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Final Exam China: A Regional Power On The Way To World Superpower Paul Birdwell POL 567a – Emerging Powers in the Global System Spring II - 2018 Professor Mikhail Beznosov University of Arizona April 28, 2018


Introduction to China In the Spring of 2018, China is a recognized regional power in Asia and trending towards becoming the second superpower on the world stage with the United States of America in the next couple of decades. China is a very old country stretching back roughly to the year 2100 BCE and progressed through several dynasties until emerging as the People’s Republic of China in 1949 under Communist Party rule led by Chairman Mao Zedong (Keay, 2011). The People’s Republic of China stumbled forward for a couple of decades but made its first real big breakthrough to the rest of world when then U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972. In the space of a week Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong cut a deal that benefited both the U.S. and China for decades to come, with the U.S. getting China’s help in resolving issues in Asia and China getting access to American markets along with eventually millions of jobs that became a major part of turning China into the economic powerhouse it is today (MacMillan, 2007).

China’s Growth From Third World Economy to An Economic Powerhouse Once the door was open to the West and important next step for China was to change from the countrywide Communist economic planning from its founding to more market-based economic reforms, and the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the ascension of Deng Xiaoping as leader of China presented just that opportunity. China implemented a number of major institutional economic reforms to move the Chinese economy away from Communism with a focus the agriculture, freeing-up state-owned enterprises to be more independent from the central government, and more open door on trade and investment, and a market-driven price system for goods and services. Those changes


along with encouraging non-state enterprises to create capitalistic-driven companies along with banking and financial reform ignited the Chinese economy and energized the Chinese people to such an extent the country experienced 9.6 percent annual growth for two decades after the 1978 reforms (Chow, 2004). Forty years after the 1978 economic reforms China now has one of the most dynamic economies on Earth with an annual average economic growth of 6.7% and a GDP of $14.1 trillion leaving China only behind the United States of America in the size of its economy in the world today (IMF, 2018). China is today a regional power that plays a major role in the Asia region and has designs on becoming a superpower in the coming years as it reaches out and engages the world in much the same way the United States of America did in the last century.

Population and Geography With a population of 1.4 billion and covering approximately 3.7 million square miles China is one of the world’s largest countries and is bordered by 14 nations, notably Russia, Afghanistan, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and Vietnam which have all played important roles in China’s recent development (World Atlas, 2018). The large land area and population by themselves would make China a regional power, but coupled with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for the last several decades has made China the dominant player in the Asia region and a challenger to the other major powers on the globe.


Government and Leadership The Government of China is guaranteed in the People’s Republic of China Constitution to give legal power to the Communist Party, and the current President of China is Xi Jinping who assumed office in November 2012 (Michigan State, 2018). President Xi has been very aggressive in expanding China’s power in the Asia region with an assertive foreign policy, and has extended China’s reach into the Eurasian area with the One Belt One Road Initiative. The One Belt and One Road Initiative is one of the largest global infrastructure projects with a goal of connecting the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the ocean-going Maritime Silk Road (French, 2017). There are some in the West that see China’s One Belt One Road Initiative as China buying its way into Europe and Africa, and certainly the $318 billion that the Chinese have invested in Europe in the last 10 years would back-up their claim (Tartar, Andre, et al, 2018). What the One Belt One Road Initiative shows is that China sees itself as much more than a regional power, and that like the United States in the 20th century if China is to become a superpower in the 21st it will have to invest resources around the world to gain influence in places far away from Asia.

Regional Influence Since the death of Chinese President Deng Xiaoping who advised his citizens to “lie low and bide your time,” China has slowly been expanding its power in the Asian region which has aggressively expanded under President Xi since 2012. Xi has been keen on using Chinese economic power to gain more power in Asia and elsewhere around the world, while at the same time China has asserted its dominion over a series of


coral reefs turned into islands by China in the South China Sea. The One Belt One Road Initiative along with Xi’s idea for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with an authorized capital of $240 billion has turned China into the major economic player in Asia, and a force to be reckoned with on the world stage (Economist, 2017). China is following a similar path taken first by Japan before World War II and then the United States of America after its victory over the Japanese to gain regional hegemony in Asia using a mixture of economic power, soft power, diplomatic efforts, and building-up their military to expand their influence in the region. Already Asian countries such as Australia, the Philippines, and Japan are realizing that China is heading towards becoming as powerful of a force that the U.S. has been since the end of World War II, and that figuring out a way to work with China is in those Asian countries selfinterest. The U.S. response to China’s increasingly aggressive moves in recent years has been to assure allies that America is not going to abandon Asia which has included an increased US Navy presence in the South China Sea. Even with America’s commitment to Asia no one seriously doubts that China will be the dominate force in Asia for years to come and Asian countries will have to deal directly with China to successfully co-exist in the region (Lind, 2018).

