The BBC is running a special week of coverage of China from 7 March.
Paul Reynolds, World Affairs correspondent for the BBC News website,
explains why the country deserves such attention.
China used to be called a sleeping giant. Now, as the world’s fastest
growing major economy, it is often called a waking giant.
Yet it might be more useful to understand it as something else – as a
giant which wants to regain its rightful place.
And that rightful place, it thinks, is at the centre of the world.
The world which China once knew was relatively small. Yet Chinese
rulers regarded themselves as supreme in it.
“Before the ‘century of humiliation’, which began in the 1840s when the
British empire encroached on China and lasted until the communist
takeover in 1949, China was the pre-eminent power as far as it could reach,” said
Dr Steven Tsang of St Antony’s College, Oxford.
“Its basic outlook is that it has always been a world power.”
In this view of China, what is happening now is a steady build-up of
Chinese economic power backed up by increasing military strength, all designed
to enable it to resume its role and to make up for the humiliations of the
It is now 25 years since China started reforming its economy and opening to the world. During that time it has been transformed from a poor and introspective communist backwater, to one of the world’s most important economies.
Goods made in China now fill every Western household. China’s need for raw
materials to feed its economic growth have forced it to scout places like South America and Africa for new suppliers.
Now Chinese companies are starting to buy up famous companies overseas as they enter the global market.
In short, for the first time in modern history, China’s development has an impact on people all around the world.
But what sort of China are we dealing with, and will it soon be a global superpower to rival the US, as some analysts predict?
China is patient – it waited for Hong Kong to come back within its fold. Chinese is also determined – it will not permit independence for Taiwan.
However, China will not be in a position to exert world influence for many years, Dr Tsang said.
“China is a major economic power, no question. It would like to be seen as a rising power and one which rises in a peaceful and responsible way. Its diplomacy has been wonderfully effective in presenting that,” he said.
“But there is a lot of muddled thinking about this. It is not a world power. China does not have the capacity of being a global power for 20 years.”
Such a view of China does not stop the United States from regarding it, in President Bush’s words, as a “strategic competitor”. And such is China’s impact on the world that the question of arms sales
to China has now impacted on EU-US relations.
China’s huge need for energy will also increasingly have to be taken into account. It is already, for example, getting oil from Iran and that has implications. It might block any Security Council sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.
One day China will be under pressure to come under whatever agreement might follow the Kyoto Protocol, from which, as a developing country, it is exempt.
So China is already exerting an influence beyond its region. The question is, what kind of power does China want to be?
So far, it has been content to exert its influence cautiously. It rarely causes ructions on the UN Security Council.
“China is happy to co-exist with lesser states as it did before,” says Dr Tsang.
The key phrase, of course, is “lesser states”. They would have to be lesser.
That is something which worries Japan, for example, which itself once sought to exercise regional domination by force.
China’s approach is different.
“China wants to be the regional power in Asia and to reduce the influence of
the United States,” said Andrew Kennedy, head of the Asia programme at the
Royal United Services Institute in London.
“But it needs its neighbours and is building up friendships. Senior members of
the government and party are always travelling and visiting. They have also courted Europe, especially Britain, France and Germany,” he said.
The cloud on the horizon is Taiwan, to which the anti-communist Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government retreated in 1949.
China’s policy towards Taiwan is clear. A Chinese Defence White Paper in December 2004 stated: “We will never allow anyone to split Taiwan from China through whatever means. Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of ‘Taiwan
independence’, the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly
crush it at any cost.”
This explains the Chinese military build-up. According to Andrew Kennedy, Chinese military spending is probably seven or eight times its stated expenditure of $25bn. It has been busy buying from Russia and would like to buy from Europe.
“China is not yet in a position to carry out D-Day type landings in Taiwan, but it does not need to invade. It could blockade and is increasing its maritime power to that end with destroyers and submarines.” said Mr Kennedy.
The issue in any conflict between China and Taiwan would be the attitude of the United States, which over recent years has been deliberately ambiguous.
It does not want to give Taiwan a blank cheque for independence nor China a free hand for invasion.
The law governing a US response, the Taiwan Relations Act 1979, commits the US to “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.” It states that the US would regard “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United
But a military defence of Taiwan would be left for a decision at the
According to Dr Steven Tsang, China would prefer to subdue by the threat of force.
“Chinese military philosophy is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. It is to win without fighting,” he says.
The longer-term question the rest of the world has to ask about China is whether the present hybrid communist-capitalist system that has emerged since China started its economic reforms can last.
“I believe it will collapse one day,” says Dr Tsang. “The Communist Party cannot survive for another 30 years.
“What emerges could be a different, democratic China. Then the old mentality of being the premier power will disappear. A benign China could become a reality.”
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/07 04:00:01 GMT
China’s intolerance of dissent
As part of the BBC’s China Week, Haoyu Zhang of BBC Chinese.com looks
at the country’s continued intolerance of any form of political dissent.
