Why Westerners think China’s rise defies expectations

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/20 23:13:40

I came across The New York Times article by Philip P. Pan, The land that failed to fail, when my fellow colleague shared it on social media. After carefully reading it, I was amused by the way the headline was crafted. With the headline's double-negative way of wording, the piece conveys the meaning that China rises and succeeds, meanwhile defying everyone's expectations. Yet the headline quintessentially reflects the very mindset that Western elite, especially in the US, hold toward China - they admit China's ascendance, but unwillingly.

Over the past few decades, the US, the world's only superpower, has been trying to figure out what a rising China would mean for it. The US was caught unprepared when the Asian powerhouse became the world's second largest economy in 2010 and began quickly narrowing the gap with it from all aspects, be it military, technology, or international status.

History proves that it is difficult for an established power to adapt to an emerging one, as the Thucydides Trap warns, and it is especially so for a US which has historically enjoyed a large buffer between it and the rest of the world. Therefore, the US engages in policy toward China that oscillates from engagement to containment. American China Hands once described the world's most important bilateral relationship as "a couple sleeping on the same bed but with different dreams".

Nowadays, the US keeps testing China's bottom line regarding Taiwan and the South China Sea. With the trade war launched by the administration of US President Donald Trump looming large, there is worry that enmity may overwhelm cooperation between the two.

But what is interesting is that the two cannot afford to lose each other. During my recent reporting trip to the US, I found that the Made-in-China products have penetrated all walks of American life, be it children's toys or Christmas gifts. Even the White House gift shop is selling items made in China including those featuring President Trump. Chinese products undoubtedly make Americans' lives easier. Chinese products also need the vast US market.

There are different opinions as to whether the US considers containing China as its official policy. I was told by one Washington official during my trip that because the two countries are so closely interconnected, the US would benefit nothing from curbing Chinese growth.

What bothers the US and the West is the recipe behind China's rise which is so different from Western norms and practices. They wonder how China keeps its uninterrupted growth by embedding market forces into the planned economy and how democratic characteristics work in the one-Party rule. They also want to know how China strictly governs its internet sphere while becoming a giant on the global internet landscape.

It is a good thing that the West has started trying to understand China's rise, not with Western standards but through Chinese lenses. Thus they will find China's rise co-current and not defying anyone's expectations.

Posted in: OBSERVER

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