Less power and prejudice

Updated: 2012-06-01 08:07

By James C. Hsiung (China Daily)

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If Western countries embraced the concept of neisheng waiwang it would help them overcome their insecurities

The United States is a perfect example of qiang buneng an - "all powerful, but still insecure".

It emerged from the end of the Cold War as the undisputed global superpower. Yet its military spending is still almost as much as the rest of the world combined. And even though it is no longer engaged in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, it maintains an arsenal of nearly 1,800 active nuclear weapons, with another 2,900 nuclear weapons in reserve. These are backed up by 3,500 others that have been retired but not yet dismantled, which means they can be re-deployed, if necessary.

But despite its peerless military technology and offensive capabilities, the US still feels insecure and is constantly haunted by the threats it imagines surround it on all sides.

The remedy for this would be a powerful dose of neisheng waiwang, a two-part phrase that begins with "finding the sage within" and ends with "spreading beneficence like a wise king".

For over a thousand years from AD 713 to 1820 China's GDP was consistently larger than the combined total of all of Europe. But for all its power in the past, China rarely invaded another country or lesser political entity. Nor did China claim the New World, as Columbus did 71 years after the Chinese maritime explorer, Zheng He, discovered it.

China did not suffer from Europe's disease of "never being satisfied with the bountiful wealth accumulated".

From at least the 15th century on, China was linked with the Arab world, Europe and Africa, to form what Andre Gunder Frank and his globalist colleagues call an "Afro-EurAsian global trade carousel".

The reason that China preferred to trade rather than plunder like the West can be attributed to its embracing of neisheng waiwang.

Critics may point at the militant stance of China in the few decades before the 1970s. But that militancy was a natural product of China's then existing diplomatic isolation and strangulation effected by the non-recognition of the US and its allies. As soon as Sino-US relations were normalized in 1979, 30 years after the birth of the People's Republic of China, Beijing's militancy vanished. Now, even though China has become the world's second largest economy after three decades of sustained economic growth, it is still not trying to match the might of the US.

One indication is that the Chinese defense budget, which despite all outside finger pointing and speculation, is one-sixth of the US' defense spending. China does not show any sign of being insecure even though its power is some 20 years behind the US.

Both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai renounced China's ambition to become a superpower, a pledge renewed by President Hu Jintao in 2011. On two separate occasions in 2009, as the financial tsunami was wreaking havoc on the global economy, Premier Wen Jiabao told both the Europeans and President Barack Obama that China would not accept the idea of a G2 (comprising the US and China) to replace the G7. According to an evaluation by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China ranks No 7 among 13 "major countries" in the world.

In other words, lagging behind in total power does not appear to be a source of insecurity for China. This is because it has not strayed from following the principle of neisheng.

There is also ample evidence to demonstrate China's waiwang. For example, it loaned more money to African countries from 2008 to 2010, when money was tight as a result of global financial tsunami, than the World Bank. From 2000 to 2009, China wrote off nearly 19 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) owed by African countries, including the world's poorest nations like Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Zimbabwe. China cancelled these debts without regard to whether the borrowers had oil or any other natural resources that China needs.

Although some in China, especially the young, may not be familiar with the phrase neisheng waiwang, they nevertheless embody it. It is my belief that if Western countries adopted it, they too would no longer feel insecure and seek power over others.

The author is a professor of politics at New York University and this article is based on his speech during the second Nishan Forum on World Civilizations in Jining, Shandong province from May 21 to 22.