Magazine

China at 70: The Growing Pains of a Rising Power

Seventy years after the founding of the People’s Republic, significant tasks still lay ahead for China.

Xie Tao
China at 70: The Growing Pains of a Rising Power
Credit: AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen

This year marks the 70th birthday of the People’s Republic of China. To a 5,000-year-plus civilization, 70 years seem like the blink of an eye. Yet within that blink the Middle Kingdom has experienced a miraculous rebirth. 

In 1949, China was poor, backward, and isolated by the West. Today, it is the world’s largest trading nation and second largest economy, a global leader in technological innovation, and a major actor in many regional and international institutions. No other country in human history has achieved such a dramatic transformation within such a short period of time.

As China’s wealth and power have changed, so has its foreign policy.

Two major aspects of Chinese foreign policy over the past seven decades are worth close examination. The first is China’s evolving relationship with the beautiful country — the Chinese translation of “America.” Now that China is fast becoming a global power, its policy toward the United States seems to be undergoing a subtle but important shift, and this shift is viewed by some as the major contributing factor for the current difficult state of the bilateral relationship.

The second aspect concerns the impact of a “born-again” China on the outside world. The rise of China so far has been felt most keenly in the economic realm. But even on this score Beijing appears to have had limited success in using its economic power to achieve all of its desired outcomes. By the same token, China’s agenda-setting and ideational power remains incommensurate with its economic clout. Overall, one can argue that China is a global power with limited influence.