Among the many disturbing aspects of the start of the current century—new politics, new strategy, the new actors (state and non-state), new federations…the contradictions and difficulties of the information society which is changing our outlook, whether we like it or not—there is also a new dynamic, marked by a constant movement of the planet’s centre of gravity from West to East, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from America to Asia. At the end of the new road that is being built, and in everyone’s sights, stands China: that ancient civilisation in a state of rapid modernisation, of a size and population beyond all normal perceptions, so often enigmatic and impossible to understand, an open door to the unknown and the sum of all the West’s fears. This is a West which is still trying to distance itself in many ways from the dramatic strategic changes of the beginning of the twenty-first century.
China combines the three greatest factors of modern globalisation: dramatic demographic change, ecological challenge and the vast marketplace that mass consumption offers. Moreover, China seems to be doing everything except exercising power in the sense that the West has long exercised it, that is, power based on conquest, military and technological superiority, and on territorial and economic domination. On the contrary, China seems to be seeking harmony and peaceful development; to be preferring sensible competition to military challenge and brutal confrontation. It prefers to invest in new, open territories and markets, currencies, the seas, cyberspace and exoatmospheric space, than to be a land-based, conflict-orientated force. China seems to be reorganising its military might to suit its modern needs, even going as far as to reduce its nuclear arsenal below that of France. Yet for all that, the country is very conscious of maintaining authority within areas of interest in Siberia, Central Asia and its maritime areas of interest, and makes its presence felt in Africa and South America. On the other hand, it is keen to show its fragility in terms of its ability to manage its middle classes in their socio-economic great leap forward to prosperity.
In showing itself more preoccupied by its domestic balance than its authority overseas, the country gives the impression of not playing a game with the great strategic stakes of past eras—those of the World Wars or the Cold War.
And in doing so, China intrigues and disturbs.
All of which makes China a strategic focal point, towards which global interests are turned, and which is why RDN is dedicating this summer 2011 edition.