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Sleeping Tiger: China as the Next Superpower

Ryan Wulpi

Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne

English W233-02

Professor Thomas Kaough

October 18, 2004

Throughout the Cold War, the world viewed the United States as a ‘big

brother’, coming to the aid of weaker countries and as a buffer to the aggressive

policies of the communist Soviet Union. Now, since the fall of the USSR, China

has moved to the forefront of remaining communist countries. Therefore, our

focus will lie within this context. The necessity for another superpower in the

world becomes more apparent currently, in this election year, than we have seen

in the last 15 years. The go-it-alone approach that the current administration

utilizes has run its course. Throughout the Cold War, the world viewed the United

States as a ‘big brother’, coming to the aid of weaker countries and as a buffer to

the aggressive policies of the communist Soviet Union. Now, since the fall of the

USSR, and the rise of Russia in its place, comprised with the Bush

Administration’s foreign polices, the world now perceives us as a ‘big bully.’ The

international community needs an additional superpower to ascend and develop

into a buffer against the United States. The United States has gone from

promoting democracy to imposing it upon the world.

Wariness of a Sleeping Tiger

The occupation by the Japanese in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Mao

Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party coming to power in 1949 were

turbulent times in China’s history. The People’s Republic of China emerged from

the civil war between the Nationalists and Mao’s Communists (Hynes). The main
and stated goal of communism is the violent overthrow of the bourgeois or ruling

class, by the proletariat, or working class. Inevitably, communists believe, there

will be a conflict of these two social classes and from that will emerge a new

socialist order. China historically remains behind the other industrialized nations

economically. However, there have been changes on the horizon. The economic

reforms introduced by Mao Zedong’s successor Deng Xiaoping in the late

seventies have transformed the Chinese economy and produced a period of

spectacular growth. China’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, has quadrupled in

only 15 years (Hynes). To keep up this amazing growth, the Chinese are going to

have to give more autonomy to the people to determine the course of private

business. Once this happens, as it did in the former Soviet Union, the people will

start wanting more autonomy in the political arena. The Chinese have shown that

they are unwilling to loosen their grip and allow any questioning of the leadership

of the Communist Party. The image that most Americans have of China is the

images from June 3 & 4th, 1989, when the Chinese army opened fire on unarmed

students inside Tiananmen Square (Koppel). China’s rise as an economic power,

combined with its large-scale program to modernize its military, raises the

question of how they will use this power. Associated with this newfound power

we have seen an increase in China’s territorial claims in the region (Hynes).

The Taiwan Issue

The issue of democratic Taiwan’s independence from communist China

remains a contentious topic in the Sino-US relationship. It will ultimately lead to

a collision between the United States and China. The United States utilizes

Taiwan to contain communist China, although eventually the Taiwanese are going

to demand independence. The Chinese are immensely afraid of the spread of

Taiwanese democracy to the mainland. Therefore, they regard any Taiwan-

Chinese disagreement as an internal matter, and have repeatedly warned the

United States from pushing its weight around in the Far East. The United States

continues to supply arms to Taiwan even in the face of condemnation by mainland

China. The Chinese have been playing lip service for quite some time, mainly

because of a lack of military strength. However, times are changing; within the

last 15 years, China has embarked on an ambitious military modernization

program. Due to secrecy surrounding military matters, the actual size of military

spending has been hard to determine. Officially, China’s 1996 defense budget

was $8.7 billion US dollars. Independent estimates vary from $8 billion to $100

billion US dollars. Regardless of the independent estimates, the official Chinese

defense budget reveals a 200 percent increase since 1988 (Hynes).

Burning Question

A large area for concern relates to the resources that will be required to

ensure China’s continued existence. China has 22 percent of the world’s

population, but only 7 percent of cultivatable land. Just feeding the population

will require ninety million more tons of food in the year 2000 than it did in 1995

(Hynes). With this massive buildup of military strength, compounded with the

booming economy, the question remains: How will China exert her newfound
power and influence in the Far East? Will she challenge the United States over

Taiwan? The sphere of influence of the United States includes South Korea,

Taiwan, and Japan. Those three countries are much too important economic and

military partners for the United States to sit idly by and let China exert more and

more pressure on these allies. It remains critical that the West not be naïve to the

intentions of communist China. With its ambitions concerning territorial claims,

the challenges it will face providing for its population and the insecure and

suspicious nature of its communist government, the West could face a potentially

serious threat from China in the future (Hynes). Any pressure by the West to

promote human rights and democracy in China represents a direct threat to the

current regime. The viciousness of the Tiananmen Square massacre should serve

as a warning of the magnitude the Chinese Communist Party places on

maintaining power. In its effort to emerge as a great power, China has changed its

security strategy from defensive to offensive. If it chooses to act based on the

example set forth by the former Soviet Union, could potentially undermine the

current world order (Dellios).

Engagement or Containment?

What’s left after all this, begs the question of whether a policy of

engagement or containment will better suit the West in dealing with China. There

needs to be a two-pronged approach to these dealings with communist China.

One needs to contain the communist aggressiveness, but on the other hand, the

West should also attempt to engage China on a wide array of issues. The only
problem with engagement is the line between engaging the Chinese and appeasing

them. We as leader of the free world cannot appease an aggressive and oppressive

communist regime such as China. We have to stay strong and allow diplomacy to

work, but also remind the Chinese, while in one hand we hold an olive branch, we

also, as Teddy Roosevelt would say, hold a ‘big stick’ in the other.

Hynes, Major H.A. “China: The Emerging Superpower.”

War, Peace and Security WWW Server. Ex. New Horizon 1997-98

Koppel, Andrea.

“The new superpower on the block: Should the U.S. contain or

engage China?” CNN Special Report, “The Bigger Picture”

8 Oct. 2000

Dellios, Rosita. “China-United States Relations: The New Superpower Politics.”

The Culture Mandala Vol. 3 no. 2 pp 1-20 Copyright Rosita Dellios

August 1999.