China Leadership Monitor

Perceptions of an Assertive China

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

During the past two years, and particularly since China’s quick and strong recovery from the global recession, the long-discussed topic of China’s rise has come to be dominated by a new theme among both Chinese and foreign observers: The image of the supposedly cautious, low-profile, responsibility-shirking, free-riding Beijing of the past giving way to one of a more confident, assertive (some say arrogant), anti–status quo power that is pushing back against the West, promoting its own alternative (i.e., restrictive or exclusionary) norms and policies in many areas, and generally seeking to test the leadership capacity of the United States. This essay examines the features of the discussion in the West, and among many Chinese, regarding the notion of a more assertive China. It attempts to answer several questions: How is assertiveness defined or understood among Western and Chinese observers? What are the main manifestations or expressions of Chinese assertiveness? What is driving such assertiveness, in the views of both Western and Chinese observers? What are the lines of debate over this issue in China and the West, if any? What are the perceived implications of Chinese assertiveness for the future of the international system and Sino-Western relations?