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8 Jan, 2015

Commentary: Not a “Chinese Century,” but a less Westernized world

by Xinhua Writer Deng Yushan

BEIJING, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) — As the world marches into 2015, the international landscape augurs just another year of what history wonks refer to as Pax Americana. A “Chinese Century” foreseen by Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and many others has not begun.

Even if — a very big if given the notorious inaccuracy of economic estimates — China had overtaken the United States as the largest economy, over-interpretation — either exaltation or trepidation — would be unnecessary. As stirring as it might sound, the purported shift would just be a natural outcome of multiple interwoven realities.

First and foremost among them is the fact that China is a vast country blessed with a large, hard-working, peace-loving and creative population determined to make full and wise use of its enormous resources and potential to pursue a better life not only for its own but for the whole world.

Also of pivotal significance is a defining and irreversible trend of the times, namely the China-epitomized collective rise of the developing camp, whose members are unleashing their pent-up eagerness and energy for socioeconomic development after having underachieved for too long thanks in no small part to a stunting — and even forbidding — international environment.

Against such a dynamic background, it should not whip up any fuss that China would eventually outstrip the United States in total output. What should be reckoned shocking and odd is the scenario that a much larger and no less industrious family running a fertile orchard of roughly the same size would always produce less.

Most Chinese are rightly cool-headed. Although they value the opinion of prestigious economists like Stiglitz, they are not dizzy with the crown he has placed on China. A recent online poll conducted by Xinhua International, a Xinhua new media outlet, and Tencent, a Chinese Internet giant, shows that 53 percent of the some 65,000 respondents do not think 2015 marks the opening of a “Chinese Century.”

With China’s per capita GDP still equaling merely a third of Western Europe’s and a quarter of America’s, and with such outstanding problems as imbalance and inequality still far from being tamed, China’s top priority remains to comprehensively deepen reform, secure sustained healthy economic development and maintain social stability and harmony. In the Xinhua International/Tencent survey, 63 percent say China should continue to focus on promoting economic development and improving people’s well-being.

And it is pure common sense that only by putting its own house in good order, not least keeping its economic engines up and humming, can China continue to play the role of a responsible major country on the international stage, helping power global development and safeguard world peace.

Yet China becoming a stronger workhorse is just the good side of the ambivalence many in the West harbor toward the growing heft and influence of the Asian giant. They, together with the antagonistic sort, fret that the ascent of China, a country in the East, would disrupt or even upend the current world order, which privileges the West, or even lead to war with established powers.

Such anxiety seems relevant. It is true that the international system is indeed undergoing profound changes, with the developing countries making up an increasingly large share of the world economy and obtaining a bigger say on international affairs, which to all appearances places the West on the losing end.

It is also true that history is heart-wrenchingly fraught with conflicts between emerging and existing empires. U.S. scholar John Mearsheimer’s theory of offensive realism, expounded in his masterpiece “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,” strikes a chord with a good many.

But what seems relevant is not necessarily right. For one thing, the world did not suddenly fall down a rabbit hole. Despite repeated bouts of Western declinism, Western dominance and U.S. preeminence remain deeply entrenched, not least in the political and security spheres. Most global institutions are still skewed in favor of the West, and the U.S. military budget dwarfs those of the next 10 largest defense spenders combined.

For another, the current reshaping of the international order is, at root, repairing and improving, instead of disrupting and upending. It is not that the West is declining, but just that the rest is catching up, and taking up what they deserve but has long eluded them.

And what is most important is that a less Westernized, more equalized world actually benefits the West as much as the rest. It might sound off-putting to Western chauvinists, but only on an international platform that is based on equality and cooperation — other than hegemony and exploitation — will the world realize permanent peace and all nations fully explore their development potential.

As for the seemingly doomed China-U.S. rivalry, history is by no means a magic crystal ball. The two global heavyweights should not reduce themselves to prisoners of outdated wisdom, but join hands to make history by blazing a new, win-win trail of major-country relations. China benefits from a United State that is sober and sound, just as a prosperous and strong China serves the interests of the United States.

Although it borders on delusion to imagine a frictionless interaction between the pair, it does not strain credibility to conclude that their engagement does not have to wind up in confrontation and tragedy, especially in view of the ever-deepening economic globalization and the ever-tightening intertwinement of their interests.

What they urgently need to do is cement mutual understanding and boost trust. The frequent and fruitful contacts between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama have laid a solid foundation for building a new type of major-country relations, and the two sides should seize the momentum and make new progress.

As the world pauses and ponders sentimentally upon the turn of the year, the evolution of the international architecture is dispassionately forging ahead. The international community, particularly its leading members, should aim higher than short-term parochial gains, and work together to shepherd the transition toward an international system that benefits all nations for the long run.