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Is China Really Threatening American Power Abroad?

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(THE CONVERSATION) President Joe Biden so far maintains the rigorous Chinese policy of his predecessor, which aims to curb China’s international power both economically and politically.

China is widely recognized in the United States and Europe as a rising star threatening Western power.

But my research on the country suggests that China may no longer see itself that way.

The rise of China

In the three decades that I have studied and taught Chinese foreign policy, I have witnessed three distinct eras in China’s approach to international relations.


After the death of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong in 1976, Mao’s successors, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, introduced economic reforms that set China on a path of phenomenal economic growth. The country fell from 11th to second place in the world GDP ranking between 1990 and 2020.

The prevailing view in Western capitals in the 1990s was that China’s economic transformations would inevitably result in a rich, peaceful and democratic country.

To ensure this result, the major economic powers were ready to embrace China as a full member of their club of free market societies, admitting it into international institutions like the World Trade Organization and integrating it into global markets. The West wanted to integrate it into this network of international political institutions built after World War II to promote cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution.

And China was happy to join the club, at least when it comes to trade and investment. The foreign relations strategy of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1990s was to “hide ability and wait for the weather”, adopting a “tao guang yang hui” policy – keeping a low profile.

In the early 2000s, President Hu Jintao took some modest steps towards greater Chinese assertiveness on the world stage, strengthening the Chinese navy and launching a series of port projects in Pakistan and beyond. For the most part, however, Hu has always adopted a “peaceful rise” policy.

China’s dream

That changed when the current leader of China, Xi Jinping, took power in 2012.

Xi projected nationalism and power. His China would no longer bide its time. Xi proclaimed the “Chinese dream,” envisioning the country as a major power with growing influence not only in Asia but around the world.

Under Xi, China has taken a much more aggressive stance towards the world, deploying military might in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and pairing diplomacy with heavy investments in infrastructure development in Latin America. and in Africa.

Over time, many Western foreign policy leaders, including Barack Obama, came to view China as determined to overthrow, not maintain, the economic order in which it had created and enthusiastically welcomed China. .

In 2015, the United States embarked on a “strategic pivot” to Asia and away from the Middle East, which has been the center of Washington’s attention since September 11.

In an effort to contain – or at least coerce – China, the United States has strengthened its alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, formed a coalition of countries neighboring China, and strengthened their defense cooperation with India, Australia and Japan.

American anxieties

In October 2017, at the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi confirmed Western fears. He has publicly declared his goal of putting China at the “center of the stage” in world affairs.

Xi said China is not seeking world domination, but warned that no one “should expect China to swallow anything that harms its interests.” He also hinted that China’s rise to power would create a world order with “Chinese characteristics”.

In December 2017, an update to the US national security strategy officially declared the rise of China a threat, citing the theft of intellectual property and the development of advanced weapons capable of nullifying the military advantage of America.

China against the world

But the Chinese dream is not guaranteed. As President Xi told Communist Party members at a meeting in January 2019, the country faces serious challenges

Beijing faces a US-led coalition that is committed to resisting China’s economic, military and diplomatic power plays in Asia. China also has growing debt, a stagnant GDP growth rate, and declining productivity.

Then there is the troubling demographics of China: the population is shrinking and aging.

China’s population declined in 2018 for the first time since the deadly famines induced by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” in the 1960s. The Chinese Academy of Sciences predicts that if fertility continues to fall from its current rate of From 1.6 children per woman to 1.3, the Chinese population would be reduced by about 50% by the end of this century.

China ended its policy of limiting families to one child in 2015, but its population is still aging, leaving fewer workers to support a growing number of elderly people.

Together, these predictions have raised concerns within the Chinese Communist Party that the nation will “get old before it gets rich.” This difficult situation could create serious social unrest.

Xi and other members of the Chinese Communist leadership no longer project unbridled confidence. Instead, they express concern that global leadership is out of reach.

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Divergent views

These concerns are already reshaping China’s foreign policy, leading it to take increasingly direct military action towards neighboring India – where it is engaged in a territorial dispute in the Himalayas – and near Taiwan. China is also stepping up its military efforts to assert its territorial rights to the disputed islands in the South China Sea and suppress democracy in Hong Kong.

Xi has adopted a confrontational new form of global diplomacy that more actively undermines US interests abroad. Some call it “wolf-warrior diplomacy,” after two successful Chinese films about Chinese special forces defeating American mercenaries in Africa and Asia.

This is the first time in six decades that China and the West have had such fundamentally different views on China’s global trajectory.

The results could be unsettling. If a weakened China feels threatened by Western containment, it may double its nationalist displays in India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea.

The post-World War II international order, built to promote economic cooperation and avoid war, might not be able to withstand the stress of China’s growing challenges from within. A war between the West and China is still a distant possibility, but perhaps not as distant as it once seemed.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/rethinking-the-us-china-fight-does-china-really-threaten-american-power-abroad-148672.

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