human rights violations while also financing terrorist activities around the world, assisting the Assad regime in Syria in a war against their own people, allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons breakout capability, and, until recently electing a president that suggested among other things that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map‘. Being less integrated in the international community means Tehran has fewer allies. A fate that Beijing has avoided.
There is no question that the People’s Republic of China has had a tumultuous history from the Communist Revolution to Tiananmen Square. But the Middle Kingdom’s past is not prologue. It’s no accident that China’s rise has been part and parcel to it’s relatively fast-paced integration into the international community and global economy. Indeed, Beijing chose a path of economic development and growth within international norms and institutions which is why it continues to grow with the international community’s blessing.