Page 1 of 4 CHINA AND THE STATUS QUO China banks on giving peace a chance
By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING - China's latest attempt to justify to the world its military
aggrandizement, its White paper on the People's Liberation Army, was long on
new policies and tasks of the army, but failed to explain how the growing
amount of money budgeted for the military will be spent. 
Nor did the March 31 paper outline a grand strategy for China. This task befell
China's top theoretician, Zheng Bijian, who the
same day published on the Italian daily Il sole 24ore the latest official
version of the ideas that shape the nation's foreign policy doctrine. 
Zheng, already father of the theory of China's peaceful development, proposed
building common interests between China and the world.
Common interests, a network of economic and strategic interdependence, would de
facto create universal grounds to preserve global peace, Zheng wrote. He went
on to say that an aggressive stance or starting a war would be against China's
own strategic and economic interests, and those shared by other countries.
Therefore, China would have an interest in helping other countries to become
safer and better off, so that they would have an interest in preserving peace
and thriving global businesses.
China is concerned about world perceptions on the China threat or collapse. The
intentions are not simply of reaching noble understanding, but pertain to
China's own necessities. To see how that dynamic works, however, we have to
take a long detour into the objective development of the ideas of threat and
From Maoist aggression to a peaceful rise
Mao Zedong's legacy in international politics was very difficult to cope with
after his demise in 1976 and Deng's arrival to power in 1978. Perhaps it was
the most difficult part of Mao's political legacy. The mass movements that left
millions starved to death, as in the Great Leap Forward in 1957-1959 or
''criticized to death'' in the Cultural Revolution 1966-1976, were easy to
reject and discard as everybody suffered and nobody saw anything positive in
them. Foreign policy was different. It brought positive consequences, in fact
the only positive of Maoist rule to China may have been its foreign policy.
Mao's flirtation with the Americans during World War II weakened American
support for the communists' real enemies, the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists of
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. China's alliance with the Soviet Union bestowed
millions of square miles to the Soviets (as some kind of territorial
compensation, Outer Mongolia, parts of northeast China and parts of Xinjiang)
but provided the industrial and technological basis for recovery after decades
of total war that had left China poverty stricken.
Mao's turnaround and renewed flirtation and then alliance with the Americans in
the 1970s provided security from a tenser confrontation with the Soviet Union,
and also furnished trade and technology as the basis for subsequent fast
Part of Mao's legacy, however, was also a strong nationalist streak. He won the
political war in China by successfully arguing of himself as more patriotic and
anti-Japanese than his domestic enemies, the KMT. In fact, nationalist rhetoric
was much stronger than communist ideology at the time he first rose to power in
The 1950-1953 Korea war was dressed up as a nationalist fight against a
possible invasion by the Americans. This nationalist rhetoric also colored the
most controversial part of his foreign policy: the support to foreign communist
revolutions in competition with American, Soviet and Third World policies.
Mao's support of revolution in Malaysia or Indonesia often became a fight for
the rights (or privileges) of the local Chinese minority, who incidentally were
also the richest layer of society. This also split local Chinese communities:
some of them attracted by the waft of the Chinese nationalist perfume drifting
to a nominal communist cause, others who were scared of the communist
experience in China stuck more closely to the Nationalist cause supported by
Taiwan, where the KMT took refuge after 1949.
Overall, Mao's support for the revolutionary cause in neighboring or distant
countries caused reverberations all over the world. China was considered a
second Soviet empire, interested in expanding its sphere of political influence
through ideology and support for revolution.
Besides Malaysia and Indonesia, Beijing had effectively backed uprising and
then war in Indochina in the 1950s and 1960s, had sent thousands of
''volunteers'' to Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand, ''advisers'' to Mozambique
and Tanzania, had trained guerrilla fighters from Mexico and Abyssinia, and had
wooed explosive revolutionaries from almost every nation in Europe. All of this
was actually an expansion of Chinese foreign policy reach, and was in reality a
costly policy that strained state coffers.
Such economically and politically expensive policies started to be curtailed in
Deng's rule. China simply could not afford the expenditure nor the growing
isolation as it was perceived to be destabilizing half of the world to expand
However, these policies, with their quick-tempered mix of boisterous rhetoric,
bullying and sudden withdrawals, were also closely linked with overall Maoist
foreign policies that had made China independent and helped it reach a first
level of military and technological advancement.
Moreover, China could not thrust such policies aside completely because
Beijing's aggressive posture provided good leverage against the United States
already engaged in a struggle with the Soviets. In fact, China's border war
against Soviet-backed Vietnam in 1979 after Hanoi toppled the frantically crazy
yet fiercely anti-Vietnamese Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, helped to check
Vietnamese aggression in Indochina and undercut Soviet ambitions in Asia.
However, just that war finally proved to China that it needed a complex
overhaul of its foreign policy and military strategy. However, a new strategy
could not represent a complete denial of Mao's policies. In the late 1970s,
Deng Xiaoping then came up with the doctrine of Tao guang yan hui.
That phrase means to bide one's time to get revenge. Actually a quote from the
famous 14th century novel on strategy, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by
Luo Guanzhong, it carries sinister undertones. The idea is still quite fierce
and aggressive; significantly milder however than the previous Maoist tenets of