Op-Ed Contributors

Hegemony theory never fit for China

By Yang Qingchuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-11-17 08:01
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The frequent visits by Chinese leaders to neighboring countries and the joyous gathering of Asian Games participants in Guangzhou are just the two latest examples of a growing sense of unity and common prosperity in the region. However, some Western commentators have as always tried to interpret the positive developments in Asia in another way.

It may not be wrong for the West to seek greater market access and maintain security alliances in Asia, but its goal should not be achieved at the cost of China's relations with her neighbors. An article in The New York Times tried to flame up territorial disputes in Asia, claiming that it was "China's assertive posture" on these issues that pushed her neighbors toward the embrace of Washington.

The allegations are new, but the logic is centuries-old. They dated back to the time of the rise of colonial powers. The Social Darwin theory, deeply rooted in the Western view of world politics and still held by many there, believes every rising power will eventually pursue regional and world hegemony. However, that is just something the West drew from its own experience and is irrelevant to China's case.

Let facts speak for themselves. Even in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when China's overall strength reached its historical zenith and was capable of launching long-haul sea voyage as far as to Africa, it neither seized an inch of foreign territory nor set up any overseas colony.

Unlike Western sea powers which built their colonial empires around the world, legendary Chinese Mariner Admiral Zheng He and his massive fleet, unmatched at the time, brought Chinese merchandize and assistance to locals at every stop throughout his voyages.

In recent decades, after ending the sufferings from internal upheavals and foreign invasions, China is once again progressing on a path of rapid economic and social development and observing its opening-up policies. In relations with neighboring countries, China always sticks to the principles of mutual respect, good-neighborliness, seeking common grounds despite differences, and harmonious coexistence.

The launch of a free trade area between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the beginning of 2010 has enhanced the flow of capital, resources, technology and personnel between the two sides. China is also working with Japan, South Korea and other neighbors to push forward the establishment of free trade in East Asia.

On security issues, China is playing a constructive role by promoting friendly negotiations for peaceful solution to regional security challenges and territorial disputes.

China's communications with other countries on the South China Sea issue are going smoothly and its call for "setting aside disputes and pursuing joint development" was well-received in the region.

It is crystal clear that there is neither historical precedent nor contemporary proof that China is on her way to become a threat to the neighbors or a new hegemony. So why all the fuss about the talks of "China threat" from the West?

A possible explanation is that the West looks at China through a lens of its own past.

A modern US theory on international relations argued that a hegemonic superpower like the United States is indispensable for maintaining a "free and open" international order. But such a hegemony theory runs counter to Chinese philosophic traditions, which expound the concept of "harmony without uniformity," which means the world is full of differences and contradictions, but the righteous man should balance them and achieve harmony.

Moreover, China is still a developing country with a large poor population and backward rural areas. Its leaders and people are clear that it has a long way to go before it is fully developed. Thus it is in China's fundamental interest to maintain good relations with all its neighbors and promoting common development.

It is also in the world's vital interest to maintain a good relationship between China and the rest of Asia. Given Asia's growing prominence in the world economic structure, any turbulence in the region could jeopardize the world growth.

So painting the China-Asian relations with colors of Western hegemony theory is both irrelevant and harmful, and it just shows how outdated and absurd the theory itself is.

The author is with Xinhua News Agency.

(China Daily 11/17/2010 page8)