2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of WWI. Many Western scholars and opinion leaders are inclined to look back over history and find many similarities between the Europe before the War and East Asia nowadays. In their eyes, China resembles Germany before 1914, and the Diaoyu Islands will be the next Sarajevo. If these analogies made sense, the future of East Asia, as well as the whole world, would be ambiguous and worrisome.
The outbreaks of both WWI and WWII were unexpected. Excessive optimism taught the world a painful lesson, which made people unconvinced that peace and development have become the theme of the post-WWII era.
It is necessary that we must be cautious in case we repeat history. However, simple analogies can easily create illusions. In fact, there is another lesson that has not been effectively learned by the whole world: How to avoid a worldwide misjudgment of the global situation.
Such simplistic analogies can find some similarities, for example, like Germany before WWI, China now is an emerging power. However, 100 years have passed, and the last century could be argued to have surpassed all the achievements that were made in the previous 5,000 years. Without the context of the era, analogies can be easily distorted. Empiricism, on many occasions, has led the world into pitfalls.
WWI was triggered by a handful of colonial powers which lived in international anarchy and went crazy grabbing land. But now, the world is protected by a set of systems which guarantee free trade and peaceful competition between world powers. China is also involved, observing the rules set by the West. It is committed to self-development by means of a win-win strategy.
China should be more confident in the face of the West, knowing that its growing national strength will be very likely to induce their concerns. China should take a tougher stand to protect its legitimate interests.
If analogies must be made, then Japan, which is under the leadership of Shinzo Abe, should bear the greatest resemblance to Germany before WWII: Both of them are unsatisfied with the post-war systems, eager to stir up nationalism and overconfident due to powerful industrial strength. It is Japan that should be the focus of concern from the West.
In fact, China shares similarities with no one. The bigger the influence China has on East Asia and the rest of the globe, the more peace this world will enjoy. The West cannot be persuaded by words, but China can convince them by deeds.
These 100 years have seen dramatic changes. China is growing to hold one of the major roles in the international community. It should hold its destiny at its own hands.