China Radio: Perceptions of a Rising China
Yesterday, I was on China Radio International (CRI) talking about perceptions of China as a developing country and as a rising global power, both at home and abroad. I was joined by Jonathan Holslag, the head of research at the EU-China Academic Network, who was visting from Brussels, and Victor Gao, a regular current affairs commentator in China. You can listen to the program here.
Some of the key observations made include the following:
- Because of its sheer size, China’s economy has achieved a weight and influence comparable to that of a fully developed nation, like Japan, at a far earlier stage in its development. As a result, China’s leaders face a great deal of pressure to keep up the pace of development, at the same time foreign leaders are coming under intense pressure from a rapidly rising China.
- China has historically seen itself as the victim and underdog in international affairs, and feels a mix of pride and discomfort in taking on the role of a “great power.” As China develops global interests — access to trade lanes, for instance, or to sources of raw materials — it lacks a clear framework for how it will pursue those interests, beyond vague slogans.
Jonathan and I raised both these points, and listeners should note how Victor Gao responds. Victor once worked as Deng Xiaoping’s official translator, and now serves as an unofficial spokesman for the Chinese government and Party. His style can be a bit operatic at times, but he’s worth listening to, because both the tone and substance give a very good idea how China’s leaders see and wish to present themselves. Even the ambiguities and contradictions in what he says can be revealing — a fact I tried to highlight, as diplomatically as possible, at several points in our discussion.