China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States.
For China, the APEC meetings were a carefully choreographed display of power and confidence. To ensure the colorful show went as planned, Beijing took serious steps. Factories shut down to clear the skies and prominent Chinese activists Hu Jia, a critic of the government, says restrictions he faced under house arrest during APEC were worse than when he was in prison.
“Xi Jinping has taken measures to safeguard stability in the hope that under the great temptation of its economy, no domestic and international activists will voice or mention the dark side of China’s development,” he states.
Not all Chinese are as pessimistic about Beijing’s rule. Indeed many people here see the concerns expressed by China’s neighbors about its expansive territorial claims as an inevitable reaction to Beijing’s rise.
“As China rises that is perhaps putting more pressure on other countries and those countries may want to suppress China,” said teacher Si Diman.
“China is not pursuing military expansion but cooperation. Other countries shouldn’t be so nervous," offered engineer Yao Jianpeng. "The world needs the support of several powerful economies and as one of those countries, China has a responsibility to do its part."
Americans express concern
In the U.S. capital, China’s growing influence is on the minds of Americans as well. And for some, it’s a source of concern.
“In another 20 years they’ll own us like Japan used to," said Virgil Campbell. "they’re buying up everything we have in this country.”
“We are so dependent on them. So, I’m in banking and most of our companies are having to outsource for the, you know, the things that we buy so cheap,” Erin Richardson said.
“Given their monetary, political and military wealth I think it'll be a leader," opined Carl Krienen. "So, whether that’s for good or not, I think that’s to be determined.”
These are still early days for China as an emergent global power, Asia analyst Bonnie Glaser noted. For its neighbors, Beijing's reputation will hinge more on its own actions than how the United States views it.
“I would say that countries around China very much formulate their own judgments about China’s intentions," she said, "and areas where they should cooperate with China and where they shouldn’t.”
For now, China’s neighbors are eager to sign new free trade deals. But they are also wary about China's expansive maritime territorial claims.
And because of that Beijing’s image as either a beneficent rising economic power or authoritarian threat still hangs in the balance.