From Regional Power to Superpower In The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers author Paul Kennedy argues that a country becomes a Great Power because it has the resources, economic durability, and military capability to influence its immediate region and world beyond its own boundaries. China has become the strongest regional power in Asia and is well on its


way to gaining regional hegemony in Asia even against the United States of America that has shown it will commit a large amount of resources to maintain its robust presence in the region. A critically important question in the coming years relative to China’s rise from regional power to superpower is if China’s rise will be peaceful, or if China will be drawn into trade, economic, and maybe even military conflicts with the U.S. China has aggressively grown and modernized its military in recent years, but still spends far less on its military than the U.S. so it seems for now that China will be satisfied with using other tools to grow its power in Asia. Perhaps China will try to come up with its own kind of “Monroe Doctrine” in the coming years that the U.S. utilized to eliminate most European influence in the Western hemisphere with the ultimate aim diminishing U.S. influence in Asia. More likely though considering that China and the U.S. have deep economic and trade relationships that both countries rely on to power their economies, the future will be a series of events with both China and the U.S. testing each other’s resolve on individual issues in an effort by each to gain regional hegemony (Mearsheimer, 2010).

Conclusions The Chinese are known to be close observers of history and will no doubt know that America has seen its role as a “balancer” of sorts around the globe since the end of World War II in an attempt to head-of another major military conflict. Certainly the Chinese have studied closely the foreign policy ideas of Americans like Henry Kissinger who argues in his book World Order that the U.S. should stay engaged on the world stage


to provide “balance� in regions like the Middle East, Europe, and Asia (Kissinger, 2015). Makers of American foreign policy likewise should understand that the rise of China from a Third World economy, to economic powerhouse, to worldwide superpower is inevitable and that the U.S. needs to manage its power in Asia just as China must as well as it becomes a major force around the globe. History is replete with example of existing Great Powers dealing with the rise of regional powers rising up to challenge the Great Power’s hegemony. World wars have been fought leading to the deaths of millions of human beings over a fundamental argument of which country will hold hegemony over another. In the nuclear age there have been dozens of instances when two nuclear powers such as the U.S. and China have faced off, and in each instance the country that held the superior nuclear advantage won the argument and the day (Kroenig, 2018). The coming bi-polar world with two major superpowers in the U.S. and China is going to take new thinking on both sides to avoid the long and often contentious Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union. A recognition on the U.S. side that China will have a significant role to play in the world for the rest of the 21st century and that finding ways to work with China through a nonWestern lens will be important to assure peaceful relations (Stuenkel, 2017). China for its part must recognize that the United States of America was founded upon the principle of freedom, liberty, self-determination, and democracy which are values that the current Communist Chinese leadership do not accept in their country, but are something that must be accepted for China and the U.S. to work well together over the short and longterm.


In April 1984 President Ronald Reagan visited China and spoke to the students and faculty at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and President Reagan’s eloquent words then are still a good guide today for the leader of the U.S. and China as we move towards a two superpower bipolar world (Reagan, 1984): I've been happy to speak to you here, to meet you in this city that is so rich in significance for both our countries. Shanghai is a city of scholarship, a city of learning. Shanghai has been a window to the West. It is a city in which my country and yours issued the communique that began our modern friendship. It is the city where the Yangtze meets the East China Sea, which, itself, becomes the Pacific, which touches our shores.

The Yangtze is a swift and turbulent river, one of the great rivers of the world. My young friends, history is a river that may take us as it will. But we have the power to navigate, to choose direction, and make our passage together. The wind is up, the current is swift, and opportunity for a long and fruitful journey awaits us.

Generations hence will honor us for having begun the voyage, for moving on together and escaping the fate of the buried armies of Xi'an, the buried warriors who stood for centuries frozen in time, frozen in an unknowing enmity.

We have made our choice. Our new journey will continue. And may it always continue in peace and in friendship.


Works Cited Chow, G. C. (2004). Economic Reform and Growth in China. Annals of Economic and Finance, 5, 127-152. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from Economist, The. (2017). China's Battle for Influence in Its Region. The Economist Newspaper, 20 Apr. 2017, French, Howard W. (2017). Xi's Legacy May Rest on the World's Biggest Infrastructure Project., Bloomberg, 11 Oct. 2017, IMF (2018). Report for Selected Countries and Subjects - China. Retrieved from Keay, J. (2011). China: A history. New York City, NY: Basic Books. Kissinger, Henry. (2015). World Order. Penguin Books, New York City, NY. 2015. Kroenig, Matthew. (2018). The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters. Oxford University Press, 2018. Lind, Jennifer. (2018). Life in China's Asia. Foreign Affairs, 28 Feb. 2018, MacMillan, M. (2007). Nixon and Mao: The week that changed the world. New York City, NY: Random House. Mearsheimer, John J. (2010). The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia. The Chinese Journal of International Politics, vol. 3, 2010, pp. 381–396.


Michigan State University. (2018). China: Government. GlobalEDGE: Your Source for Global Business Knowledge, 2018, Reagan, Ronald. (1984). Remarks at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. 30 Apr. 1984, Shanghai, China. Stuenkel, Oliver. (2017). Post-Western World: How Emerging Powers Are Remaking Global Order. Polity Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2017. Tartar, Andre, et al (2018). How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe., Bloomberg, 23 Apr. 2018, World Atlas (2018). China. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from

Profile for The Jefferson Century

China: A Regional Power On The Way To World Superpower  

China: A Regional Power On The Way To World Superpower