In the year 1949, People’s Republic of China was found. Since this time to the start of economic reforms that took place in the late 1970s, the foreign relation of China mainly focused on the socialist bloc and the third world. Political disaffection marked the relationship of China with some western countries and the conventional international system dominated by those countries (Schaller, 2002). China joined the mainstream international system in the reform era. The integration of China with international economy played a key role in making its foreign direct investment (FDI) and trade more liberal. As a result, China has emerged as one of the largest trading power across the globe and a top destination of foreign direct investment (FDI). In early 1980s, China became a member of major international economic organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF. In mid 1980s, China initiated negotiations on membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
In addition to China’s endeavor to reconnect with international economic systems, the open policy of China enabled the country to rejoin the wider international community. Despite the integration of China with the global economy and community, its perception on the nature of the international order as well as its place therein has consistently changed. In 1950s, Chinese viewed the world as divided into two camps; that is, the capitalist and socialist camps. As a result, China supported socialist camp which was led by the Soviet Union. From early 1960s to the end of 1970s, the China’s view of the World was mainly directed by “Mao Zedong’s theory of three world”. According to this theory, the First World comprised the two superpowers, the Second World comprised of other developed countries and the Third World represented the developing countries. China viewed itself as part and leader of the Third World (Schaller, 2002). As a result, since the late 1940s to the end of 1970s, China stayed out of the mainstream international system that was dominated western countries. During the Maoist regime, China perceived itself as a bastion of global revolution and a victim of imperialism. During that period, the government of China endeavored to challenge the international order that was already in existence through its example of defiance and supporting revolutionary forces that existed in other countries.
However, with the beginning of reforms, the Chinese view with regard to international order started to change. Reformers in China ceased to consider international system at that time as a goal for revolution. Instead, Chinese reformers perceived the existing international system as opportunities in which it should take part. In this regard, China redefined itself rapidly from a dedicated revolutionary power to destroying the existing international system. China discarded its own radical system-transforming approach and it accepted a system-reforming approach and later adopted a system-maintaining approach (Schaller, 2002).
In 1980s, China increased its interaction consistently with international system particularly in the economic realm. However, it remained doubtful towards the emerging international norms especially in the economic area. As China tried to expand its FDI and exports in the existing international economic systems, it advocated for a New International economic order, which had been set forth in 1974 by the Group of 77 with increasing demands for a more just and equitable distribution of resources and wealth across the globe.
From 1990s, China has embraced the international order fully. As a result, this attitude has been observed in major changes in the foreign policy of China. For instance, China ratified and signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, UN human rights covenant, and it has also become a de facto partner in the G-8. This initiative would have been difficult in the past since Chinese opposed the existing international system. These initiatives reveal the commitment of Chinese government in identifying the existing international system. However, some people perceive Chinese approach towards active participation in international regimes as its plan to minimize the security dilemma that might arise as a result of rising power of China (Schaller, 2002). In addition, some view these initiatives as a Chinese strategy to avoid the possibility of being a target of balancing by other nations across the globe. However, there has been a consensus in the circles of Chinese policy that in the globalization age, China has no option, other than integrating itself with the rest of the globe so as to modernize itself. The participation of China in the world economic system has greatly benefitted China’s national interest.
In the 20th century, China managed to rise from a weak and economically backward nation into a vital player in the international system. Since the founding of People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao Zedong tried to break the bipolar system in order to make China an independent nation and an important strategic power. The Chinese revolution resulted into an enormous economic growth and enabled China to be a key actor in the international system (Schaller, 2002).
However, over few decades, the rising of China has resulted to the emergence of a sense of alarm that a powerful China might be a threat to some countries. Discourse on the rise of China especially in USA has centered on its possible disrupting effect in the international community. However, China was slow to realize that foreign countries were worried about its rapidly growing power and its initial reactions expressed anger and incredulity. Some western countries especially USA perceived a rising China as a threat since USA emerged as the only superpower in the post-cold war period. In the 1990s, there were talks about what was called “The China Threat Theory”, and this proved that western countries were recognizing China as a rising great power (Schaller, 2002).
Since the ancient times when China portrayed itself as benevolent power at the center of the globe, its main interest has been Image-building. In the Maoist era between; 1946 to 1976, China endeavored to convince foreigners that China was a revolutionary socialist power. Since the start of reform era in 1978, China’s main interest has been to gain recognition as responsible and cooperative actor in the international system. During the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, there was urgent need for China to rebuild its image since their reputation had plummeted amongst western countries, which resulted to ban of all types of weapon sales to China. As a result, China focused on image-building from 1990s, and established an external communication office to improve its overseas publicity (Schaller, 2002). The main reasons as to why China was focused on image building was because it was offended by the by the fact that overseas countries perceived it as a threat, thus it endeavored to eliminate the behavior that promotes such a notion.
Fears on the rise of China were more evident between 1995 and 1996 during the time when it tested its missiles in the shores of Taiwan and initiated territory clashes with Philippines within South China Sea. However, in 1997 there was an indication of a new China when it peacefully recovered Hong Kong, smoothed bilateral trade agreements with USA and provided support to Southeast Asian countries that suffered the Asian financial crises. The China’s image-building took place in numerous dimensions such as public statements on the threat theory, increased military transparency and new interest for multilateral diplomacy.