Q. You’ve argued that the Chinese Communist Party derives its legitimacy from economic progress and the nationalist legitimacy of liberating China after the ‘century of humiliation’ at the hands of foreign powers. In a potential territorial showdown with Japan, Chinese leaders may have to choose between a military clash that is highly disruptive to the economy, or appearing to give ground on core nationalist interests. If so, how do you see the party choosing to move forward?
A. In that case, the two sources of legitimacy are in conflict and the Chinese leadership has just got to manage this. This is a delicate balance that they have to get, and I think they’ve done reasonably well so far. If managed well, in the long term, the two goals are mutually supportive of each other.
I don’t buy the argument that China has hurt itself in its more assertive policies in the South and East China Sea. I think they’ve performed brilliantly. The strategy was to change the status quo in China’s favor without leading to actual military conflict, and in territorial disputes with the Philippines and Japan they’ve done that. For the islands disputed with the Philippines, China now effectively controls the space and there has been no war. In the Diaoyu Islands, China has been able to create new realities on the ground. Japan’s long held position has been the denial of dispute. They continue to deny there is a dispute, but dispute is now a fact. China’s patrol boats are there frequently. China has changed the status quo qualitatively, and there’s been no war.
At the same time, you’ve described unanticipated military conflict as the greatest threat to China’s development. If that’s the case, can recent moves that have changed the status quo but also ratcheted up tensions and the likelihood of conflict really be called a success for China?
Success does not come out of being paralyzed by seemingly conflicting objectives. Economic development helped by a peaceful external environment is a critical strategic objective for China, but so is a multifaceted renaissance of the Chinese nation that includes reclaiming a leadership position in the Asia Pacific that would enable China to protect its core interests. These goals cannot be achieved without taking risks. I think the Chinese strategy is to take calculated risks but control risks in order to obtain optimal outcomes. READ MORE IN THE HUFFINGTON POST
Eric X. Li is a venture capitalist, political scientist and frequent commentator on China’s growing economic and military influence. In a provocative TED Talk andseveral articles he has predicted that while China will continue to grow its wealth and power, it’s unlikely to depart from one-party governance or take an evangelical approach to extending its values beyond Chinese borders. While in San Francisco for a conference, Li sat down with The WorldPost’s Matt Sheehan for a conversation about China’s growing territorial assertiveness, the transforming international order, and the future of China’s political system.