Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Reality Might Derail China’s Superpower Ambitions

The G20 summit recently held in New Delhi, India was notable for three reasons. First, it was seen as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to project India as a rising superpower. Second, the summit participants managed to please Russia and disappoint Ukraine with a watered-down statement that did not fully address Russia’s war on Ukraine. Third, Chinese President Xi Jinping was notably absent from the summit seemingly to demonstrate his new foreign policy approach that sees China shunning the Western world as it aims to become the world’s next hegemon.

While analysts in the U.S. have called for re-engagement with China, this is simply not an option as Beijing seeks to sideline Washington in its effort to become the world’s sole superpower. China has several options to achieve this, and it is advancing each one.

Part of China’s strategy to achieve this grand vision is through the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) group. China, the key driving force within BRICS, is hoping to use the group as part of its grand plan to replace the United States as the world’s sole military and economic superpower by 2049.

The purpose of BRICS, according to its mission, is to “reduce the reliance on the U.S. dollar and promote the use of national currencies in international trade.”

In other words, BRICS is intended to restructure the global, political, economic, and financial architecture to be more equitable, balanced, and representative of all or most countries and not just in favor of the U.S.

Moscow and Beijing are pushing for the group’s expansion in a bid to strengthen the bloc as an alternative to the U.S.-led liberal international order. Over 40 countries have applied to join. But there is division within the five members. Brazil and India fear that expansion will dilute their influence and impact their nonaligned foreign policies. China and Russia, on the other hand, would like to position BRICS as a counterweight to the Group of 7 (G7) and other Western-led alignments.

With BRICS on one side and the G7 advanced economies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union – on the opposing side, the next decade will see diplomatic wrangling and maneuvering as each side seeks to gain the upper hand. Although Brazil has objected to this framing, China and Russia’s campaign to pin “the West” against “the rest” has already started to take effect. With Russia’s war raging in Ukraine and escalating tensions between China and the U.S., countries are increasingly called on to take sides.

China is also looking to expand its influence through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to establish trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa.

In 2013, Xi Jinping proposed the BRI, sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road, across Central Asia and Europe and a Maritime Silk Road running through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and onto the Middle East and Europe. These initiatives are meant to revive ancient trade routes and reinforce existing ones.

But at the G20, leaders from India, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Union jointly unveiled an agreement that directly challenges China’s expansive BRI. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, which also involves Israel and Jordan, aims to connect India to Europe and expand its trade westward without the help of China.

It aims to link Middle East countries by railway and connect them to India by port, helping the flow of energy and trade from the Gulf to Europe, by cutting shipping times, costs, and fuel use, according to Al Jazeera.

China, having hoped to use its BRI to exert influence over developing nations, is now challenged by this new initiative. Italy, the first G7 member to have participated in BRI, has now signaled it will end the partnership as it turns toward the G20 and the new economic corridor. At most, China will now be limited to Africa where its BRI has so far succeeded in helping it exert influence and gain power.

According to the Brookings Institute, while seemingly aimed at regional economic corridors, “the BRI is in fact global and motivated by economic and strategic interests. A successful BRI would allow China to more efficiently utilize excess savings and construction capacity, expand trade, consolidate economic and diplomatic relations with participating countries, and diversify China’s import of energy and other resources through economic corridors that circumvent routes that are controlled by the U.S. and its allies.”

Brookings notes that the initiative is “generally popular in the developing world, where almost all countries face infrastructure deficiencies and a shortage of resources to overcome them. Through large amounts of loans to participating countries to construct infrastructure in various sectors, the BRI can potentially bring significant benefits to these countries by filling their infrastructure gaps and boosting economic growth.”

While popular with developing countries, according to Brookings, advanced industrial economies have criticized the initiative, saying it “lacks transparency and serves to facilitate China’s export of its authoritarian model; that the commercial loan terms are bringing on a new round of debt crises in the developing world; and that the projects have inadequate environmental and social safeguards.”

After the G20, it is apparent that China’s efforts to become a global superpower at the expense of other nations is faltering. If the BRI is limited to Africa and perhaps just a few other countries, and if BRICS does not pan out to what China hopes it can achieve, perhaps Western nations should worry about China’s options if it feels backed into a corner.

It is unwise to appease China and no Western country should. Rather, China must be made to understand that as a non-democratic nation that does not uphold the sanctity of human rights, it cannot be trusted to become the world’s sole superpower. The West must continue to act to stop China in its tracks before it is too late.