A World with Chinese Characteristics
Today China and the US remain engaged in the most serious trade dispute the world has seen in generations, English remains the world’s predominant language, the US is the world’s largest economy, the dollar remains its reserve currency, Google is the world’s primary search engine, and Facebook is its largest social media platform. In 30 years, once China’s Belt and Road Initiative is completed, China’s ability to project its soft and hard power will be greatly enhanced. Since China will have in a few years become the world’s largest economy and parents around the world will ensure that their children speak Mandarin (if they do not already).
Once the Chinese government makes the yuan fully convertible, it could well become the world’s reserve currency, and given the growth in Chinese speakers, it could well be Baidu that becomes the world’s predominant search engine and Weibo that supplants Facebook. The growth in the Chinese middle class, already larger than the US, will help ensure that China weens itself of overdependence on exports to sustain growth and becomes increasingly self-reliant for economic growth.
If President Xi has his way, it will be China that is the world’s center of gravity. The coming Chinese world order is likely to be devoid of the kinds of checks and balances the world has come to take for granted in the post-War world order. Rather, it is more likely to be akin to a transaction-driven landscape where the strongest party rules and the weak are considered collateral damage. This transformation has already begun, and as it is occurring, the US and many other countries are essentially asleep at the wheel. As domestic crisis upon crisis piles up, the world’s leading Western economies continue to turn their attention inward, preoccupied with political and economic issues at home and functioning with unipolar blinders on. Many of the world’s leaders fail to see all that President Xi is doing and fail to appreciate its implications for the future.
Not since the modern liberal order was born in the 1940s has the world had to grapple with the possibility of its demise, at the hand of a rising China. Just at a time when the world is in need of the stability and governance, it has had the luxury of relying upon for decades, it must contemplate transitioning to a world order, not of the West’s choosing. Clearly, the era of US hegemony is coming to an end. Will the global institutions it was so instrumental in creating become less relevant and forceful with time? Will Beijing be successful in crafting new institutions derived from a Chinese footprint. If so, will good governance and rule of law be consistent with such organizations? Only time will tell, of course.
What is certain is that Beijing’s realization of the Chinese century is sure to be infused with precepts and applications that are uniquely Chinese. The world has yet to fully contemplate all that this portends, but President Xi wants to achieve a pathway that guarantees the supremacy of China throughout this century and beyond. He is likely to do just that, for he has a vision not only for how China reigns supreme in the economic, political, diplomatic, technological and eventually, the military arena, but how it gets there. That is certainly more than can be said for the US at this juncture, much less other Western powers that appear to be sitting by the sidelines as Beijing smashes barrier after barrier for how things get done.
Xi deserves credit for having a vision of the future, and for acting swiftly and decisively to achieve it, whether in the area of technology (where China is outspending all other nations combined to achieve AI supremacy), building the world’s largest navy by number of ships, landing a probe on the dark side of the moon as evidence of its growing strength in the sciences, or seeking to influence the world’s media. China is engaged in a multi-pronged effort to become influential in a wide spectrum of areas of importance to the world.
Let us hope that Beijing’s tendency to elbow its way to the front of the line, find a way to get more or less whatever it wants with the world’s poorest and weakest nations, and at time ignore the rule of international law yields to a kinder, gentler China in the future that shows evidence of a respect for the established international order and well-worn rules of the road. The established world order did not become established swiftly or by accident; it became established as a result of a deliberate effort to be transparent, inclusive, and place a premium on governance and the rule of law. If Beijing really wants to establish the top tier ranking in the aforementioned areas, and do so in a manner that helps ensure its longevity, it will do so seeking to enhance, rather than supplant the very world order that has enabled it to rise to become the global power that it already is.
A version of the article was first published by Fair Observer.