- Introduction: The Re-emerging China and Its Implications in East Asia and Beyond
The discourse on China’s rise and its implications for the world has attracted wide international interest and equally intense scholarly debates. While earlier studies predominantly focused on big-power relations, the “China threat” theory, military expansion and collective containment, another body of literature has grown in recent years that broaches new topics, such as soft power, public diplomacy, and new tides of emigration and their impacts on the realisation of China’s strategic ambitions. The proliferation of disciplinary approaches and focal points involved in these debates is reminiscent of the multifaceted dimensions of China’s rise, a prominent global phenomenon that has far greater implications than the country’s deeper involvement in global governance, the worrisome increase in its defence budget, or its rapid economic expansion.
This special issue contains a rich menu of distinctively different studies that examine China’s re-emergence in the global arena and the implications from various perspectives. The geographic focus is primarily on East Asia, including Southeast Asia, given its position in China’s immediate regional environment and the increased significance of regional issues such as the escalation in Sino-Japanese tensions, the North Korean nuclear threat and stalled six-party talks, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Apart from the norm to include an international relations article that assesses China’s relationships with major East Asian powers, this special issue also examines issues such as the effect of China’s quest for a sustainable energy supply on its relationship with Southeast Asian countries, and whether China’s massive investment in [End Page 3] cultural expansion and educational aid is conducive to enhancing its soft power and serving its ambition for a peaceful rise. Another article lends theoretical analysis on how the Chinese conceive and construct international relations theories indigenous to China that provide theoretical and rhetorical justification for its new foreign policies.
This introduction serves twofold purposes. First, it surveys the multifaceted dimensions of China’s rise by dissecting major conclusions drawn from the five articles of this special issue. Second, it attempts to synthesise the insights that arise from this special issue and extend them into the broader theoretical and policy literature in order to enrich our understanding of the impacts of China’s rise not only in the conventional realm of international relations or big-power politics, but also in new critical areas.
The Rise of China in the Context of East Asia
The current debate about China’s rise and its implications for East Asia and beyond largely echo arguments of the days when China was ruled by the Qing dynasty and scholars began to examine how China should respond to the West. Towards the end of the dynasty, many politicians and intellectuals conducted heated debates about how China should respond to the growing influences of the West, particularly in the face of the its defeats to the West in various wars. They adopted different forms of response, such as the advocacy of “self-strengthening through Western studies”, then industrialisation, and subsequently institutional reform, the movement for revolution and republicanism, the cult of “Science and Democracy”, the literary “renaissance”, the adoption of party tutelage, and “democratic centralism”—all of which (and many other programmes) have had their day and contributed to the long struggle of remaking Chinese life.1
All of the aforementioned responses clearly demonstrate how China struggled to face the new world with the opening up of the country to that world and the military threats posed by Western powers. The downfall of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the new republic, the wars with Japan, the rise of the People’s Republic of China, and the implementation of the socialist model have driven Chinese people, who have long taken pride in their national history, cultures and traditions, to deeply reflect upon their past experiences and search for ways to attain new heights for their country.2 The “open door” policy adopted by Deng Xiaoping after the death of Mao Zedong offered China another window of opportunity to transform itself through economic reforms...