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‘Today’s China Is Both a “Status-Quo Power” and a “Revisionist Power”

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become more integrated and willing to cooperate within the global political and economic systems than ever in its history. However, there is growing apprehension in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. in regards to the consequences of rising in economic and military power in China. Descriptions about Chinese diplomacy in the policy and scholarly are less positive lately concerning China’s obedience to regional and international rules. There was little debate in the U.S. and elsewhere in regards to whether China was or was not part “the international community.” Scholars and experts in the early 1990s have contended progressively that China has not shown adequately that it will play by the so-called international rules.

Recently many of the policy debates in the U.S. have been about whether it is even conceivable to mingle a dictatorial, nationalistic, and discontented China inside this supposed international community. Analysts claim that China is becoming more and more part of the international community mostly in the area of economic rules. For example, free trade and domestic marketisation. Sceptics either think that this is not the case because of the nature of the government. For instance, China is still Red China to some; others say that China is playing with fascism, or that it might not perhaps occur since China as a rising power by meaning is discontented with the United States controlled global command. A rational conclusion is that both groups see the matter of China’s rising power as the main basis of unpredictability in Sino-U.S. relationship and in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the U.S., in the past decade numerous scholars, experts and politicians have branded China as a state working outside of, or only partially inside, the so-called international community on a sphere of international rules. The then Defence Secretary William Perry said in 1995, engagement was a strategy to get China to act like a “responsible world power.” When outlining national security policy In March 1997 Samuel Berger the then National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton described the Sino-U.S. engagement as intended to draw China “in the direction of the international community.” Madeleine Albright former Secretary of State once said: “if China is to become a constructive participant in the international arena now and the future will depend on how the U.S. interacts with china”. She went on to say that the U.S. looks for a China that holds commonly recognized human rights and global rules in order to build a secure international order. Just before Condoleezza Rice became the National Security Adviser she said that China is not a ‘status quo’ power.

The common subjects in all these descriptions are clear that so far China is not or is only beginning to turn into a positive member in the international community; China does not yet entirely support global rules of conduct. Furthermore, a rising discontented China poses a deep challenge to the international order established and favoured by the U.S. There are two yet more fundamental, implied suppositions that support these descriptions of China and the international community. Firstly there is an existing international community that is adequately well defined such that it is clear who is and who is not part of it. The Second supposition is that this community contribute to common rules and values on human rights, non-proliferation, trade and etc. What does it mean to be a status quo or a revisionist power in global relations in the early 21st century? Regardless of the important position of the terms in international relations theorising and in discussion in the policy world, explanations of status quo and revisionist are not only unclear but also under-theorized. Mr Hans Morgenthau said, “The the status quo policy aims at the protection of the distribution of power as it exists at a distinct moment in history.”

A.F.K. Organski and Jacek Kugler known for being power transition theorists described status quo nations as those that have contributed in planning the “rules of the game” and are in a position to profit from these norms. Revisionist states are seen as “challengers” who wants a “new place or share for themselves in global society” proportionate with their power. Revisionist states are generally unsatisfied with their position in the international society. They have a wish to modify the rules by which affairs among countries work. Robert Gilpin who is amid pragmatist scholars, offers possibly the most precise discussion of revisionist and status quo positioning. He simplifies by breaking down the rules of the game into rather more operationalizable components: the distribution of power, the chain of command of status, rights and norms that oversee relations among states.

Firstly, how do nation leaders say and act with respect to the exact norms. For example, of regional diplomacy, of security institutes and of global commercial institutes? Secondly, how do state leaders express and act in regards to the sharing of power internationally or regionally? Thirdly, how do they say and act concerning the hierarchy of prestige. For Gilpin revisionist states attempt to basically modify these three components. Anything less and it becomes challenging to call the state either revisionist or non-status quo. Increased contribution in global institutes may not essentially be a robust indicator of status quo behaviour. Some might dispute that what matters more is obedience with the rules, standards and objectives of these institutes. Therefore, a nation that partakes but violates the instructions of these institutes and its obligations to them might still be considered a non-status quo state. It appears to be common wisdom amongst numerous scholars and strategy analysts in the U.S. that China has a clear goal of establishing regional domination and will do so as its power increases.

Some modest analysts agree that the present era is principally one of United States unipolarity, but not completely to China’s disadvantage. U.S. supremacy is preferable to Japanese supremacy, for instance. Though the U.S. is the only superpower, China can profit from economic dealings with the U.S. and from the worldwide stability that the United States supremacy provides. Some experts say, although China does not like a global structure ruled by U.S. and Western made rules, it still has to confess that China can free drive on the delivery of certain global and regional public goods. Within the current global system and rules, China can safeguard its own national welfares. Even so an analyst claimed that China is neither a contender nor a blind follower of the United States clear global order. Somewhat China should emphasise its attention on assisting to build international institutes and establishments, mainly amid the great powers.

Multipolarity basically means a worldwide system built on the five values of peaceful coexistence, barely revolutionary or intensely revisionist principles and where other nations will have to take in to considerations China’s welfares. Chinese analysts since the early 90s perhaps longer, have not accepted on what the tendency lines have been in the development of polarity or on whether multi-polarity even suggests that China should initiate a challenge to United States power. There is a little doubt that China’s military transformation program since the mid-90s has been intended in developing competences to slow the use of U.S. military power in the area. For the leaders in China the direct subject at stake is Taiwan, not the U.S. tactical presence in the area. In terms of external balancing, China is not making any effort as it might to create anti-U.S. coalitions or weaken U.S. treaties internationally or regionally, at least not near the step to which the Soviets contested with the U.S. throughout the Cold War.

