THE NATIONAL INTEREST — Anyone familiar with the foreign policy rhetoric emanating from Beijing for the past three decades or more has heard talk of China’s “good neighbor policy,” its “peaceful rise” and its aspirations to contribute to a “harmonious world,” by way of “a new type of great power relations.” China pledged under Deng Xiaoping to pursue a “good neighbor policy,” and China arguably followed through on that for the next three decades. China’s modus operandi during this era was what Deng called a policy of “taoguang yanghui,” literally “avoiding the [spot]light, nurturing obscurity,” or more colloquially, “biding one’s time and lying low.” Under Hu Jintao, the foreign policy mantra was “peaceful rise”—later changed to “peaceful development,” perhaps so as to avoid associations realists might make with rising powers and the complications this might bring).
Xi Jinping has ushered in a new initiative, suggesting “a new type of great power relations,” which could be read to say: Don’t worry—we won’t rise like 1930s Germany! Or, put another way, today’s China does not seek to repeat the past in terms of the “normal” historical pattern of great-power rise as leading to great-power conflict. In 2007, perhaps the high tide of “the peaceful rise” strategy, China was quite successful, for as David Kang and others pointed out, China’s neighbors did not appear to be balancing against a rising China, but seemed quite optimistic about China’s role in the region. China had then perhaps the best security environment it has ever enjoyed.