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China Leads the Way in Crafting Foreign Policy in a Negative G World

As global affairs continue to careen out of control, akin to a rollercoaster rapidly accelerating downward, the world’s foreign policy makers may be forgiven for feeling as if they are floating around in weightless atmosphere, wondering what they will crash into next without control. What distinguishes this “negative G” era from others in the past is that the world is not at war, nor is there a global economic crisis.

Rather, this is occurring while the world is at relative peace and in comparative prosperity. Only rarely has an era of disruption coincided with such political calm and favorable economic indicators.

This puts policymakers in a rather unenviable position. The era of disruption has taken firm hold, with pressure being placed on virtually every facet of the foreign policy-making process: politics, economics, socio-cultural issues, the military, cyber, technology, and the environment.

This has coalesced into what amounts to mission impossible; how can foreign policy decision makers possibly craft strategies with any hope of remaining relevant and implementable in the long-term, much less over the next year, when so many variables are spinning out of control at the same time?

The world’s governments would be wise to take a page from the Chinese playbook. Through its decades-long use of 5-year plans, China’s government has become masterful at crafting a long-term strategic vision, devoting the necessary resources, and ensuring its successful implementation. Such an approach has naturally spilled over in the foreign policy arena, with Beijing simultaneously pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a military buildup, and the pursuit of supremacy in artificial intelligence (AI).

Beijing is, in effect, creating its own foreign policy reality. By having a futuristic vision of the world that is created in its own image, and by devoting incredible financial resources over many years to seeing it through, China’s government is virtually ensuring that it controls much of the dialectic in global foreign policy. No other government comes close to rolling out an initiative as bold and sweeping as the BRI, and Beijing is spending more than all other governments combined in its pursuit of AI supremacy.

This orientation to the long-term future, creative and original thinking, and a willingness to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in pursuit of its objectives is what distinguishes China from so many other governments at this juncture. Beijing is combining all this with an aggressive global diplomatic campaign to take up part of the slack left in the wake of the US withdrawal from much of the rest of the world, and a clear desire to strengthen existing partnerships in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, many of whose governments seem only too happy to respond in kind, given China’s growing importance in global trade and investment.

So, Beijing is, in essence, using negative Gs to position itself to lead in foreign policy in the coming decade and well beyond, particularly with its focus on the BRI and AI. China’s vision is to become the leading force in diplomacy, even if the US were to regain its global footing in the next presidential election or beyond. It is ensuring that it has, and maintains, a substantial lead in that regard.

At the same time, much of the rest of the world is embroiled in domestic issues which inhibit them from responding with muscularity to the emerging Chinese-driven reality. While the US continues to be preoccupied with its perpetual divisive political squabbling, the UK remains engrossed determining its path forward in Europe, and any number of other countries continue to devote undue resources to resolving lingering issues, Beijing is forging ahead with bravado.

That is the recipe for success when pulling negative Gs in foreign policy. When the only certainty appears to be continued uncertainty, and while the majority of the world’s governments appear to be trying to determine how to stop careening out of control, Beijing is embracing the downward acceleration as an opportunity, rather than a cost. In a decade, while much of the rest of the world will be dusting themselves off and trying to figure out what comes next, China will be crafting its next set of long-term plans while sprinting further and further ahead in the foreign policy arena, and beyond.

This article was originally posted in the South China Morning Post.