How to Look at the Rise of China
China’s ongoing economic expansion means its influence on global trade has grown exponentially. Boasting a population of more than 1.4 billion people, vast industrial prowess, and technological innovation, China has established itself as a dominant participant in the worldwide economic arena. The ramifications of China’s ascent are multifaceted and broad-reaching, with advantages and disadvantages impacting international trade. But the most worrying aspect of China’s rise is its partnership with Russia, its focus on expanding its nuclear capabilities, and its unwavering desire to annex Taiwan.
In terms of power and technology, China poses a serious threat as seen by the recent fervor in the U.S. over concerns about the Chinese-owned mobile app TikTok. According to an analysis by Modern Diplomacy, “the rise of China as a global economic superpower has also brought with it a number of challenges and concerns. One of the biggest concerns is the issue of intellectual property theft. Chinese companies and individuals have been accused of stealing trade secrets and technology from foreign companies, which has led to tensions with the United States and other Western countries. In 2020, the United States estimated that the cost of intellectual property theft by [China] ranged from $180 billion to $540 billion per year.”
Ever since Deng Xiaoping began to open up China to the world, kicking off the enormous growth spurt that has made it a superpower and the globe’s second-largest economy, Chinese President Xi Jinping has had his eyes set on expanding this success even further – but not necessarily in a good way.
As this article in Asia Times notes, “Russia plans to provide fast breeder nuclear reactor technology to China, an agreement that could allow Beijing to significantly grow its nuclear arsenal and tip the prevailing global balance of nuclear weapons. This month, Bloomberg reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping announced a long-term agreement to continue developing fast breeder nuclear reactors optimized for plutonium production for nuclear weapons.”
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies points out that “during a hearing before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, John F. Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, called the Russian-Chinese cooperation ‘very troubling.’ He explained, ‘There’s no getting around the fact that breeder reactors are plutonium, and plutonium is for weapons.’”
While some experts downplay China’s growing power, Western countries including the UK, Germany, and the U.S., are concerned about China’s expansion of civilian nuclear power for several reasons. First, China has rapidly expanded its nuclear energy program in recent years, and there is reason to worry about the safety and security risks associated with this expansion. There are concerns that China may not have the same stringent safety standards and regulatory framework as Western countries when it comes to nuclear power, which could increase the risk of accidents or nuclear proliferation.
Second, there are concerns about China’s nuclear weapons program. While China says it is officially committed to a “No First Use” policy for nuclear weapons, there are concerns that China’s expanding nuclear arsenal could upset the global balance of power and lead to an arms race.
Third, there are concerns about the geopolitical implications of China’s nuclear power. As China’s influence in the world grows, its nuclear power could be used to assert its dominance and influence over other countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Russia’s ramped-up nuclear assistance to China was announced during Xi’s meeting with Putin, where the two leaders announced several new agreements. In a significant move, they also declared a “no limits” partnership shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
A Russia-China partnership poses a threat to the world for several reasons. They are two of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes, and their cooperation could undermine democracy and human rights around the world. Both countries have a history of suppressing dissent and using force to maintain their grip on power, and their partnership could make it more difficult for democratic nations to promote these values on the global stage.
Together, Russia and China could destabilize the global balance of power. Both countries are already engaged in aggressive foreign policies, with Russia engaged in a war on Ukraine as it seeks to expand its influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and China seeking to assert itself in the Asia-Pacific region. A closer partnership between these two powers will only embolden them to take even more aggressive actions, potentially leading to conflicts and instability.
Russia and China also pose a threat to international institutions and norms. Both countries have shown a willingness to challenge the existing international order, with Russia violating the sovereignty of its neighbors and China disregarding international maritime law in the South China Sea.
Furthermore, China is clearly seeking to annex Taiwan, and its partnership with Russia combined with a buildup of its nuclear capabilities only threatens the world order and places China on the path to war with the West. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims Taiwan as a province of China and has vowed to annex it, by any means necessary. The U.S. has objected to China’s ambitions to annex Taiwan and has focused on protecting the island nation from a Chinese invasion.
An even more powerful China poses an even greater threat to the West, and its partnership with Russia – as well as Iran – is deeply concerning. Western leaders must stand together as a group and warn China about following Putin’s lead and deter it from assuming it can take over the world as the leading superpower. Such a scenario would be devastating to a stable world order.