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China as a status quo-tidal power

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This post is part of the US China policy debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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27 January 2010 10:27


This post is part of the US China policy debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

It's hard enough describing what China is now. Describing where it might be going stretches the standard international relations lexicon. The standard categories of 'status quo' or 'revisionist' power aren't much help. No wonder the panda huggers and the dragon slayers of Washington can never resolve the argument.

Mark's description of the Chinese juggernaut is yet another accounting of the many reasons China should be a status quo power – a booming economy that has now become the world's largest car market and the world's largest merchandise trader exporter. The Chinese Communist Party wants to freeze its present domestic power in perpetuity. And sitting on that huge dollar mountain it has accumulated, China has no interest in breaking down the American-designed global trade system.

Beijing is becoming used to reaching the number one spot in the existing system. Why would you want to revise or revolt against that? The answer is that China's leaders want to choose the bits of the globalisation package they sign up to. That is what makes the Google imbroglio so fascinating.

Let's create a hyphen term. I was tempted for a moment by the idea of China as a 'status quo-tectonic' power. I was drawn to the tectonic imagery by The Economist's piece on the way developing countries have come out of the recession stronger than anyone expected, with profound consequences for the rest of the world.

When the Earth’s tectonic plates grind against one another, they do not always move smoothly; sometimes they slip. A year after the West’s slump began to spread to emerging markets, it has become clear that the recession has been a moment of tectonic slippage, a brief but powerful acceleration in the deep-seated movement of economic power away from rich nations towards emerging markets.

The problem with 'status quo-tectonic' is that the crashing of tectonic plates also summons images of earthquakes, volcanoes and the rise and fall of mountains. Certainly not what Beijing has in mind. So something closer to the 'peaceful rise' slogan is needed.

My nomination is to describe China as a 'status quo-tidal power'. China exults at the way the international tide of trade and power has been running (along with the gold medal tally at the Olympics). The Party wants that version of the status quo to continue — stability accompanied by a continued shift of the tide in Beijing's favour. As long as the trend continues in the current direction, even a little slowing of the pace of the last two years would be something of a blessing.

So picture China as a status quo-tidal power – with the tide running away from the US.

Photo by Flickr user TimboDon, used under a Creative Commons license.

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