Who is China's closest ally?

China's role as a new world power

October 1, 2009: China's Jubilee Day. The People's Republic is celebrating its 60th anniversary with the largest military parade in its history. Thousands of soldiers march in lockstep across Beijing's Tian'anmen Square, Tiananmen Square.

They rehearsed for this moment for months. They move exactly synchronously, in blocks of 350 men each, like a string. Then tanks and missiles roll across the square, accompanied by fighter planes that spray colored stripes in the sky.

The civil parade follows the three-kilometer military parade. 100,000 citizens of the country pass by in a colorful procession, flanked by 80,000 schoolchildren who alternately hold up different colored signs and thus display images and characters.

A gigantic spectacle - broadcast live to all corners of the empire. At the entrance to the Forbidden City, under the portrait of Mao Zedong, China's President Hu Jintao takes off the parade.

"Over the past 60 years, the hardworking Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party have worked hard and in harmony, defying all challenges and hardships and creating an economically prosperous country. A socialist China - facing the world, modernity and the future - stands today towering in the east. "

The 60th anniversary is brimming with patriotic pathos. The television images of the perfectly choreographed show are made to get intoxicated by them. The Chinese get to see their newfound national greatness and the Communist Party's claim to power. According to the message to the country, the two are inextricably linked. The parade also has a message in store for other countries. It is as simple as it is clear: China is stronger than ever - the new world power.

China's strength is first of all expressed in economic figures. Since the opening policy of Deng Xiaoping began in the late 1970s, gross domestic product has risen from the level of a developing country to USD 4.9 trillion today. This puts it in third place worldwide. The People's Republic of Japan is expected to overtake Japan this year. This would make it the second largest economy in the world behind the US. As an export country, China ousted Germany from the top position last year.

Economic growth will also be the dominant theme of the National People's Congress, which will begin its work tomorrow in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Likewise, one will deal with the drifting income development and the social consequences. While the western states are still suffering from the international financial crisis, China has come through the difficult times surprisingly well. Even in the 2009 annus horribilis, China's economy grew by almost nine percent. Consumption is also growing. China is already the world's largest car market.

China is not only gaining strength economically, but also militarily. Every year Beijing increases its armaments and army spending by a double-digit percentage. And experts suspect far larger investments than officially announced.

Such figures underline that China has become an important global player. But only since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008 does the West seem to take China seriously as a new world power politically, emphasizes Zhang Baohui. Born in Beijing, he teaches political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. Before that he worked in the USA for many years.

"Power always depends on a material basis. So how big is our gross domestic product? How big is our military strength? But perception is just as important for power. This has been shown by the collapse of American hegemony since 2005. America's material power has increased not much changed. But there is a change in perception. America's authority is gone. Conversely in the case of China. China is currently rising rapidly in the international hierarchy. This has to do with China's image abroad. China is now, more or less, as number two among the powers in the world. "

Two years ago only a few would have placed China on a par with the USA. But today there is talk of "Chimerica" ​​or the "G2", modified from the G8, the group of leading industrialized countries. Washington also seems to assume that the era of global American supremacy, as it had existed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is coming to an end. US President Barack Obama last summer:

"Relations between the United States and China will shape the 21st century. That is why these relationships are more important than any other bilateral relationship in the world. I have no illusion that the United States and China will always agree. But that is makes the dialogue all the more important. We have to get to know each other and openly address our differences of opinion. "

The new international appreciation of the People's Republic of China goes hand in hand with an increased awareness of power in the country itself. Beijing seems to be slowly giving up the restraint in world politics once propagated by Deng Xiaoping and is no longer afraid of hard conflicts, especially with the USA. In the patriotic, sometimes nationalist Chinese population, the increase in importance is well received, for example with the economics student Amy Zhao from Nanjing in east China:

"China's voice is growing. Its position has improved. If, for example, other countries used to insult China, China did not clearly oppose it, but only appeased it peacefully. Today, China appears much stronger."

Instead of the friendly dialogue that Barack Obama called for, the Sino-American relationship is now characterized by numerous disputes. Washington has been complaining about the negative trade balance with China for years.

The Americans are accusing the Chinese government of artificially keeping the value of the local currency, the yuan, down. In this way, it supports the domestic export industry, distorting competition. The trade surpluses of recent years have left Beijing with about two trillion dollars in foreign currency holdings. The government has invested a large part of this in US government bonds. That puts Washington in an uncomfortable dependency.

On the political stage, too, the two global opponents are increasingly clashing. China's foreign policy is primarily pursuing a major goal, emphasizes David Zweig from the Center for China's Transnational Relations in Hong Kong.

"The main goal of Chinese foreign policy is to secure the domestic economy. This will continue to be its key function in the next 20 or 30 years. It should enable economic growth, increase the standard of living and thus keep the Communist Party in power. And it should do everything What is necessary for this: Find energy sources, supply raw materials, improve trading conditions. So it is a matter of keeping the economy running so well that stability is guaranteed in China. "

This economically oriented foreign policy constantly collides with Western interests. At the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009, for example, the world was astonished to see how confidently China - in this case similar to the USA - rejects binding CO2 reduction targets. Beijing's argument: the West has polluted the atmosphere for more than 150 years, but China has only been polluting it for a short time. The People's Republic has a right to develop. The old industrialized countries would therefore have to undertake the greater climate efforts.

