Copyright The Financial Times
Published: FT February 16 2006
With the worldâ€šÃ„Ã´s second largest economy in purchasing power parity
resource base to modernise its military, China is well on the road to
becoming the first new superpower of the 21st century.
Rising China is not simply going to be a remake of Japan â€šÃ„Ã¬ which
it to superpower status â€šÃ„Ã¬ because Beijing, unlike Tokyo, is a
agent. In the geopolitical marketplace, it has become mandatory to
anticipate Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s emergence during the next 10 to 20 years in much
way as share prices will reflect the forecast performance of a company.
these forecasts are complicated by uncertainty regarding Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s
vis-a-vis the US; as partner, competitor or adversary. In many ways,
is less the equivalent of Wilhelminian Germany on the eve of the first
war, fated to collide with the status quo powers in its quest of a
the sunâ€šÃ„Ã¹, than of the Germany of Bismarck in the 1870s and 1880s. It
power erupting on to a crowded global scene but with no predetermined
outcome as to the nature of its relations and alliances.
China, by virtue of the explosive growth of its economic appetites and
production, disrupts this global scene. At the same time, it is
itself as a status quo power. Todayâ€šÃ„Ã´s China, unlike the US with its
promotion of regime change in non-democratic states, has no value
sell and no messianic mission to fulfil. This is becoming its great
as it moves towards superpower status. It is not only the Zimbabwes,
Myanmars and the Sudans of the world that will flock to Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s
self-interest-driven, value-free foreign policy, but also those states
are seeking a counter-weight to Americaâ€šÃ„Ã´s assertion of its own
mission. Jacques Chirac, the French president, may be misguided in his
vision of a multipolar world in which China would somehow deal with
as an equal. But as Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s economic and political leverage grows, it
only the French who will rise to the bait of a Bismarckian China
the Bonapartist instincts of the US.
However, Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s value-free foreign policy has significant limits. In
long run, it will inevitably create tensions with a US â€šÃ„Ã¬ and, indeed,
European Union â€šÃ„Ã¬ that sees values as an integral component of
relations. This would come on top of the more traditional causes of
between China and the US, such as the fate of Taiwan and the nature of
strategic order in east Asia. Yet, for China, the relationship with the
remains by far the most important one to get right.
In the shorter term, the policies flowing from Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s value-blind
positioning provide no clear sense of direction regarding world
such as global warming or, most acutely today, nuclear proliferation.
may be tempted to seize the opportunity of securing first call on
energy resources, thus preventing a unified stance in the United
Security Council and precipitating the breakdown of the international
proliferation regime. Conversely, China might decide that the spread of
nuclear weapons â€šÃ„Ã¬ perhaps to Japan, South Korea and even Taiwan â€šÃ„Ã¬
counter to its interests and that it should therefore work with the US,
Europe and Russia in nudging Iran away from the nuclear threshold.
America will have to learn to balance its long-standing regional
in east Asia with Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s ability to help or hinder at the global
notably on the Iranian question. Washington, at some stage, will have
decide what is more important: dealing with the Iranian account (which
entail satisfying China on other issues) or constraining China in east
(even if this means losing Chinaâ€šÃ„Ã´s support on Iran in the Security
Europe, in a way, has the opposite problem. The EU thinks of China in
terms but neglects the regional dimension of the USâ€šÃ„Ã¬Chinese
east Asia. The Europeans are essentially passive beneficiaries of the
strategic stability created by Americaâ€šÃ„Ã´s military presence in the
Asia-Pacific region. Compromises with China, including horse-trading on
EU arms embargo, should not be contemplated by the Europeans without
consideration of Americaâ€šÃ„Ã´s strategic role in east Asia. Any
would have dire long-term consequences for USâ€šÃ„Ã¬European relations.
the corresponding strategic dialogue between the US and the EU for
with such problems hardly exists.
One hopes that in the capitals of China, the US and Europe, the full
implications of the new trade-offs are not only understood but acted
The writer is special adviser at the Fondation