Ever since President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao formally took
power more than two years ago, they have called on officials to put people’s
interests first and help build a civil and harmonious society.
All this comes against a backdrop of rising social tension, as many
of Chinese society feel left behind by the economic boom.
Achieving “harmony”, however, seems to have meant that any dissenting
are dealt with swifter and harsher than ever before.
Ding Zilin is a retired university professor in her 70s.
For the past 16 years, she and a few others who lost sons and daughters
during the 1989 Tiananmen massacre have been calling on the government
But in response, these women, known as the Tiananmen Mothers, have
imprisonment, house-arrest, phone-tapping and constant surveillance.
Since late February this year, as Beijing got ready for the annual
China’s parliament, it was almost impossible to get through to any of
known dissidents inside China.
Their home numbers were either “no longer in service” or answered by a
age male voice, who responded: “Sorry, there is no such a person here.”
When the BBC finally reached Mrs Ding at a secret mobile number
another dissident, the conversation lasted only a few minutes.
Mrs Ding first asked whether it was true that the EU would soon lift
embargo on China, imposed following the Tiananmen crackdown.
“France and Germany have always put their business interest first,”
Ding. “I hope that Britain will stand up for principle and I call on Mr
not to lift the embargo,” she said.
Mrs Ding told the BBC that she had already lost hope in the new
leaders in China.
“I can’t even go and get groceries without them following me and
me; neither Deng Xiaoping nor Jiang Zemin treated me as badly as …”
the line went dead.
Zhang Xianling is another Tiananmen Mother. Her only son was killed
the protests. She has also been subjected to numerous arrests and daily
“The police follow me wherever I go,” said Mrs Zhang. “When I wanted to
the shops, they even joked about running the errand for me.”
Mrs Zhang is also losing hope in the new generation of leaders.
A couple of months ago, when some sympathetic people from Hong Kong
boxes of printed T-shirts to her, she was arrested – just for receiving
“I guess some of the police officers feel bad about doing the things
do,” said Mrs Zhang. “Their excuses are always that they stand to lose
jobs if they don’t follow orders.”
Mrs Zhang does not subscribe to the theory that increasing economic
prosperity in China will result in better human rights.
She said her group had written so many open letters to both President
Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, asking them to reconsider the
position on Tiananmen.
There were hopes the new leadership, which was not so closely
what happened, would be more flexible. But the only response so far has
more surveillance and harassment.
Rule of Law?
China’s government says it wants to “introduce the rule of law” as part
its drive to create a more harmonious society.
Last week, Guo Guoding, a Shanghai lawyer who became known for
dissidents and the more vulnerable members of society, had his office
ransacked by police. He was accused of unspecified “illegal” dealings
violating the constitution.
Many in the Chinese legal profession know this fate all too well. Some
joke that there are more lawyers in prison than criminals.
Lawyer Gao Zhicheng runs his own practice. He told the BBC that he was
surprised at all at his fellow lawyer’s plight.
“Well, he’s made a name for himself and thus attracted a lot of
said Mr Gao. “Many lawyers are thrown into jail each year in China,
the more attention they attract, the more likely they’d expose the
evils in the current legal system,” he said.
Mr Gao said that in a Chinese court, winning a case for the “weaker
namely an individual or a non-governmental client – was an anomaly.
“Chinese laws do not automatically weigh in favour of fairness or
justice,” he said. “Only under extremely rare circumstances, with a lot
outside pressure, can a Chinese court’s show-trial hand victory to a
Mr Gao has himself made a name for himself defending the weak. He said
been questioned more than 20 times by the authorities this year.
Mr Gao believes that ultimately change will have to come from the
“Hope lies with the people,” he said.
Reviving ‘Old’ China
Feng Congde, one of the student leaders in 1989 who fled China, now
Paris and works as a China expert and a social science researcher. He
with Mr Gao’s analysis.
Mr Feng said that during his flight to the West, he was only able to
police capture thanks to help from various underground qigong, or
“We university students were convinced that the way to change China was
model everything on the West,” he said.
He said he only realised after the experience that the real power of
and the real hope for political change lay with reviving the “old”
“For thousands of years, these grass-root organisations and underground
societies have always served as a counterbalance of power to the
Mr Feng thinks that as China gains more economic freedom, increasing
of the grass-root societies will slowly revive and rehabilitate, and
change in China’s political system.
These groups, of course, need people to recruit.
But even in Britain, just ask any of the tens of thousands of young
students who flock into the many UK universities each year, the great
majority of them either do not care or think that things are fine back
Huang Hua, the general secretary of the Chinese Democratic Party in the
one of the many overseas Chinese dissident organisations, said he often
up with Britain’s Chinese students and finds that they care very little
But Mr Huang does see hope.
“Occasionally you do run into a few bright young minds,” he said. “They
quickly realised, after only a few months in Britain, that the root
of China lies within the authoritarian system.”
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/07 15:30:15 GMT
British Broadcasting Corporation
The BBC is running a special week of coverage of China from 7 March.