How strong is China's overall national strength? It is important to think over this question, which comprehensively influences our assessment of national diplomacy.
There is an intuitive judgment that although China is only second to the US in terms of GDP, it is probably not the second strongest power in terms of overall national strength.
A country's overall national strength relates to not only its power in terms of military force and economic scale, but also its weaknesses.
China leads in economic quantity, not economic quality. It lags behind the US, Japan, Germany and even Russia in terms of science and technology.
Meanwhile, China is a global factory and has an export-oriented economy. There is a very high level of interdependence between China and the rest of the world. Historically, a country with supreme military power inevitably controlled world order. But at the moment, China is far from protecting its interests in various parts of the world with its current military power.
Moreover, the Taiwan and Tibet questions have severely impeded Beijing's diplomacy and provided leverage for external forces. Maritime frictions with neighboring countries in recent years have also added new uncertainties to China's diplomatic activities.
Last but not least, emerging divisions in social values and frequent social conflicts also undermine the country's overall strength.
China, with a large-scale economy but all those weaknesses, has become a special member of the world's "big power club." It faces the tasks of thoroughly addressing its territorial issues and the urgent need of developing its economy to lift living standards of its 1.3 billion-strong population. It is hard to tell which task is more important.
China's rise is set to be a process of strategic innovation. The nation must be able to exploit to the full its favorable conditions, avoid unfavorable ones and transform disadvantages into advantages.
For instance, China's constantly expanding trade volume can translate into new sources of its national strength.
As China's strength continues to grow, it will become more capable of undertaking temporary, partial losses. Such concessions will consolidate China's determination to safeguard national interests and prompt external forces to think twice before challenging the country.
This will be a gradual process, but it will be filled with prominent changes. At the moment, changes can already be observed from the dynamics over the Diaoyu Islands and Huangyan Island, as well as shrinking space of the Dalai Lama clique's activities.