Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Confronting a Powerful China with Western Characteristics

Confronting a Powerful China with Western Characteristics


The rapid rise of Chinese economic and military power has produced the most fundamental change in the global system since the end of the Cold War, and it poses vital questions about China’s future direction. Many Western analysts argue that China’s great power will cause it to become more like the West, i.e., like Western great powers. Other Western analysts believe that China will continue to be the same, i.e., like the China of the past few decades. An alternative interpretation, however, is that China’s new power will enable it to become even more Chinese than it is now, i.e., to become more like the traditional and imperial China that existed before the Western intrusions of the 19th century. This China was the “Central State” of a distinctive Chinese world order, operating with distinctive conceptions about diplomatic relations, military strategy, and economic exchange. However, the new China will be unlike the old China in at least two important ways. It will be a naval, and not just a land, power, and it will be a financial, and not just a trading, power. In other words, it will be a powerful China with Western characteristics. As a formidable naval and financial power, China will present fundamental challenges to the United States and to both the long-standing U.S. security order in the Western Pacific and the long-standing “Washington Consensus” about the global economic order.

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