This analysis of the February 2013 PF debate topic, "On balance, the rise of China is beneficial to the interests of the United States." begins here with definitions.
A Summary of China's Recent HistoryFor a brief history of China, we begin at the World War II era where much of the situation we see today began to emerge. Virtually all of China had already fallen under communist control in the 1920's. Japan had tried many times to take-over China and with the rise of Japanese Imperial power in the 1930s, Japan was expanding its presence in the far east and a China-Japanese war erupted in 1937 amid reports of atrocities by the invading Japanese troops. When Japan was defeated by the Allies in 1945, the Japanese were forced to withdraw and the Chinese government emerged as a strong military power but was economically weak. The communist government continued to deal with internal unrest and strife until 1949 when Mao Zedong became leader of Communist China. A huge group of refugees under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland for the island of Formosa (now called Taiwan). This move eliminated most of the resistance to the communist government though some factions continued to harass the central government. Mainland China made several attempts to forcibly take control of Taiwan which was armed and protected by the US. Though never fully trusting of the US, Chaing controlled Taiwan and help expand the economic importance of the island until his death in 1975. Today, fully dependent upon western military might for its survival, Taiwan is considered an ally of the US.
Mao Zedong, declared the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. In the late 1950's Mao began a program of modernization and started to industrialize the country. In 1966 the so-called "Cultural Revolution" was aimed toward eliminating internal forces which resisted the Communist authority. Despite his profound ideological differences with the US and direct support of the North Koreans in the 1950s and North Vietnamese during the US conflict in Vietnam, Mao is considered a great person in many respects due to his efforts to modernize and upgrade China from its feudal agrarian past. Mao remained leader until his death in 1976.
Since then, China was steadily increased in economic and military power while continuing to assert its claim to Taiwan. Hong Kong which had been under British control since the 1800s (except when Japan invaded during the second world war) was a thriving commercial center. Under an agreement between Britain and China, control of Hong Kong passed to the Chinese government in 1997. Today, mainly due to economic trade with the US the Chinese economy is the second largest in the world, after the US. Chinese military strength is formidable. With a general population of approximately 1.3 billion people, they are able to muster an estimated 230 million troops. Additionally they have thousands of military vehicles and war machines as well as a sizable naval presence around the world. China does have an active space program and have successfully launched a variety of satellites, successfully conducted a manned space flight and are currently planning to land on the moon. The Chinese unmanned, lunar orbiter Chang'e 1 orbited the moon for over a year. Chang'e 2 has since reached the moon, and then performed a fly-by of asteroid 4179 Toutatis.
While many believe China's military strength is no match for the US, there is a strategic value to control of seas and air-space in the far east. Two key US allies, South Korea and Japan are a very short distance from mainland China. Taiwan, also an important commercial center remains under constant threat of take-over by China. The South China Sea and the region of southeast Asia is strategic not only because of its proximity to Australia and New Zealand but also because open sea-lanes in the region are vital to the flow of commodities and goods around the world. These lanes are also vital to the economic well-being of China since any closure of the sea-lanes could harm China's access to needed resources. The Strait of Malacca linking the Indian and Pacific Ocean is one of the most important in the world since about a third of the world's oil passes through the sea-lane and and through the South China Sea. Additionally, the region is rich in mineral resources. The growing Islamic influence in the region is viewed as a concern by both the US and China.
China's Regional Strategy
China, as a member of the U.N. Security Council has had the ability to block various moves by western powers but they have rarely tried to initiate actions. Only recently have they begun to exert influence within various Far East associations and blocs:
Baker & Zhang (2012):
"Beijing feared its relatively weak position left it little to gain from multilateral forums and instead put China under the influence of the stronger members. But China's rising economic power has shifted this equation.
China is pursuing more multilateral relationships as a way to secure its interests through the larger groups. China's relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, its participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and its pursuit of trilateral summits are all intended to help Beijing shape the policy direction of these blocs. By shifting to the multilateral approach, China can make some of the weaker countries feel more secure and thus prevent them from turning to the United States for support."
To cointinue this analysis with a look at U.S. interests, click here.
Sea Power and the Chinese State: China’s Maritime Ambitions
By Dean Cheng, July 11, 2011
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE STRAITS OF MALACCA AND SINGAPORE, Singapore Journal of International and Corporate Law, 1998
The Paradox of China's Naval Strategy, Stratfor Global Intelligence
Rodger Baker and Zhixing Zhang, 2012