News on Monday that China has surpassed Japan as the world's second biggest economy is yet another demonstration of the former's relentless march towards the status of 'superpower'. With the USA now in its sights, steady relations between Washington and Beijing are now ever more important in the context of world economic and political affairs.
However, despite a steady improvement in the Sino-American dialogue in recent years, especially with regards to America's stance on the Taiwan 'issue', feelings have flared in Beijing after the publication of a Pentagon report critical of China's military and cyber capabilities. Commenting on what Chinese experts perceive to be unjustified American references to China's alleged cyber technology threat, the People's Daily (the Chinese state mouthpiece) published views which suggest that America is trying to “blacken China's image”. In the article, an intellectual from the influential Chinese Academy of Social Sciences attributed the Pentagon's findings to a need for America to exacerbate the Chinese danger in order to boost its own cyber power. Such mutual suspicion, when added to Chinese offence taken over American concern with its military development, makes it likely that each side's mistrust of the other will only intensify.
The American report comes at a particularly frustrating time for the Chinese government. Following on from the efforts made in the 2008 Olympics to portray a China with a new 'international' role, the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is another exercise in image improvement. While on one level tarnishing China's newly carved out identity, on another the Pentagon's report serves to show that the international community has not been inclined to abandon its pre-existing suspicions. Undoubtedly, the Olympics and the Expo altered many foreign perceptions of China, but these are still infused with the notion that China could be a potential threat. Unfortunately for Beijing, these attitudes are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.