China transited from Deng’s Taoist diplomacy to Jiang’s engagement policy and reached Hu’s harmonious society. There are variations to the original doctrine of concealing capacities and bidding time, however, Deng had also provided that when opportunity arise, China should be “you suo zuo wei” (有所作為; proactive and make achievements).
To challenge the mainstream Western neo-liberalism as development model for under-developed countries, China believes her own development model of social capitalism, or capitalism with Chinese characteristics that relies on investment, trade and technology instead of western aid, can be duplicated abroad (Brautigam 2009: 312). Consequently, under Beijing Consensus, China is willing to provide financial assistance to under-developed countries with no string attached. Beijing Consensus and Washington Consensus went head-to-head in Angola during 2004. Frustrated by the stiff demands from the IMF to introduce liberal reforms before providing much needed financial aid, the Angola government turned to China in a $2 billion oil-backed loan. Aguinaldo Jaime, the defacto Angola deputy prime minister summed up the sentiment of the country towards Western aid, “If you say to a country, ‘We’ll reward you when things are perfectly O.K,’ the country will say, ‘When things are perfectly O.K., we won’t need you anymore.’” j. Yet, the Beijing Consensus is not without its critics, most noticeably from the US which claims China is basically practising neo-colonialism and the Chinese benevolence comes with a price of ridding off the recipient country’s natural resources. Also, the no-question-asked developmental aid allows corrupted regimes to continue depriving their citizens from reaping the benefits of development. Whereas neo-liberalism under Washington Consensus reinforces the dependency between peripheral states and cores states, the aid-for-asset model under Beijing Consensus creates another form of dependency, regime survival for the weak states.
Up to the turn of the millennium, China had gone on well with her Asian neighbours and African friends. Whilst the West was quick to blame China on the way she quashed the Tiananmen student protest and sanctions swiftly followed, her Asian neighbours upheld the peaceful coexistence principle of non-interference and provided the diplomatic space for the Beijing government. In reciprocal, when the Asian Financial Crisis hit Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, China did not follow the rest to devalue its currency and held the RMB firm at the expense of potentially losing out on exports. Outside the region, when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was destroyed by US-led NATO forces in 1999, China was refrained enough to prevent the incident from escalating to a major confrontation with the US even though its sovereignty was clearly being infringed k. The Hainan air-crash incident in 2001 was another case to demonstrate Chinese leaders were eager to promote peace and harmony even though one of its fighter pilots was killed trying to intercept a US surveillance plane l. Yet, why the West and China’s neighbours are so worried about the rise of China, and why the aid provided by China to under-developed countries were viewed with such skepticism?
To appreciate the concerns one must understand the strategic culture of China. Behind the apparent peaceful Taoism that was embraced by Deng in his foreign policy is a hidden realist agenda. Both Johnston (1995) and Wang (2011) have argued that history has shown that China was an aggressor when her relative military power was stronger than her neighbours. Indeed, Taoism concerns about the balance of power, the interconnected and yet opposing relationship between yin (陰) and yang (陽), but balance of power is very much a realist terminology. Whilst the West is fascinated by the wisdom of the Art of War (孫子兵法) written by the great Chinese strategist Sun Tze, they are also informed of the Chinese strategic culture of Wo Xin Chang Dan (臥薪嘗膽), which means enduring self-imposed hardships in order to strengthen and prepare the resolve of a person to realize his ambition. The history behind Wo Xin Chang Dan described a poetic justice took place during the Spring Autumn period (770-476BC) when the State of Wu was at war with the State of Yue. The King of the State of Wu was wounded and subsequently died in battle. His son Fu Chai avenged the defeat of his father by conquering and capturing his counterpart Guo Jian, and held him under imprisonment in Wu territory. In order to humiliate and demoralize Guo Jian, Fu forced Guo to live in shameful conditions. Guo endured the mental torture and years later secured his release back to the State of Yue after swearing loyalty to Fu. Once back to his own state, Guo was very patient in hiding his capability because the State of Wu was still far too strong for the State of Yue, but secretly he trained an army. In order to remind himself of the humiliation as a hostage, he sacrificed sleeping on a comfortable bed, but instead slept on a stack of firewood. Before he had dinner and went to bed he tasted the bitterness of the gall-bladder that was hung on top of his bed to remind himself of the painful experience as a captive, hence the term Wo Xin Chang Dan. When opportunity arose, Gou launched attack on Fu, caught him by surprise and wiped out the State of Wu in one stroke.
Juxtaposing Wo Xin Chang Dan with the policy dictums of Deng, those of calmly observe the situations; secure footing; cope changes with confidence; conceal capacities and buy time; skillfully keep a low profile; and avoid sticking head out, one cannot resist but to draw parallels and ask the ultimate question: will China avenge on her humiliation by the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance (八國聯軍), that consisted of Austria-Hungry, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States?
If there is embedded realism in Taoism, how is it being manifested in the foreign policy of Deng and his subsequent successors? One of the most ambiguous phrases in the policy dictum of Deng is taoguang yanghui (韜光養晦), or to conceal capacities and bide time. Why did China need to conceal capacities, and bide time to do what? A quick reminder on how Deng dealt with the territorial dispute in the East China Sea with Japan and the territorial dispute with her ASEAN neighbours in the South China Sea may illuminate the traits of taoguang yanghui and hidden realism in the foreign policy of China.
