Thursday, July 7, 2011

World Competition in Sport Metaphors

With China’s growing economic clout and political stature, Beijing has been talking about China’s “peaceful rise” to great-power status for several years. As China is preparing for leadership change in the fall of 2012, the world is watching whether Xi Jinping, who will most likely replace President Hu Jintao, will bring any policy changes.

Since China overtook Japan to become the world’s second largest economy last year, economists and China-watchers have been debating when China would overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy. Some have coined the term “Chinamerica” to highlight the close interactions and interdependency between China and the US. Commentators use the term “Beijing Consensus” to describe an alternative model of economic development to the Washington Consensus of market-friendly policies.

Within China, intellectuals and writers from many sectors have debated rigorously the implications of China’s “peaceful rise.” One of the interesting books I have come across is the best-seller 中国梦:后美国时代的大国思维与战略定位(China Dream: Post-American Age’s Mindset for a Big Country and Strategic Positioning).

The author 刘明福 (Liu Mingfu) is a professor of National Security University and Director of the Research Center for Military Construction at the University. Liu, who joined the Chinese army in 1969, argues that China’s dream to be a powerful country has had a long history.

The Chinese monarchy was overthrown in 1911 and the Chinese Republic was established. Even though China was dirt poor at the time, Sun Yat Sen, the father of the Chinese Republic, exhorted his Chinese compatriots to build China to be “the world’s most prosperous and powerful country.” Then in 1955, Mao Zedong has famously said that China has to surpass Britain and catch up with the US. But the Great Leap Forward resulted in famine and disaster.

Liu’s book uses three interesting metaphors to describe the competition among world powers.

· Dueling: No world power would willingly give up its dominance without resorting to violence and war. Different world powers have risen to prominence in modern history: Portugal in 16th century, the Netherlands in 17th, Britain in 19th and 20th, and the USA in the latter part of the 20th century. The replacement of the old world power by the new has often been accompanied by war. The USA became a world power as a result of the two world wars. Dueling is a very cruel form of competition.

· Boxing: The Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the US can be compared to boxing. The Cold War was more “civil” than the world wars: the arms race did not lead to direct military confrontations between the superpowers. In boxing, each party wants to win, but one does not need to kill or eliminate the opponent.

· Track and Field: The competition between China and the US in the 21st century is more like challenges in track and field, instead of dueling or boxing. The motto of the Olympic games is “faster, higher, and stronger.” The rise of China is not to create another superpower, but to help build a peaceful, open, and harmonious world. The development of China will contribute to the economy of the US and benefit the world.

Each of these sports has its own rules; the key question will be who will be setting the rules for world competition in the 21st century? How will the smaller and weaker nations have a say in determining the criteria for an open and harmonious world? What kind of global structures would need to be created to arbitrate the “world games”?

Since China lost the Opium War to Britain in 1842, China has been forced to sign numerous unequal and humiliating treaties. Deng Xiaoping’s socialism with Chinese characteristics has awakened the sleeping giant in the East. His open policies have radically changed the economic and social contours of the most populous country on earth. With economic growth, many Chinese have regained confidence in their country. Books like China Can Say No have become very popular.

Liu’s book plays into the rising nationalistic sentiments of the Chinese. He states that in order to become a world power, China must compete with the US in terms of military power and capability. His hawkish position has been criticized because this will lead to a new round of arms race and the increase of nuclear arsenals.

Nationalism runs very deep in China today. On Chinese web sites, many Chinese bloggers and commentators rush to defend China whenever China is criticized, especially by Western media. A strong China dream has the danger of romanticizing the nation, the people, or the state. It can lead to blind trust and uncritical support of the nation. When this happens, China dream could become nightmare for other countries and peoples.