According to Liu Mingfu, an ex-colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, “It has been China’s dream for a century to become the world’s leading nation.”
In today’s society, the Chinese people aim to make their nation a strong and prosperous great power, capable of guarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. China’s rapid rise to power is unprecedented in terms of scale or speed throughout global history and it’s growing economy has made it a strong competitor in regard to the USA in influencing the way regionalism is emerging. China seeks to enhance its economic and military capabilities so as to become a leading power capable of challenging the global US dominance and reinforcing its role in leading the international system. The continuing rise of China will equip it with more leverages to influence the world stage.
More than half the world’s population lives in Asia, and studies indicate that the global system is experiencing a radical structural change; the center of the world is moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific, situating China in an ideal location to become the center of the international system. According to Henry Kissinger, “The type of Asia built will be vital in deciding what kind of world is built in the modern world.”
China has taken steps to remove international safeguards, utilizing their economic leverage to ignore boundaries of democracy, sovereignty, and human rights. If China becomes the dominating world power, rules of the international system set during the era of American dominance will irrevocably change. With not much priority in promoting democratic institutions, China will let communism crush democracy, and small states will be forced to comply with terms set by strong states; patterns already evident in China’s current coercion of neighboring countries over trade and business practices. And there is little probability that despite their displeasure over China’s growing economic and political dominance, the US will be able to compete with Chinese interests given their lack of capable leadership, economic decline, and growing debt to China. If the United States attempts to check Chinese actions through trade tariffs, the Chinese government merely responds by dumping Treasury bonds, resulting in higher interest rates for American corporations.
By taking advantage of the global strategic flux caused by the Trump presidency and US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Chinese has taken further steps in consolidating its control of world trade. Their most recent economic initiative, the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative, is made up of more than a physical network. China plans to utilize OBOR to connect the world in a the world’s largest trade network, creating a system where it can influence countries into respecting and supporting its rise to power. Such frameworks are dangerously similar to imperial empires of old.
While there are many conflicting views on what an ideal world power should look like, it is expected that the ideal world power would look past its own national interests so as to see the international system in a wider context, and serve the interests of the world. In this, China has made it evident that it is capable of doing so, even when the United States is not, making impressive strides in fighting climate change, investing in underdeveloped African nations, and leading the United Nations.
While China may be far better equipped to lead the world and reconstruct the international system as hegemon than the US, it will have to make steps to change their governmental policies. History has evidenced time and time again that authoritarian states tend to be more fragile than their democratic counterparts. Authoritarian governments tend to retain failing policies longer than their democratic counterparts as societies in authoritarian countries tend to lack free media to publicize failures and challenge polices and elections for different possible directions for policy.
China’s rise to power raises the question of whether the international system cannot function with a superpower filling the top spot. Historically, empires have successively claimed their hegemonic crown successively till their inevitable collapse. China’s rise to power seems to be further evidence that the international system cannot exist without a superpower supporting it. This does, however, raise the question of whether the United States will be able to reclaim its position as hegemon. United States has been desperately clinging on to the last vestiges of its power, funneling its remaining economic resources into a purposeless military, neglecting the infrastructure and care of its citizens who were responsible for its rise to power. Trump’s view is indicative of a rather myopic realist, unable to see that in a world of increasing globalization, disengaging from the world stage is not a sign of power, nor necessarily beneficial for America or its citizens. The President’s inability to skillfully navigate global politics is detrimental to American interests, as global opinion of America falls and other countries move to fill the void created by the President’s ineptitude in maintaining good diplomatic relations with even its own allies. A fundamental concept that China understands that America has failed to realize is that as the world enters a period of never seen before interconnectedness and globalization, it is no longer possible to return to the primitive nationalistic ways of life that existed before. For the first time since its inception as a nation, the United States is now in the position of facing decline, a notion nearly unfathomable to most Americans.
Perhaps it is time for US citizens to start learning Mandarin.