During a visit to Japan in October 1978, Deng told the Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda that the two countries should focus on promoting mutual interests instead of arguing over Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku Islands to the Japanese) m. In May 1979, when meeting with Suzuki Kenko, a member from the lower house of the Japanese Diet, Deng raised for the first time the concept of “setting aside dispute and pursuing joint development” n.
Deng repeated the “setting aside dispute and pursuing joint development” concept on her ASEAN neighbours. In June 1986, on the dispute over Nansha Islands, Deng said to visiting Filipino Vice President Laurel, “we should leave aside the issue of the Nansha Islands for a while. We should not let this issue stand in the way of China’s friendship with the Philippines and with other countries.” o In April 1988, Deng told visiting Filipino President Aquino, “in view of the friendly relations between our two countries, we can set aside this issue for the time being and take the approach of pursuing joint development” p.
In the 70’s and 80’s, the reform in China was just underway. The economy was recovering from the Cultural Revolution wreckage. China had neither the capacity nor the capability to demand settlement on the disputed territories. Therefore, setting aside dispute represented the most prudent approach. However, when the comprehensive power of China rose to a level that led international relations commentators dubbed the G2 era, q China became more assertive on her regional neighbours, resulting in escalating tensions in the territorial disputes. Setting against a strategic culture of Wo Xin Chang Dan, the Taoism diplomacy of taoguang yanghui could be seen in the light of hiding capacities so that no one would worry about the threat of China rise until its comprehensive power reached a critical mass, and bidding time to wait for opportunity to strike. The sub-prime credit crisis in the US in 2008 and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe presented China with the chance to raise the phoenix from the ashes. The arrogance of Chinese leaders led the West and Asia to believe the China threat is clear and present.
Defending China’s policy in Africa, Li (2011) has highlighted the four notions of Chinese cultural values of benevolence, forbearance, trustfulness and equality to argue that the non-interference policy of China in Africa could produce a win-win situation for both countries.
Furthermore, Yan (2011) argued that the West has misunderstood China. While the historical culture of China aspired to Daoism, China’s traditional worldview was simultaneously operated under a system of Confucian values (Bell & Metz 2011). Ontologically derived from Yijing (易經) (Cheng 2011b), Confucianism, advocated by Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 B.C.), provides an ethical socio-political codes of conduct that emphasize on respect. Under Confucianism, people should respect those who are senior to them. As Tian (heaven) (天) was deemed to be above everything, Chinese sovereigns, who were referred to as Tian-zi and claimed to be the Sons of Tian (天子), therefore logically inherited unquestionable and indisputable political legitimacy to govern (Bell & Metz, 2011). However, Confucianism also provides that the right to power could be withdrawn from the Son of Tian if he failed to embrace and practice Confucian values that consist of Humaneness (仁), Righteousness (義), Propriety (禮), Knowledge (智) and Integrity (信). Under such scenario, there would be a change in dynasty until a new Tian-zi emerged to uphold the moral values.
Extending beyond Chinese society, Confucianism justified and rationalized inequality in the traditional Chinese tributary system under the Tian-xia (天下) worldview (Qin 2010). Tian-xia means space under the heaven. Sharing the same Tian, the power of Tian-zi could go beyond geographical boundaries to be exercised over tributary states, whose people should aspire to the Chinese culture underpinned by Confucian values. The external reach of Tian-zi was structured under three Chinese philosophical concepts of holism, Datong (大同) and order (Qin 2010: 41–42). These concepts underline the key fundamental differences between Chinese Confucianism worldview and Western realism traditions.
Holism means there should be no separation between “I” and “we”, or “self” and “other”. It has two dimensions: the temporal dimension that structures like the relationship between great-grandfather with the great-grandson, and the spatial dimension views like at the center of a ripple with concentric rings spreading out. Under this holism worldview, there is nothing opposite. This concept is fundamentally different from Western realist’s interpretation of the world that conflicts between states are inevitable.
Datong, meaning great harmony, refers to the trinity where human and nature, ideal and reality, moral and material, meet as a harmonious whole (Qin 2010: 42). In contrast with realism which assumes the world is anarchic, under Datong, a harmonious world was not only natural but inevitable. In a Confucian tributary system, order was different from the Hobbesian jungle where men were equal but because of survival had to be hostile to each other, nor was it the same as in a Lockean society where people were equal but they had to be competitive to stay ahead of one another, and it was not a Kantian culture in which people were equal and friendly to each other.
The order under a Confucian tributary system was like the relationship between father and son, unequal but benign out of respect (Qin 2010: 42). Indeed, a Confucian world order is quite different from the landscape painted by Western international relations theories of realism, liberalism and constructivism (Yue 2014). Whereas realism leads to hegemony, liberalism causes interdependency, and constructivism encourages regionalism, Confucianism promotes a harmonious world under an asymmetrical system crafted out of mutual respect (Table 2). Precisely because of these different perspectives which are deeply rooted in Chinese culture, Confucianism could potentially illuminate an alternative approach towards south-south cooperation that is free from dominance and dependency.