President Xi Jinping appears to be treading a similar path to the Chinese emperors during the legendary surpluses of the Han dynasty, an age characterized by the first Chinese expansion to the west and south, The South China Morning Post reports:
Today, Xi is involved in his own expansion plans. He has proposed to revive the ancient Silk Road trade route, which stretched from China’s old capital of Xi’an as far as ancient Rome, and his backing his vision with pledges of huge Chinese investment.
Zhu Zhiqun, a political science professor and director at the China Institute at Bucknell University, said that since Xi took office, China had continued to expand its influence by signing trade and investment deals with countries in every corner of the world.
“Xi’s dollar diplomacy is consistent with China’s new diplomacy that began in the 1990s. It focuses on securing resources, expanding export markets and promoting China’s soft power,” Zhu said.
How China’s new assertiveness will be greeted in Washington is arguably the most significant foreign policy question in the world today, The FT’s Jamil Anderlini notes:
The state-owned Global Times newspaper offered a pithy summary of the shift in Beijing’s strategy this month: “Our military strength has to be demonstrated to the world,” it said. “With a strong army, China can be more politically appealing, influential and persuasive, and will make it easier to network.” Such hawkishness effectively signals the death knell for the policy of “taoguang Yonghui”, or “hiding one’s brilliance and biding one’s time”, that has defined China’s foreign policy since the late 1970s…..
One of the most misleading assertions you will hear about China — whether from party officials in Beijing or visiting western politicians and bankers — is that it has never been an expansionist power. A quick glance at some historical maps will show how China’s borders have waxed and waned through millennia of bloody conquest. … President Xi Jinping himself has warned of the “Thucydides Trap”, in which an established power’s fear of an emerging rival escalates into war, as in the case of Sparta challenged by the rise of Athens in Greek antiquity.
“The more foreign observers repeat such fantasies of a benign and pacific China, the more threatening its rise will become,” he suggests. “Rather than listen to the rhetoric coming out of Beijing, western policymakers should pay attention to what China actually does.”
Authoritarian regimes are projecting power beyond their borders, targeting crucial democratic institutions, including elections and the media, the National Endowment for Democracy’s Chris Walker recently observed.
“They use deep economic and business ties to export corrupt practices and insinuate themselves into the politics of democracies, both new and established,” he observes. “They are influencing international public opinion and investing heavily in their own instruments of ‘soft power’ in order to compete with democracy in the realm of ideas.”
Xi’s recent trip to the Middle East signals a willingness to revise China’s policy in the region, one that has traditionally centered on non-interference, as shown in Beijing’s reluctance last year to get involved in Syria’s humanitarian crisis, notes China Digital Times:
As a part of Xi’s new Middle East strategy, China is poised to abandon the sidelines and increase its involvement in the region, Gal Luft at Foreign Policy reports. ….China’s increasing role in the Middle East has implications not only for the region but also for the United States and its allies. On Xi’s trip, he also stopped in Tehran, where he signed 17 economic and technological agreements with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. At The Diplomat, Sara Hsu asks whether China’s relations with Iran pose a threat to the West.
China’s attempt to use Singapore as a model of benign authoritarianism in its soft power strategy is flawed, experts suggest.
In “China and the ‘Singapore Model,’” Stephan Ortmann and Mark R. Thompson examine China’s desire to learn from Singapore “how to combine authoritarian rule with ‘good governance.’” The authors write that the “emerging superpower” has “few peers to which it can compare itself.” But China may be drawing the wrong lessons from the city-state’s experience, they write in The Journal of Democracy:
Chinese misperceptions of the factors that have produced Singapore’s success. It would be hard for China to find ideological reinforcement for its project of combining centralized authoritarian rule with effective and corruption-free government anywhere else in today’s world. China is … moving into unknown territory by attempting to modernize while remaining authoritarian, the only rising economic power in the twenty-first century to seriously pursue this strategy. Instead of seeking popular support through elections, the CCP is increasingly relying on nationalist appeals. RTWT
It’s not the power of the U.S. that many people worldwide doubt, but rather its willingness to use it, says Xenia Wickett, director of the United States program at the British think tank Chatham House.
“The greater concern is that America might not be reliable,” she says. “There is a lot of conversation, for example, about whether America can be trusted to protect islands in the South China Sea.”