This essay discusses the benefits involved in the promotion of the ‘peaceful development' concept. It argues that China's primary aim in its grand strategy is to increase its trade and investment levels. The Chinese Communist Party secures its legitimacy through the maintenance of high levels of economic growth. Thus, it will pursue a foreign policy, which facilitate this. China intentionally portrays itself as a peaceful, non-threatening actor in order to reassure the US and its neighbors that it does not aim at regional domination.
The policy is firmly grounded; in the 1990s, the US and other states were worried about a ‘China threat' and discussed policy options, which included the proposal of attempting to constrain China. China's official foreign policy since the mid-1990s has attempted to address and tone down the issue. The aim of ‘peaceful development' as well as the new security concept are based on the same logic; the need to reassure its major trading partners and investors of China's benign intentions and its willingness to cooperate with others in ‘win-win' situations.
This essay also highlights the insecure foundations on which ‘peaceful development' lies:
1. Should China's high levels of economic growth become unsustainable, it is likely that nationalism would be invoked to legitimize the authority of the dominant Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
2. China’s biggest strategic threat lies in the volatile China-Taiwan relations. Chinese leaders have explicitly excluded Taiwan from China’s ‘peaceful development' idea, rendering its commitment to peace less sincere.
3. The CCP is under pressure to secure more and more resources for its population. This has larger consequences for international and regional stability as leaders may be tempted to exploit natural resources in the disputed Islands of the South China Sea. In the same way, China will continue to exploit its position on the United Nations Security Council in order to satisfy the needs of its population.
The main argument of this essay is that the determining factor in China’s interaction with other states is the desire to maintain China's high levels of economic growth. The "peaceful development" rhetoric is more of a facade rather than a permanent policy shift.
Judith Richards holds the Master of Strategic Affairs from the Australian National University.