China is looking to create a new international order that would surpass the Westphalian civilization — Prof. Howard French, journalism, Columbia University, argued in a lecture Monday afternoon.
Because China’s economy was in a recession between the 1940s and the 80s, “the view in the United States was that [the U.S.] had won,” French said. “The feeling was: given time by the magical influence of capitalism China would be more socialized, and it would be Americanized.”
But this was not the case, French said. While the U.S. assumed China was dormant, it was actually growing stronger.
In the 1980s, “China was laying the basis for material prosperity and economic progress to return to its original state, which is to say being able to organize the periphery around it,” French said.
As a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, French often questioned why West Africa was able to create a cooperative regional framework while Northeast Asia could not, despite their common culture.
French found his answer: geography.
The immense asymmetry in the geography of Northeast Asian countries impedes equal partnerships between Northeast Asian countries and promotes Chinese imperialism, he said.
He said that during a speech at Columbia University, some Chinese students said his account of the situation contradicts their understanding of Chinese history, which does not consider China as a colonial power.
In reality, French said, China constantly used its sheer size to force nearby nations into accepting Chinese superiority through the tributary system. He believes that this way of dealing with peripheral countries in Northeast Asia is the deeply embedded default in Chinese culture.
“China was in this business two thousand years ago, and has been in this business with notable interruptions in the last couple hundred years,” he said.
The world best keep its eyes on China, said French, who believes that China’s imperialist history will lead it to push for global power.
“I think the strangest thing of all would be for a country as big as China not to have ambitions about reshaping the world in its own terms,” he added.
French pointed out that there is already “no country in Southeast Asia that is not heavily dependent on trade with China and is not deeply in sync with [it] in terms of politics, except Japan.”
He also predicted that the high anxiety between Japan and China will erupt in the future as China gains momentum in its aim for global power.
In the near future, China will continue to gain strength and expand its desired international system. “It won’t be stopped unless something catastrophic happens to China’s economy,” French warned.