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Introduction: China Enters New Terrain

Post Series: 2011: Volume 10, Number 1
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China’s successes have created new demands on its political culture, economy, and global role. The five articles in this issue each touch on some aspect of these new demands.

Liang Yao argues that China’s central government feels it needs a new national identity. She shows how this identity is being shaped using the example of glorification of recent accomplishments in the space program. While the accomplishments in space technology are significant and impressive, the use of “model” citizens and repetitious propaganda to develop a sense of national pride are reminiscent of the Maoist days.

Along with major progress in space exploration, China has build a modern navy. Having a navy, then, China is beginning to utilize it, changing China’s role in the South China Sea and beyond, as explained in the second article by John Garver. Some of the new deployments have served humanitarian goals such as the launching of a new hospital ship in 2007 and the evacuation of Chinese citizens from Libya in February 2011. But Chinese warships have also been deployed to fight pirates off Somalia, providing actual experience in naval combat.

On the economic front, Latin America has been the recipient of rapidly growing Chinese investment and trade. The third article by Michael Cerna argues that albeit unintentional, China’s growing economic presence in Latin America has challenged the U.S. in yet another realm. While the U.S. continues to be the major economic partner in this region, China is advancing rapidly. Countries in the region need to find a way to balance relations with both.

The fourth article by Daniel Mojahedi analyzes the mixed messages and changing approaches between China and Taiwan during the years of Lee Teng-hui when Taiwan swung away from building closer ties across the Taiwan Strait. Mojahedi argues that the two sides had incompatible goals—the mainland wanted to move toward reunification, while Taiwan wanted to normalize relations. As China has grown in economic and military strength, resolutions palatable to the Taiwanese people have become ever more elusive as neither side has been willing to accept the other’s end game.

Vijaya Subrahmanyam, in the final article of this issue, brings the global competition back home to China in the realm of community banks. Neglected by investors until recently, city and rural commercial banks are helping nurture small and medium-sized companies and those located in rural areas. Big-city growth has contributed to inequalities in access and outcomes across China, causing the government to feel a need to respond by trying to further the development of this sector. Foreign companies see these third- and fourth-tier banks as potentially good vehicles to invest deeper into China’s economy, increasing competition in the banking sector.

Competition between Chinese and foreign firms, and between the U.S. and China for influence both politically and economically, is on the rise. Managing this competition will take insight, patience and extra effort to find mutually beneficial results as changes continue to unfold.

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