There is often a common method of intervention for world superpowers. It usually involves hard power, which is often defined through military action. The United States is well known for flaunting its military to solve problems. Whether or not they intend to use it, they have created an image that the world has come to accept. The Americans have a large military and if the rest of the world does not cooperate, than the Americans will make it difficult for the select party to continue down their current path and if they really want something to be done, they will commit their military to the cause. This has been the American way of taking care of things for a very long time. The United States relies on its military and it does not hide from this fact.
What about China? China has one of the largest militaries in the world and they are a rapidly developing country. In modern times, they have become a direct challenger to United States hegemony. The Americans can no longer act as they wish, especially in Asia. They must not antagonize the Chinese with their foreign policy. Clashes will still occur and both parties will disagree over various policies. However, there is a very distinct difference in the way that the Chinese conduct their foreign policy. The Chinese are far less reliant on brute force to solve their problems. They are more inclined to turn towards diplomacy or international law in an effort to solve their problems. But, let us not fool ourselves as they also break the rules as any global superpower should be expected to do.
So why is it that the Chinese apparatus functions differently than that of the Americans? The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not have to answer to any superior force. In the United States, the government is held accountable by the voting population. The government is expected to answer to the will of the people. While this may not always happen, that is the basic premise of the democratic system. In China, the government has widespread control over its people. It can produce propaganda that convinces the general population that the government is doing well. The leadership is less accountable for its actions and it can spinoff any dangerous stories to look favorable or less severe than they are. Yet, this is a double edged sword. This lack of accountability also works against the CCP. A docile population will not ask questions so long as the status quo is maintained. In the event that the CCP would start to use the military to solve all of its problems, the potential humiliation to the nation, as war is always unpredictable, could awaken the population and result in them questioning the leadership. Thus, China is best served through diplomacy. It allows them to save face, it allows them to convince their population that things are working in their favor, and it prevents a military based humiliation.
Communism is frowned upon worldwide. It is seen as an outdated system. The whole world looks at the experiment in China and continues to try and predict its failure. Foreign nations are looking for a way to accelerate the demise of communism. The quickest way to bring about this failure would be for China to engage in overly risky military based operations. By understanding this premise, it becomes clear why China relies on diplomacy and international institutions to advance its foreign policy. Where most nations would use their military, China uses its economic power to bend its opponents into submission. In recent years there have been territorial clashes between China and the Philippines regarding ownership of the South China Sea. The countries involves over the dispute claimed that the Chinese were placing unfair economic pressure on them. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khrushid stated, “Don’t we all use our economic muscle,” in response to the complaints. While it is a small example, it demonstrated that the Chinese were more willing to work with alternative methods than armed intervention. Further examples of this passive aggressive approach by the Chinese can be found in their recent reaction to the Philippines and the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Following the typhoon, many countries of the world pledged aid to the Philippines, totaling in the millions. The Chinese offered a measly $100,000 USD. What does this reflect? This highlights the Chinese attitude towards the Philippines. In a passive aggressive way, they are informing them that they do not support their territorial claims. The Philippines is challenging the Chinese via international law in an attempt to nullify Chinese territorial claims to the South China Sea.
So where does this leave the Chinese going into the future? Effectively, they will choose the path of least resistance in an effort to solidify their power. Results are important to them, but only if they can be achieved safely through diplomacy and the utilization of soft power. They will continue to act as a metaphorical spider, one that has each of its eyes on the many different problems in the region. They will seek to prey on the weak in order to gain concessions and resources. China is a hungry nation that needs the resources of its neighbors. It does not want to jeopardize the solidarity of its nation through an aggressive and public foreign policy. It is much happier to work behind the scenes, shaking hands, and signing deals in an attempt to advance its agenda. The most sensible way to achieve this is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Americans. The Chinese avoid overly obnoxious rhetoric. They do not claim to be the shining example in the world. They quietly continue to spin and grow their web, trapping prey along the way. They have no interest in public showdowns. These public displays will only bring unwanted attention to their cause and if they were to result in humiliation, it could possibly lead to a questioning of Chinese leadership and the development of accountability, something that the CCP wants to avoid at all costs. Accountability would mean that they have to answer to their population and this is something that an authoritarian regime wants to avoid at all costs. The Tiananmen Square demonstrations are still a recent memory for the CCP and it is something that they want to avoid repeating.