China—Shadow or Torch for Asia?


Recently, China‘s economic and military buildup has prompted much use of the terms “threat” and “deterrence” in the international community. Neighbouring countries in Asia, in particular, fear Chinese potential expansionism or its self-righteousness, characteristic of great powers. However, an important point tends to be overlooked: that China herself, having lived with the burden of invasion and occupation in recent history, senses a “threat” from the outside and feels anxious over her own security.

If we take that into account, we could well argue that rather than trying to view China as a threat and to talk about deterrence, an effort could be made to mitigate China’s anxiety and provide her with a sense of security. Since China has territorial disputes with most of her neighbours, it is especially important that all countries declare, in the form of non-aggression or similar agreements, a commitment to solving these issues by peaceful means. Concern over a chain reaction that might result from a military incident involving China and her neighbors is a good reason for establishing the framework of a regional security dialogue in Asia, on which Japan may be able to exercise more initiative.

China’s Role in the International Order

In this connection, we have to ask ourselves a basic question as to whether China is a power that wants to challenge and change the existing international order. That is what she did during most of the post–World War II period, not only as a “Third World” leader and rebel against the West’s politico-economic system, but also as a foil to Soviet-led socialism.

If Beijing continues to pursue “omni-directional” diplomacy, we can regard China not as a challenger to the international order but a faithful participant in it, conscious of her responsibility to protect the international system.

Still, it must be tempting for Beijing to position itself as the exclusive architect of the international order in East Asia. In order to mitigate such concern on the part of Asian neighbours, China should observe even more strictly international conventions in Asia and the world, in such fields as trade, the environment, disaster prevention, infectious diseases, human rights, and welfare, including food security.

In this connection, we have to emphasize the fact that the concepts of human rights and democracy have in fact been inherent in China’s own civilization and political culture. We must urge China to recognize that sharing those values is an issue that concerns her own dignity.

A Vision for Asia

From the Asian perspective, we must bear in mind one important keyword that should be shared with China: “Asian responsibilities.” Asia’s rapid economic growth and its byproducts—demographic change, environmental problems, strains in global food and energy supplies—all have global implications. Whether large or small, every country in Asia must yield some national sovereignty to international accords that promote shared interests. With that in mind, we must involve China more than ever in joint efforts to develop international codes of behavior.

In carrying out such tasks we must recognize that Asia, including China, should adjust itself to the trend of globalization. At the same time, though, we must bear in mind that the rest of the world (outside Asia) should be flexible enough to adjust itself to the rise of China and Asia.

In such joint efforts for adjustment, one must ask an important question: Where is China eventually headed? What is being questioned in Japan and the rest of Asia is China’s vision of its relationship with the rest of the world, above and beyond modernization. If we are to avoid future conflicts, countries in Asia need to frame visions of their own futures, and they should cooperate in the process of realizing such visions.

(Originally written in English on November 6, 2013.)

Asia China politics globalization Ogoura Kazuo international relationship