Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of Political Science at Columbia University, recently published an article in the January 2015 edition of the Journal of Democracy that details the challenges China face as it grows into its new role as a global power. Below is a brief excerpt:

“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under President Xi Jinping has begun to flex its muscles as a major power. Setting aside Deng Xiaoping’s mantra of “hide our light and nurture our strength” and Jiang Zemin’s policy of “increase trust, reduce trouble, develop cooperation, and do not seek confrontation,” Beijing today actively challenges its neighbors. It also confronts U.S. interests in the South and East China Seas, builds up its navy and missile forces to oppose a U.S. intervention should an armed clash erupt over Taiwan, and promotes the creation of alternative global institutions such as the “BRICS bank” and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that are designed to exclude U.S. and European influence. There is growing worry among Western analysts about the extent to which China, as its power grows, will seek to remake the world in its authoritarian image.

For the time being, however, China’s strategic situation does not permit an all-out challenge to democracy beyond its shores, and whether it will ever undertake such a challenge is uncertain. China’s foreign policy remains essentially defensive. First, the country’s policy makers are concerned about the fragile security situation at home, caused by dissatisfaction among ethnic minorities, displaced peasants and property owners, disgruntled workers, liberal intellectuals, and others—opponents who, Beijing believes, are incited and supported by hostile foreign forces. Second, policy makers have to worry about relations with the two-dozen countries around China’s borders, including powerful states with territorial disputes and other tensions with China, like Japan, Vietnam, and India, as well as countries with a dangerous potential for instability such as North Korea, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Third, China has to worry about regional crises that could break out at any moment in places such as the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait. And fourth, it has to worry about access to resources and markets around the world.

Facing this array of challenges, the Chinese leadership seeks to maintain good relations with whatever regime is in power in any country where China has diplomatic and security interests or does business, regardless of the character of that regime. To be sure, it is often easier for Beijing to do business with narrow authoritarian elites than to navigate within complex democratic systems. But attempting to undermine a foreign democratic regime would, in business terms, cost more than it would be worth…” 

Please click here (PDF) to read the full article.