Harmony as China’s grand strategy

By Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi

Historically, it has been customary for major global powers to forcefully have their way. China has defied many details of how such nations behave. In close to half a century, China has neither fought a single major war nor killed large numbers of foreigners. It has tried to hold true to principles of peaceful co-existence, mutual respect and harmony with other countries.

To render context and further appreciate how inspiringly odd this is, let us look at China’s nemesis. Just between the end of World War II and 2001, the United States instigated 201 out of the 248-armed conflicts that happened in 153 places around the world. Currently, the United States has 5 major ongoing wars and about 10 shadow wars.  China has none.

So, as a major global power, what is China’s grand strategy?

China has religiously maintained a set of principles for conducting international relations dating as far back as the 1950s. These “Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence” have informed China’s utter opposition to power politics which had for centuries been the fashion of conducting international relations, especially by powerful states.

However, I will not commit the gullible mistake of interpreting China’s aims based on what it says. I will instead analyse its long-term behaviour. It is cliché in international relations studies that “what the state does matters more than what the state says.”

China has mastered an effective, simple and enduring strategy of winning by establishing harmonious dealings with every country. And it is not because they are incapable of hard military firepower but because they understand that lasting peace can only come from peaceful co-existence.

While the United States has established military bases, weapons and forces on every arm and leg of the world as part of its grand strategy, China has peacefully integrated more than 150 countries and 75 percent of the world’s population under the Belt and Road Initiative.

The government of China has also improved domestic social conditions of its 1.4 billion citizens. This is the best way of earning legitimacy at home and it is key to realising long-term stability both domestically and internationally. A nation strained by division at home can barely achieve any foreign policy objectives.

This stature by such a powerful nation is very inspiring in the realm of international relations. And it is historically rooted in the DNA of Chinese leaders to harness peace and harmony as much as they can in how they deal with every country in the world, big or small.

In 1974, the Chinese leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping addressed the United Nations General Assembly and made one of the speeches that informed the way China behaves today. He said:

“If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation the people of the world should identify it as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow China.”

Fifty years later, China has not changed color and as such has neither been opposed nor overthrown by the Chinese people or the people of the world.

Through various policies such as the Belt and Road Initiative, China has also extended the reach and expanded the breadth of its tradition of economic self-sufficiency. Both the people of China and millions of people in the developing world are benefiting from development support aimed at making their countries self-sustaining.

Such unconditional support for the rest of the world will surely obtain geo-political influence and reciprocal support for China in many years to come.

Even in the face of territorial claims, China has avoided the use of force and instead pursued a good-neighbor policy that seeks to mend ties with its neighbors. Protected by two giant oceans and bordered by two friendly states- Canada and Mexico, the United States which still exercises the “Monroe doctrine” would never comprehend how China sustains a harmonious relationship with its neighbors yet it has one of the longest borders of any country in the world.

This is all testament to the sincerity with which China has upheld the five principles of peaceful co-existence, first articulated by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1953 as mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.

China has defied conventional knowledge about so many things. It is a country whose major contribution to the rest of the world might be in being an example of alternative possibilities. One such possibility is that you can be a rich, powerful country without bullying or using the force of arms to legitimize your footprints around the world. You can respect the sovereignty of other countries and even support them to develop without conditions. It is the first time in history we are seeing with such a country.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Development Watch Centre.


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