Chengxin Pan: Beyond ‘Threat’ and ‘Opportunity’: How Does the West Get China Wrong?


April 17, 2015 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Room 401, New School of Foreign Languages
Peking University
5 Yi He Yuan Lu, Haidian Qu, Beijing Shi, China
Amanda Barry

Beyond ‘Threat’ and ‘Opportunity’: How Does the West Get China Wrong?

Dr Chengxin Pan

Deakin University, Australia


The Chinese often prefer the West to see the rise of China as an opportunity, not a threat. Many believe that the ‘China threat’ theory suffers from Western bias, misunderstanding, and/or a Cold War mentality. This, however, reflects some Chinese misunderstanding of Western approaches to China. First, contrary to the common belief, Western images of the ‘China threat’ have less to do with its misunderstanding of Chinese reality and more with the ways in which the West constructs itself as the universal yardstick against which others are to be measured. Believing that the tragedy of great power politics in modern Western history represents universal, timeless reality, many Western observers see China’s rise as necessarily part of that ongoing violent tragedy, hence a threat. Second, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Western acceptance of China as an opportunity need not be celebrated, for this ‘China opportunity’ has been frequently framed in the West as a process in which China is becoming more like ‘us’, thereby confirming the West as a universal model for all to emulate. To the extent that this teleological expectation of China is bound to be disappointed, it is highly susceptible to a swing back to the ‘China threat’. Thus, the longstanding love-hate pendulum about China in the West reflects the two sides of the same coin. To conceptualise and develop a better relationship between China and the West, both the Chinese and China watchers in the West need to more critically reflect on where the ‘China threat’/‘China opportunity’ imageries come from and how they interact.


Dr Chengxin Pan is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and a Senior Research Member of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, Australia. A graduate from Peking University, he received his PhD in Political Science and International Relations from the Australian National University. He has held visiting positions at the University of Melbourne, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Peking University, and is on the editorial board of the Series of International Relations Classics (World Affairs Press, Beijing). As well as giving many invited talks in Australia and internationally, he has published on a wide range of topics including Western representations of China, Chinese politics, Chinese foreign policy, Taiwan, traditional Chinese thought on conflict resolution and responsible government, Australia-China relations, US-China relations, and EU-China relations. He is the author of Knowledge, Desire and Power in Global Politics: Western Representations of China’s Rise (Edward Elgar, 2012). A Chinese edition of the book will be published by Social Sciences Academic Press (社科文献出版社).

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