China also does not follow the West when it comes to the international isolation of politically unloved third countries. This is as true in the case of North Korea as it is in Iran. Its nuclear program worries Europe, Israel and the US. The West wants to enforce sanctions against Tehran. China - a veto power in the UN Security Council - rejects this; for two reasons, says David Zweig.

"One reason is: China draws a lot of energy from Iran. So it is an important trading partner. And second: China is fundamentally not a fan of sanctions. It feels itself vulnerable on this point; because of Tibet, Taiwan, and human rights violations. It fears external influence on these, as China sees it, domestic political issues. Beijing therefore does not want other countries to band together and put pressure on Iran because of its domestic policy. China is always very sensitive. "

When the West’s criticism concerns China itself, the leadership in Beijing, aware of its increased power, now reacts harshly and always relentlessly; for example in the conflict with the US company Google.

Regardless of whether it is about censorship, human rights or China's rule in Tibet and the Uyghur region of Xinjiang: the West's hopes that China would democratize itself through the economic opening to the outside world and the emergence of a middle class have so far turned out to be proven wrong. The concept of "change through trade" failed for the time being. And when western politicians - especially for the domestic audience - publicly denounce Chinese human rights violations, it usually only provokes a shrug in Beijing.

In special cases, the government protests loudly, for example at the meeting between Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama two weeks ago, which further strained the tense relationship between the two great powers.

China is demonstrating to the world that capitalism can work without democracy. As a new world power, the People's Republic is challenging America's claim to leadership not only economically, but also ideologically and morally. The student Ken Tong from Xiamen in southern China makes no secret of the fact that he is enjoying China's new role.

"China used to be internationally discriminated against. But today the Chinese are present in every corner of the world. And the world knows more about China. Thanks to the hard work of the Chinese, the world now recognizes China as a good country."

The question is, will the rise of the new world power China take place peacefully in the long run or possibly lead to a military confrontation with the United States?

The Taiwan question, in particular, has been a constant source of tension. China regards the island as a breakaway province. The US, on the other hand, is Taiwan's closest ally. A few weeks ago, Washington sold $ 6.4 billion in arms to the Taipei government. Beijing was furious. But Beijing will not risk a war with the USA because of Taiwan, says political scientist David Zweig; at least not at the moment.

"I think China's leadership has no interest in a war in the short and medium term. The Chinese military is becoming more and more conflict-prone. Some say: We don't want to accept the behavior of the Americans any more Boats. One day China could send a fleet out and shoot at the Americans. Things like that are risky. But overall, the Chinese leadership will probably be cautious in the next 15 to 20 years. "

China's official rhetoric promotes the image of a world characterized by harmony. President Hu Jintao:

"We pursue an independent, peaceful foreign policy that should bring benefits to both sides. We strive for cooperation with all countries on the basis of peaceful coexistence and development. We fight to build a harmonious world with lasting peace and general prosperity."

Flowery words behind which China's gigantic expansion program is taking shape, not a military one, but an economic one. Around the globe, China invests billions in the economy and infrastructure of other countries, cooperates with governments of all stripes.

The structure of these relationships is more or less always the same. China is making urgently needed investments in the mostly underdeveloped countries. In return, it receives privileged market access for Chinese products and access to raw materials and trade routes.

This happens in Africa and Latin America, particularly strongly but naturally in China's neighboring Asian countries. Many countries benefit from the Chinese capital flow. But at the same time the dependency grows. China is becoming dominant in Asia, emphasizes Zhang Baohui from Hong Kong's Lingnan University:

"Until two years ago, most countries did not believe that China's rise could be a threat to them. But since 2007, China has been pursuing a more pronounced foreign policy and has also been strengthening militarily. This makes some Southeast Asian countries nervous. According to a survey, 38 percent of the Foreign policy experts there that China poses a threat to regional peace, whereas only 12.9 percent consider the United States to be a threat. "

China's rise is changing the power structure in Asia. The United States has a lot to lose. The US is also a Pacific power with a traditionally strong presence in the region and close allies such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Economic expansion could also give China strategic advantages in the medium term, such as control over the South China Sea, one of the world's most important shipping and trade routes. The stronger China becomes, the more difficult it will be for Americans to defend Taiwan. In addition to Taiwan, it is above all a country in East Asia that is watching China's rapid rise to a world power with concern. David Zweig:

"A real problem is China's rise for the Japanese. A shrewd Japanese friend of mine says: The Japanese have to learn to live as number two. And that's not easy for them. That means a mental shift. You have to acknowledge that they are." are no longer the first power in Asia. "

The Japanese public is uneasy about the fact that investors from China are buying up real estate, strategically important industries and land in Japan with full suitcases. Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, on the other hand, seems to focus on rapprochement rather than distancing from China. As soon as he was in office, he proposed an "East Asian Community" with China and other states in the region. However, a rapprochement between the two historical arch-rivals could, so concerns in Washington, significantly reduce the influence of the USA in the region.

Despite the spectacular images from Tian'anmen Square, China is not yet at eye level with the United States. The domestic product per capita is still fifteen times as small as in the USA, and military spending is also much lower. It also appears unclear whether China's rise will continue unabated. Energy and water scarcity, an aging society, catastrophic environmental pollution, social and political instability: the People's Republic of China is facing immense challenges. Indeed, if mastered, the 21st century could, to a large extent, become a Chinese century with uncertain consequences for the world.