China as an emergent center of global power

Bates Gill*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


China: emergent center of global power It seems hard to believe today, but not so long ago the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs published a serious article entitled, “Does China Matter?”1 Such a question was still worthy of debate in the late-1990s, but now it is almost universally recognized that China does indeed matter, given its growing weight in global affairs, and its increasing ability – for better or for worse – to shape the future world order. Numbers alone readily attest to China’s emerging status as a global power center. China has the world’s largest population, largest standing army, second largest military expenditures, the third or fourth largest nuclear weapons arsenal and is one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. It has had the fastest-growing economy over the past 30 years and is currently the world’s third largest economy with the largest foreign currency reserves. It is the largest importer of iron ore, aluminum and paper, the second greatest consumer of oil, and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China has the world’s largest number of mobile telephone and Internet users, Chinese is the dominant language for content on the worldwide web, and China is the third-largest patent-filer after the United States and Japan. Over the past 25 years, China has lifted some 200 million or more persons from poverty – one of the most rapid and remarkable socioeconomic transformations in history. The statistics go on and on. But China has also attained its status through other, less tangible, though nevertheless important, channels of influence and power. China today has an active and growing diplomatic presence across the globe, and increasingly takes part in a full range of multilateral governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including those concerned with global order and stability. Chinese enterprises and entrepreneurs can be found from the world’s capitalist capitals, to the most remote parts of the globe and everywhere in between, and all are seeking profit and shareholder value. Chinese overseas direct investment is expanding exponentially, from a mere US$2.7 billion in 2003 to an expected US$100 billionplus in 2009.2 Since 2004, the Chinese government has established more than 300 Confucius Institutes – typically based at universities to promote the study of

Chinese language, culture and history – in more than 80 countries, with ambitious plans to add hundreds more in the years to come.3 China sent some 180,000 students to study abroad in 2008, and accepted some 190,000 students from 188 countries and regions to study in China.4 Chinese official development aid and other forms of governmental assistance in the developing world are rapidly growing. Chinese contributions to United Nations peacekeeping forces have increased by 20-fold since the late-1990s. In short, there is little doubt that China deserves recognition as an emerging center of global power, but this point only raises more questions about how China will exercise its growing power and influence to shape the future world order. In particular, an analysis of China raises important questions that are central to this volume. What are the Chinese perceptions about the major challenges to Chinese security and world order, especially those identified as strategic in nature by the “political West,” such as terrorism, failing states and regional instabilities, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and environmental and energy security? What policies are being made by the Chinese government in response to these challenges? To what extent will Chinese policy look to the pillars of a more liberalized world order – more open borders, global and regional institutions, multilateral regimes and international law – to help cope with these challenges? What will China’s future approach to shaping global order look like?5 To shed some light on these questions, this chapter will first provide an overview of Chinese security challenges and priorities as perceived by Beijing. With these in mind, the chapter will then discuss the principal policy actions that have been taken by Beijing in response to these challenges, including the extent to which Beijing’s security decisions are shaped by globalization and international organizations, regimes and law. The chapter will conclude by looking at current and likely future trajectories for China’s approach to important security threats and global order and its implications.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGreat powers and strategic stability in the 21st century
Subtitle of host publicationcompeting visions of world order
EditorsGraeme P. Herd
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781135233402
ISBN (Print)0203865820, 9780203865828
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRoutledge Global Security Studies


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