Weak, divided, incompetent… the west is unfit to challenge Xi’s bid for global hegemony
With its crackdown on Hong Kong and aggression towards those who get in its way, China has no fear of making enemies
Sun 5 Jul 2020 08.00 BST
In the world according to Xi, the US, principal barrier to China’s ambitions, is led by the most incompetent, easily manipulated president in living memory. US influence and military reach across Asia are in decline. Anxious friends, notably the Taiwanese, can no longer count on Washington’s support.
Seen from Beijing, the EU-UK, riven by rightwing nationalist, populist and separatist controversies such as Brexit, is not a serious rival. Like the US, Europe has been further weakened by the pandemic. Russia, obsessed with re-fighting the cold war, poses no threat. India’s leaders mostly spout hot air. As for the rest, in Africa, central and west Asia and Latin America, Xi sees an open field for imperial schemes such as his belt and road initiative.
This all amounts to an extraordinary opportunity for China. Given perceived western reluctance-cum-inability to battle for liberal values and standards, Xi can be confident his Hong Kong coup, Xinjiang and Tibetan depredations, and illegal takeover of the South China Sea, will continue to go largely unpunished. The UN and the western-devised “rules-based international order”, actively sabotaged by Donald Trump, are no real check.
Western leaders cannot say they weren’t warned. At the watershed 19th party congress in 2017, Xi hailed an approaching “new era” of unmatched Chinese (and personal) power. “This is a historic juncture in China’s development. The Chinese nation… has stood up, grown rich, and become strong,” he declared. “It will be an era that sees China move closer to centre stage.”
Beijing’s interest in cooperative security is visibly fading. Fond hopes that China, in time, would democratise are dashed. Trump’s hostility has crystallised the rift. Xi is going for bust. In the absence of tougher, unified western resistance and significant political penalties, he will march on regardless, as emperors tend to do.
Xi aims to establish Chinese hegemony in his lifetime. The target date is set: 2035. As Sun Tzu urged, China has become its enemy – and the west’s.
China’s hegemonic intentions and trajectory: Will it opt for benevolent, coercive, or Dutch‐style hegemony?
This article analyses China’s strategic intentions and how these may ultimately project its violent or peaceful hegemonic rise. It maintains that, although it is difficult to define accurately China’s future hegemonic role and general systemic behaviour, a “Third Hegemonic Way” or Dutch‐style hegemony is highly instructive in this context and, thus, should be examined and added to the existing debate on China’s peaceful or violent rise as either a benevolent or potentially coercive hegemon. We argue that the Dutch‐style hegemony may be the most viable way for China to proceed in its global hegemonic ascendancy in a future world order.
China’s unprecedented economic growth led some scholars to conclude that it will replace the United States as the future global hegemon. However, China’s intentions in exercising future global leadership are yet unknown and difficult to extrapolate from its often contradictory behaviour. A preliminary overview of China’s island building in the South China Sea reveals its potentially coercive intentions. This inference is consistent with the analysis of those who prognosticate China’s violent rise. Conversely and simultaneously, China’s participation in peacekeeping operations and its global investments evince its benevolent hegemonic intentions, which are congruent with the argument of those who predict China’s peaceful hegemonic ascent. Confronted with these divergent tendencies in China’s recent international relations, and assuming its continued rise, it is, thus, essential to examine China’s strategic intentions and how these may ultimately project its violent or peaceful hegemonic rise. This article argues that the “Third Way” or “Dutch‐style” hegemony is highly instructive in this context and, thus, should be examined and added to the existing debate on China’s rise as either a benevolent or coercive hegemon. We argue that Dutch‐style hegemony may be the most viable way for China to proceed in its global hegemonic ascendancy.
Since Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978 and opened China’s economy throughout the 1980s and 1990s, China’s rise is the cause of great concern for its proximate neighbours as well as for the other global great powers. Unprecedented double‐digit economic growth propelled China’s domestic market to second place in the world, scarcely trailing the United States. As Deng Xiaoping promoted China’s economic opening, he promulgated several mottos intended to motivate, characterise, and underscore China’s peaceful foreign policy during these decades of uninterrupted economic ascendancy. Among Deng’s foreign policy characterisations, the pronouncements most often discussed and dissected by policy analysts and academics alike were “[韬光养晦] taoguang yanghui (i.e., concealing its capacities and biding its time), [善于守拙] shanyu shuozhuo (good at maintaining a low profile), and [决不当头] juebu dangtou (never claiming leadership)” (Shen, 2012, p. 7; quoted from Gong, Li, & Gao, 1998).
2 HEGEMONY AND HEGEMONIC LEADERSHIP
By “hegemony,” we mean international leadership, particularly in the sphere of global political economy. Accordingly, we differentiate hegemony from notions of empire, imperialism, unipolarity, or a sort of world government. Instead, we reserve the concept fundamentally to define a kind of global political‐economic order under the leadership of one great power or hegemon, that is, a systemic player who reaches hegemonic status through the possession of significant relative power—both in terms of tangible and intangible resources—and, thus, is able and willing to employ it to promote and maintain a type of hegemony. In turn, one or a combination of political processes, ranging from outright dominance to benevolent guidance, and rule‐conforming governance, promote hegemonic leadership. These three leadership approaches will become clearer once we discuss in a stylised manner below the origin and evolution of these concepts from antiquity to contemporary theoretical perspectives.
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