China came into the limelight after the Cold War largely due to its rising national power, leading to the challenging statement that China is revisionist by virtue of its rising power. Mearsheimer and others dispute that China’s rising power competence, quoting its economic growth, military innovation of the People’s Liberation Army and confident Chinese diplomatic behaviour as regards energy procurement, multilateral institutes and in specific the concern of Taiwan’s future, destinies it to crash with the current hegemony. Johnston (2003) believes that the Chinese behaviour along a diversity of dimensions with contribution in global institutes, compliance to global norms and willingness to contest present rules tell us that China is more of a status quo power instead of a revisionist power. Some scholars warn that China should be subdued before its military and economic power becomes an irresistible challenge to the USA and that precautionary measures instead of engagement or pacification are essential. This group of realist scholars stresses that China is a revisionist state destined before long to crash with the U.S. They suggest that although China is a medium power that poses no severe threat, actions should however be taken to discourage China’s exertions to reach hegemony, either in the Asia Pacific or worldwide.

It is hard to say that China is a revisionist state functioning outside or inside the limits of the so called “international community”. Relatively, to the degree that one can recognise an international community on main global matters; the PRC has become more incorporated and more supportive within global institutes than ever before. Furthermore, the indication that China’s leaders are vigorously striving to balance against the United States power to weaken an American-ruled unipolar structure and substitute it with a multipolar system is murky. The multipolarity discussion is not a strong guide to comprehend Chinese preferences and socially it does not seem at the moment that China is matching very vigorously against U.S. military power.

The U.S. Quadrennial Defence Review is possibly the perfect statement that the U.S. military rely on, that increasing Chinese power is the main long-term military test to U.S. power. Most of China’s latest purchases of military technology from Russia seem designed at developing competences to prevent or obstruct the United States military actions in defence of Taiwan. The second factor would be an emerging security dilemma hereby China’s revisionism on the Taiwan issue, combined with U.S. political and military responses, leads each side to see the other as fundamentally opposed to its basic security interests.

Chinese leaders are or could be less and less self-assured in regards to the existing distribution of power and impact in East Asia or internationally, for that matter serves their definition of China’s interests. Nonetheless, a powerful motive for any alteration in the estimation of the value of the status quo is probable to be the perception that other states, specifically U.S. are becoming more confident in challenging what the Chinese leaders believe are their legitimate interests. China’s long-term value of collaboration or limitation may decay due to the perceptions of the behaviour of others. For example, a perception that the U.S. has violated its 1982 arms trade commitments to Taiwan that the Japan-U.S. cooperation is taking on roles in protection of Taiwan and that national missile defence is intended to destabilize China’s defence.

Joseph Nye’s well-known statement concerning the self-fulfilling nature of the “China threat” is fundamentally right. Likewise, so is the statement from Ye Zicheng and Feng Yin two scholars at Beijing University,: “If China only looks at the activities of anti-China forces in the U.S. and assesses each U.S. action as a confrontational one and thus adopts tit-for-tat approaches, then the probability that China and the United States will reciprocally turn into enemies rises intensely.” I am not of the opinion that a PRC which is more status quo oriented comparative to its past is essentially a more benevolent or less fierce actor in global politics than before. Status quo nations, especially those caught in security dilemmas can be fairly keen to use military power to protect their land, their domains of influence and their client states. Nor is my opinion that a more status quo focused China essentially has less conflict of interest with the U.S. Security problems are socializing experiences which can lead to redefine interests, as can alterations in the leadership or the leadership’s ideology in one or both states.


A.F.K Organski and Jacek Kugler, The War Ledger (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980), pp. 19–20, 23.

Condoleezza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 1 (January/February 2000), p. 56.

E.H. Carr refers to “status quo”, The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919–1939 (London: Macmillan, 1940)

Fan Shaojun, “Canyu he peiyu guoji guanxi de zhidu jianshe”, Guoji guanxi xueyuan xuebao [School of International Studies journal] (Shenzhen), No. 2 (2002). Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 5th ed.

Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 29.

Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 34.

William H. Perry, “U.S. Strategy: Engage China, Not Contain,” Defense Issues, Vol. 10, No. 109

Samuel Berger, “A Foreign Policy Agenda for the Second Term,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., March 27, 1997, http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/EOP/NSC/html/speeches/032797speech.html.

Madeleine K. Albright, “The U.S. and China,” Diario Las Americas, Miami, Florida, July 5, 1998, http://secretary.state.gov/www/statements/1998/980705.html Michael Pillsbury, China Debates the Future International Environment, Finkelstein, China’s National Military Strategy, pp. 17–18.

Thomas Christensen, ‘Chinese Realpolitik’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 5 (1996), pp. 37–52; Karl W. Eikenberry, “Does China Threaten Asia-Pacific Regional Stability?” Parameters, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 82–99.

Ye Zicheng and Feng Yin, “ZhongMei guanxi shilun” [Ten points about Sino-U.S. relations], Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi, No. 5 (2002), p. 3.

Yan, Zhongguojueqi—guoji huanjing pingu [An assessment of the international environment for China’s rise](Tianjin: People’s Publishing House, 1999), pp. 349–355.

Department of Defence, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, September 30, 2001, http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/qdr2001.pdf Wang Yizhou, “Guanyu duojihua de ruogan sikao” [A few thoughts concerning multipolarity], Institute of World Economics and Politics, Beijing, April–May 2000.

Zhu Feng, “Zai lishi gui yi zhong bawo ZhongMei guanxi” [Understand Sino-U.S. relations from the legacy of history], Huanqiu Shibao Guoji Luntan [Global Times international forum], February 28, 2002,

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