By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
China’s President Xi Jinping has called for a new world order, using a speech at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference April 20 to launch a veiled attack against American global leadership.
“Bossing others around and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs would not get one any support,” Xi told the 4,000 participants. “World affairs should be handled through extensive consultation, and the future of the world should be decided by all countries working together. We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.”
China’s ambition is to be a global leader of nations that oppose Washington and its allies. It not only refutes American criticism of its internal affairs but presents its own values as a model for others.
Most of America’s problems in competing with China are domestic. Americans are the ones who have spent the past year rejecting their history, destroying statutes of prominent figures, tolerating widespread looting and arson, eliminating meritocratic competition in many of their schools and universities, and directing their military to focus on social issues rather than fighting wars.
When members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff claim the biggest threats to national security are domestic terrorists led by white nationalists, there is real trouble afoot.
The pandemic heightened this self-destruction. The wealth gap has soared. While those at the top, along with professionals, bureaucrats and teachers, have been spared, small business entrepreneurs and the working class has been ravaged by lockdowns and other restrictions.
The southern border with Mexico is a shambles and the governors bearing the brunt are adamant. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on April 21 sent the National Guard to the southwest border, declaring a state of emergency. It’s no wonder that China sees the country as decadent and weak.
The Chinese in years past had told Washington they were going to trade fairly and honour their treaty to leave Hong Kong alone until 2047. They said they were going to stop coercing American companies into handing over their intellectual property to Chinese companies. But they didn’t honour those promises.
Today’s aggressive stance on the part of Beijing has been termed “wolf-warrior diplomacy,” a foreign policy named after a recent Chinese movie. The days when China would seek to hide its strength are over.
Chinese representatives when meeting their American counterparts in Anchorage March 19 made it clear that they do not believe that the new administration is dealing from a position of strength.
Such tough talk, which even includes insulting foreign leaders, is paired with Chinese hard power initiatives for construction of artificial islands for military bases in the South China Sea, the Belt and Road Initiative, and Chinese entry into dual-purpose (military and private sector) technologies.
Basing the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy by obtaining nationalist goals internationally has proven to be a powerful legitimating ideology which provides popular support and insulates President Xi from any dissatisfied elites. They recognize that toppling a leader forwarding a strong international Chinese agenda would invite backlash.
U.S. President Joe Biden downplayed Xi’s repressive policies at a CNN televised event in Milwaukee on Feb. 16. “I am not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighurs in western mountains of China and Taiwan. Culturally there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow.”
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, took advantage of this on Feb. 22 when addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council by claiming that Xinjiang-related issues “are in essence about countering violent terrorism and separatism.”
The United States and China may be caught in the Thucydides’ Trap, a term that refers to the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace an existing great power as an international hegemon.
There’s a time lag between the end of an empire and perceptions of its demise by its leaders and citizens. The British Empire was doomed after 1945, but it took some two decades before the average Briton realized it. Is the same true of the American empire today?