According to Global Language Monitor, the rise of China is the first on its list of the Top News Stories of the Decade, well ahead of even 9/11 and the war in Iraq. At the G20 London Summit in 2009, the active role played by China shows that it has come to the centre stage of addressing global issues. However, China’s leaders have repeatedly emphasised its lower per capita GDP and huge domestic challenges. As the former Chinese Ambassador in the UK, Madame Fu Ying, once put it, although China has a sizable economy, its per capita GDP is only a little more than US$3,000, ranking as 104th in the world, behind countries like Jamaica and Namibia.

Why are there such contrasting perceptions on China’s rise between the Chinese and the rest of the world? What dilemmas is China beginning to face in the context of these different perceptions about its rise? What ways out of these dilemmas has China been seeking? This essay will explore these thought-provoking questions and present an academic analysis on China’s strategic thinking about its rising dilemmas. It presents three arguments: (1) for most Chinese officials, scholars and the public, China is a multi-faceted rising power; (2) a rising China faces two daunting dilemmas –the dilemma of rising powers and an identity dilemma–; and (3) China has adopted a strategic approach to its rising dilemmas, characterised by patience, reassurance and coherence.

This article was published as part of the Window into China series