The arrival of Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington tomorrow has the American media abuzz with one resounding theme: the threat we face from the rising behemoth, China. The New York Times reported today that there is much tension from the recent testing of China’s first stealth fighter. An opinion piece from the Los Angeles times talks of China’s modernizing military and the deployment of increasing amounts of naval vessels in the Western Pacific. A Washington Post opinion piece talks about increasing Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea.
The thinking goes that because China is an autocracy, its rise could resemble early 20th century Japan or Germany – and America’s rise, in comparison, was peaceful. But how faithful really is that line of thinking in historical terms?
Lets quickly take a look at the rise of England and America. England’s rise was coupled with the largest colonial empire the world has ever seen – on which the sun never sets. America’s rise was coupled with the Native American genocide, the French and Indian War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the occupation of the Phillipines, etc, etc.
As you can tell China’s rise is in fact quite different from others in history. In fact rising powers in general in the 21st century are markedly different from their 19th and 20th century counterparts. We should be grateful that China’s rise doesn’t cause a hundredth of as much violence and oppression as America or England. So far it hasn’t – and I, for one, am grateful.
Moreover, Americans should ask themselves exactly what we have to fear, what is the threat, from not being the world’s sole superpower? England used to occupy that position, and they seem to be doing fine. In fact, by many standards of measurement they are better off than we are!
At some point we will have to accept that countries rise to power and eventually fall. Over the past forty years China has made enormous strides in human rights, governance, labor rights, and more. If history is any guide, than the reforms the Chinese leaders do not enact will eventually be demanded by its people. Who really knows what China will look like in another forty years? But I do know that if they can continue at this same pace, than perhaps Americans will eventually be ready to hand over the reins.