Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Its peaceful rise not just dependent on China

By JEAN-PIERRE LEHMANN (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-18 09:34

Its peaceful rise not just dependent on China

We live in extremely perilous times.

I take the opportunity of prefacing my remarks by saying how terribly is missed, especially in current situation, the late Wu Jianmin, who tragically died in an automobile accident on June 18. I first met him when he was China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, then we met on a number of occasions in Paris when he was ambassador to France and later in Beijing when he was president of China Foreign Affairs University. He was truly an exceptional human being in combining great wit, great wisdom and great warmth. He was an ardent proponent of China's peaceful rise.

The person who actually coined the term, China's peaceful rise to great power status, is Zheng Bijian, a major Chinese and global thought leader. Noting that all previous nations that rose to great global power status (Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States) did so through war and plunder, China's route should be different and peaceful. A major driver, argued Zheng, is that the country still needed to do so much to develop itself and lift the Chinese people to reasonable standards of living following the devastating experiences China had suffered in the 19th and 20th centuries.

To achieve its peaceful rise to great global power status, of course, an overall peaceful global condition is essential for China. As another thought leader, the late Cheng Siwei was fond of repeating almost like a mantra: "China needs the world; the world needs China."

The reality is that we are living in an increasingly confrontational and lawless world. As the recent publication of the British Chilcot Enquiry report lays out in detail, the 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq was a rogue act, flouting the UN. No institution of global governance is functioning properly. The failure of the Doha Round has made the World Trade Organization moribund, with the current global trade regime dangerously adrift. Four nuclear powers-Israel, India, Pakistan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea-are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. While Washington calls on Beijing to abide by the ruling of the arbitral tribunal in the Philippines' case against China over the South China Sea dispute, it has not even ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that it swears by. I could go on.

While there is a global state of uncertainty, there are also specificities that relate to the situation in the Asia-Pacific region. Whereas the first half of the 20th century witnessed warfare throughout the world, following 1945 these chapters in European history have definitely closed. The exit of Britain from the European Union is causing and will continue to cause confusion in Europe, but there is not the remotest possibility of war.

This is alas emphatically not the same atmosphere in the Asia-Pacific where deep historical wounds coupled with multiple territorial disputes poison the atmosphere. To ensure peace in the 21st century, the war chapters of the 20th must be closed. This is why I have argued "to make peace with China, (Japanese) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should visit Nanjing next year for the 80th anniversary of the massacre" and express national remorse in a manner comparable to former German chancellor Willy Brandt's genuflection at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in 1970.

Although the conflict in the South China Sea and the general state of confrontation and lawlessness in the world clearly jeopardize the chances of China achieving its peaceful rise and indeed prospects for global peace and prosperity, by no means should it then be deduced that war is inevitable.

In her outstanding book on World War I, The War That Ended Peace, historian Margaret MacMillan argued that while war was not inevitable, choices made by world leaders at the time increasingly made it so. There are, as she says, always choices. If the peaceful rise fails, the consequences will be catastrophic, for Asia, for the world, above all for China. Beijing must be very careful in the choices it makes.

All efforts on the part of all parties concerned must be concentrated on conflict prevention and on building regional and global institutions that will enhance dialogue, confidence and peace. We are at, or very near, the eleventh hour.

The author is professor emeritus of international political economy at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland and visiting professor at Hong Kong University.

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