Cooling relations between China and the United States, and grumbling from China’s leaders, have lately prompted questions, both inside and outside China, about the country’s ambitions and changing attitude toward the world. Is China growing arrogant?
In recent weeks, official media in China seem to have stepped up their campaign against perceived American arrogance.
An editorial in the CCP’s official People’s Daily last month threw out the gauntlet and asked: “Is the United States ready to recognize China as a power on the world stage?”
On August 12 and 13, the People’s Liberation Army Daily ran two separate editorials accusing the United States of “provoking China’s dignity.” The August 12 editorial, written by Luo Yuanshao (罗援少), secretary of the China Military Technology Academy, alleged that by dispatching an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea, the United States had confirmed its dedication to what Luo called the “three -isms”: hegemony (霸权主义), gunboat diplomacy (炮舰主义) and unilateralism (单边主义). (Those are “isms” in Chinese, mind you.)
But dissenting views are also receiving some attention in China. Scholars have recently warned against a growing arrogance that they say has stemmed from China’s rising economic clout.
More nuanced discussion of the issue of “China’s rise” — and the world’s response to it — has occurred largely in China’s commercially-oriented media, as columnists at metro newspapers and Internet portals have attempted to move past abstract ideology to find points that resonate with their audiences.
Appearing recently on Shandong Satellite TV, veteran Chinese diplomat Wu Jianmin (吴建民) cautioned against taking a confrontational attitude toward the West, and urged the importance of maintaining a “spirit of openness (开放), tolerance (包容), self-confidence (自信) and equality (平等)” as China grew stronger.
The Beijing News ran a transcript of Wu Jianmin’s interview today, which we have translated below:
SSTV: A nation’s rise and fall is connected to its confidence. What spirit and attitude should China have as it rises?
Wu Jianmin: I think we should have a spirit of openness (开放), tolerance (包容), self-confidence (自信) and equality (平等).
Deng Xiaoping once summarized this issue by saying that closing oneself off results in backwardness, and backwardness makes one a victim of aggression. This summarizes thousands of years of the Chinese experience. In the Han and Tang dynasties, and in the Song and Yuan dynasties, we were relatively open in our outlook, so China’s strength throughout history has had a great deal to do with openness. We invited in the best of the outside world. Researchers of Chinese history have told me that in the Tang dynasty, something like 3,000 foreigners served as officials in the imperial government.
As China strengthens and prospers, we have to be alert to a form of great power chauvinism (大国主义). There is, in the Chinese subconscious, the idea of wanting to “be in the lead” (想当头). When we set off on the path of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, we talked about how Beijing was the center of the world revolution, and how Mao Zedong was the Red Commander (红司令) of the world revolution.
Towards great nations and smaller nations, we should have an attitude of equality. When we confront a great power, there’s no need to ingratiate ourselves. And when we confront a small nation, there is no need to put on an air of importance. Openness, tolerance, self-confidence and equality — these are the attitudes that we should have.
SSTV: Faced with the invasion of Western culture, how should China rebuild its confidence and rebuild Chinese culture?
Wu Jianmin: I think this question of yours is bit self-conflicting. As though we are now being invaded by Western culture, and so we must fight against this invasion.
We have to learn to distinguish between black and white. Has our reform movement been a misstep? Are there not good things we can learn from the West? In fact, there are so many good things. If we make it about aggression and throwing off aggression then we’ve returned ourselves to the past.
Western culture is in a position of strength because it has been at the vanguard of humanity for several hundred years. We will slowly move to the front as well, but this requires a process. This process cannot be about excluding the West. If we exclude the West then we will reap our own troubles. If we took that attitude then all of our students overseas would be prevented from returning. Our children would be prevented from eating McDonald’s, and those who did eat McDonald’s would be heartless traitors.
If we move toward a closed attitude, China will falter once again. I believe we have to gather knowledge from around the world. If you have something good, I acknowledge it, and then I study it. Modern communication technologies are also inventions of the West. Would it be OK for us not to study them?
SSTV: There is a book called China Is Unhappy. The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and it advocates and extreme and narrow nationalism. How do you view this question?
Wu Jianmin: Extreme nationalism is on the rise in China. If you look at the history of our Party, you’ll note that its attitude toward nationalism has been criticism and not tolerance. Why are such things emerging now? I think their emergence has a definite background. You’ve mentioned a number of books, and I have read these. They also say that China should encourage militarism (尚武精神), that China must develop the world’s most powerful military.
Why do these people say things like this? There are a number of reasons. First of all, they have failed to see the changes that have gripped our world, and they persist in old ways of thinking. If we behave according to these old patterns of thinking, China will experience major problems.
They fail to see that there are two major trends in the world. The first is peace-seeking, and it is about development and cooperation. But our present world has emerged from an old world, and there is another trend of this old world which is about cold war, opposition and conflict. These two trends exist together in our world. Some see only cold conflict, opposition, attack and they inflate these, believing that this is the only prevailing trend in the world. So China should behave in this way too. This is wrong.
Ours is a country of small-time farming, long gripped by the ideology of “class struggle.” These ideas have had a deep influence on our people.
After economic reforms began, we had no time to cleanse ourselves of the influence of this ideology, and it continues to have an impact. Extreme nationalism is on byproduct of these ideas.
These words and ideas are deceptions, and everyone needs to be alert to them.
SSTV: I recall that there is another book called No Model For China’s Future, which emphasizes that China has its own unique development path. And other scholars have raised the idea of a “China Model.” But a separate group of economists and thinkers believe that there is in fact no difference between China’s development and previous development in the West, in terms of economic concepts and the institutional demands of economic development. And so, they believe, China must do more in the areas of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law. So, Ambassador Wu, how do you view this issue?
Wu Jianmin: To be honest, I don’t agree with holding up this “China Model.”
Our country has developed very rapidly, and we’ve drawn many lessons from the rest of the world. Economic reform and opening is about exactly that, adopting good things from human civilization (人类文明). But China’s characteristics and situation, these are something that we have rarely seen with other countries. The leadership position of the Chinese Communist Party emerged out of the circumstances of history, and one important characteristic of China’s model is the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Now tell me, is this something that other countries can reproduce?
We face so many problems, but do we have ready-made answers for these? No. We must still “cross the river by feeling the stones.”
The “China Model” wasn’t a term brought up by Chinese. Some people feel that talking about a “China Model” is like shouting encouragement. But in Chinese history, how many examples do we have of false maps leading to real tragedy and misery? How much tragedy has our country suffered as a result of those thundering slogans from the left?
China’s changes must draw lessons from all of the beneficial fruits of human civilization.
Some people still see a Cold War going on. They see opposition and conflict and they inflate these, believing this is the way the world works. This way of thinking is wrong.