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Gunpower, compass, paper and printing, which were four of the most important inventions facilitating the West’s transformations from the Dark Ages to the modern world, were all invented in China.
However, for several centuries, China was a weak and backward country easily bullied by others in the eyes of Westerners. In the 1930s, British sinologist Joseph Needham once raised the famous “Needham Question” in his article “Science and Civilization in China.” The question is: “Why did modern science, the mathematization of hypothesis about nature, with all its implications for advanced technologies, take its metric rise only in the West at the time of Galileo, but had not developed in Chinese civilization or Indian civilization?”
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has been adopting the socialist system. Some Western scholars cast further doubts on the prospect of New China and predicted that China would collapse unless it transforms from socialist to capitalist system someday. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued in his 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity’s social and cultural evolution and become the final form of human government.
In the minds of some Western elites, China will have to go on their so-called democratic track sooner or later. Based on such theories, Western governments and investors were enthusiastic to pour money and technologies into the Chinese market when China began to take reform and opening-up policies in the early 1980s.
However, to their great disappointment, after about 40 years’ robust development, China is still firmly adhering to the socialist system. A stronger and stronger China with a different social system is surely the last thing Western society wants to see. As China grows, the “China collapse theory” has collapsed and become an international laughing stock. Under these circumstances, in order to curb China, some anxious elites in Western countries have shifted to the “China threat theory,” which alleges that China will rival with and replace the United States as world leader.
The “China threat theory” is comparable to the Thucydides Trap. Graham Allison, a professor at the Kennedy School of Harvard University, wrote two articles in the Financial Times in August 2012 and the New York Times in July 2013 respectively, cautioning China and the United States about the Thucydides Trap, where an emerging power causes fear and threat in an established power and the rivalry finally leads to war and destruction. In his articles, Allison dates back to the 16th century until the present and charts out how 11 out of the last 15 major international tensions (such as World War I, World War II, the former Soviet Union’s conflicts with neighboring Eastern European countries in the 1950s and 1960s) have resulted in shooting wars. With that in mind, he claims that the relationship between China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, is fraught with peril, with war being the inevitable conclusion.
Frankly speaking, the Thucydides Trap is a really dangerous diplomatic trap for emerging countries and a wonderful pretext for established powers. The term has become a catchword for many Western commentators because they always want to put rising countries like China in a disadvantageous and scapegoat position and grant Western nations both historical and moral high grounds.
The latest version of Western comments hyping China’s threat is the creation of the term “sharp power.” At the beginning of 2018, some Western media alleged that China is exerting “sharp power” in the world when talking about China’s efforts to build its image overseas. For some Western elites, the Cold War mentality has not yet departed, and they view everything through the lens of zero-sum geopolitics. Actually, those who do not harbor bias or practice double standards will see that China is not a threat, but a nation of plentiful cooperation and opportunities.
No matter what social system a country takes, the most important question is whether it can lead people to a better life. While China is busy developing its economy and building its homeland, some Westerners are still concentrating on verbally attacking China. Instead of hyping the so-called China threat, it will be much better a choice if they roll up their sleeves and dedicate themselves to making their own countries stronger.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)