China’s Growing International Role: Words, Deeds and Needs

Journal Article May, 2011, ISPI Studies

As China’s economy has grown, so has its international presence in a variety of areas, among which the military and security dimension is particularly important. This paper examines China’s increasingly important role both within Asia and at the global level by examining rhetoric, reality and perceptions. It is argued that recent events such as the evacuation of Chinese citizens from Libya – in which the PLA played an important role – and China’s involvement in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden both demonstrate the need for China to project military strength at the global level and highlight the limitations of China’s current ability to do so, given the work that still needs to be done in integrating and modernizing the armed forces. While suspicions of a “China threat” by the US and among China’s neighbors are still high, China’s active participation in UN peacekeeping missions shows that it is capable of acting as a positive force in promoting world peace (even if such participation is limited by China’s commitment to non-intervention in the affairs of other sovereign nations). China is very active in its involvement in security affairs within Asia, especially in the context of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and in its disputes with its neighbors over territorial issues – such as the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyutai and in the South China Sea – China is becoming increasingly assertive. It is argued that an increase in China’s role at the global level to match its influence at the regional level could be a positive development.