The raising of the PRC flag in Tiananmen Square on the country's national day, Oct. 1. (Photo/Xinhua)
The rise of China will be among the major topics for the third and final US presidential debate set for Oct. 22. Whether China will represent a threat or opportunity for the world has always been a topic that has accompanied the country's economic miracle.
Yet far from gloating at China's new-found status in the world, the country's leaders are concerned about whether the growth can be sustained or whether the whole edifice will collapse as the nation's economy faces new problems such as a widening urban-rural disparity, unequal distribution of wealth as well as systemic corruption and the destruction of environmental resources.
The October issue of the China Reform magazine published by the Caixin Media Group has reported the views of former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L Thornton China Center at the Washington-based thinktank Brookings Institution.
They are sure that the future success or failure of the China model, either based on the considerations of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region or safeguarding its own economic and trade interests, has now become crucial to global political and economic development.
Lee sees China as a huge reservoir of talent, led by figures who have absorbed lessons from history and will not push for aggressive external expansion. He also believes China's economy can still maintain its high levels of growth.
Beijing wants to build a strong and prosperous China which enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with the US and has no intention of challenging or replacing US hegemony or damage the current state of relations between the world's two largest economies.
When the two sides held the fourth round of the Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing in May, the Chinese side brought up the 2C (coordination and cooperation) concept for the first time to play down the political overtones of "the group of China and the US (G2)." This indicates Beijing is neither eager to become a superpower in a hurry, nor does it want to shoulder excessive international responsibility.
Lee has certain reservations about the Communist Party's claims that China will "never seek hegemony, never claim supremacy." The heavy-handed behavior demonstrated by Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China and East China seas as well as the huge magnetic effect of China's economic ascension have caused uneasiness among neighboring countries. The members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are generally concerned that it may not be necessary for China to exert its military might decades from now to rebuild the ancient system whereby all East Asian states paid tribute to China and construct a new strategic order.
Lieberthal meanwhile thinks the Chinese development model has encountered a bottleneck. The country's economic growth will slow down to the point where social stability is affected, as well as Beijing's ability to participate in international affairs.
Lieberthal holds the view that at a time when China is becoming a major global player, it needs to rethink how it will engage as a "responsible partner" and involve itself constructively in international security affairs.
He cites China's increase in imports of crude oil from the Middle East in the coming decade and the decreasing reliance on Middle East oil for the US over the same period to suggest that the US will eventually no longer need to be the policeman in the region. It is neither impossible that China might post troops in the Middle East in the near future, nor that it may exert a pivotal influence on the situation in the region. This would represent a remarkable stage for Sino-American cooperation and dialogue.
Lieberthal and Lee do not hold the same interpretation or have the same expectations regarding China's future. Lee notes that China has proclaimed that it is not a hegemonic state. Yet Beijing invariably responds to any dispute that touches on China's core interests with the statement that an offending nation, group or individual has "hurt the feelings of the 1.3 billion Chinese people."
Lieberthal emphasizes that the US has its allies and security interests in East Asia, which tallies with Lee's support for US intervention in the Asia-Pacific to prevent ASEAN members from being beholden to Beijing.
After China's rise, East Asia will not return to a past where all parties simply let the US and Japan take the lead to maintain order in the region. But nor will nations in the region gladly accept a new tributary system centered on China.
China has asserted that it will "never seek hegemony, never claim supremacy" but is willing to share prosperity and security with neighboring countries. Western nations should respect China's development path and not make elaborate effort to obstruct its rise.
China for its part should demonstrate a readiness to shoulder responsibility to engage constructively with the rest of the world and do its best to address its internal issues so as to ensure stable economic growth and domestic stability.
As Lieberthal has said, the world needs a successful and stable China. Likewise, China also needs a stable external environment. The time when China takes on greater responsibility in major international issues may not be far off if Beijing and Washington can turn their willingness to strengthen mutual trust into concrete and effective action.