The rising power is squaring up to the west. But it could still be undone by its top-down modelby George Magnus / June 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
Away from the daily news about America’s spats with China over trade and technology, we know one thing at least: the world’s two biggest economies are locking horns for the foreseeable future and, like it or not, the rest of us will be drawn in. We are witnessing a sharp divergence in the ways of the world. On one side is China’s model of authoritarian state capitalism in a Leninist structure with the Communist Party at its heart. On the other, a western model still not fully recovered from the financial crisis, but one based on liberty, individual freedom, and the rule of law.
In last month’s Prospect, Kerry Brown assessed Australia’s challenging relationship with China and described a country caught between Beijing’s interference and Donald Trump’s weakening commitment to Canberra. Brown’s conclusion—Britain should set the terms for its engagement with China, unless it wants Beijing to do so unilaterally. Isabel Hilton’s article, also last month, considered the ways in which “Xi Jinping Thought” has permeated Chinese media, society, business and commerce. As the Party tries to persuade other countries to follow its political and cultural model, often by clandestine methods, she wonders whether we have even started to think of the consequences should it succeed.
Xi’s China has indeed performed a remarkable shift. A radical change in government structure was unveiled at the 19th Party Congress last October and approved by the National People’s Congress in March. The changes aim to make Xi’s command more disciplined and effective as he, at the head of the Communist Party, pursues the struggle to realise the “Chinese Dream,” or the nation’s “great rejuvenation.” But while there is no doubt that China is surging onwards, it is heading towards a politically uncertain end.
In its foreign policy, China’s behaviour is consistent with that of a regional hegemon, and an aspirant global power. Its signature policy is Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Dressed up as a Eurasian development project, and sometimes likened, incorrectly, to the US Marshall Plan after the Second World War, the BRI is much more a China-centric strategy designed to confer economic and geopolitical benefits.
The BRI is intended to cement China’s position as the world’s biggest export hub, while plugging it into the middle eastern and Eurasian oil and commodities…