Sun, Dec 30, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Rules-based order must offset rise of China

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

The past few years saw an incremental rise in authoritarianism, not just in the usual places such as China, Russia and Iran, but also across continental Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The escalation of national, regional and transnational crises indicates the deterioration of the old liberal order, which had rebuilt the global system out of the wreckage of the two world wars.

The early 21st century has witnessed gigantic shifts in geopolitics: China’s rise to power, the emergence of adventurous nuclear states such as North Korea and Iran, and the challenge of international terrorism. Amid these uncertainties, technological advances and the adoption of social media have destabilized old orders and hierarchies within and between nation-states, signaling the need for new modes of governance.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Georgetown University professor Oriana Skylar Mastro says that China has expanded its influence worldwide without provoking the US.

Until now, China utilized ambiguity to confuse international observers about its global intentions and to give the misconception that it strives to coexist with the US, rather than replace US global dominance with a Beijing-led international order.

Of all the advanced nations, China appears to have reaped the political, socioeconomic and diplomatic benefits of the world order for its modernization efforts. At the beginning of its post-1978 “reform era,” Beijing practiced what former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in 1990 called the strategy of “hiding your strength and biding your time.”

Under rulers like Deng, and former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), the nation exercised patience and caution as it joined international bodies and accessed international capital markets. The remarkable successes of economic reforms have convinced Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) that the country could overtake the US as the next superpower.

Xi envisions himself leading Chinese on a path toward national rejuvenation. His rule has proved to be paternalistic. He has established absolute control over all party, governmental and military organs, and made most of his decisions based on the advice of his conservative, anti-foreign entourage. The consolidation of hardline party officials within all levels of bureaucracy has led to a crackdown on domestic dissent and opposition.

Xi remains steadfast on one issue: strengthening the Chinese Communist Party’s rule and exporting its mode of authoritarian governance.

The most notable outreach efforts are shown in the Belt and Road Initiative, a series of large-scale infrastructural investment projects launched in 2013 to advance Chinese commercial, diplomatic and sociopolitical influence in South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Equally important is Chinese adventurism across the South China Sea, where Beijing has militarized the vast maritime zone and projected immense naval and air power at the US’ expense.

By exercising its economic clout in many developing and developed nations, China could even pressure those governments not to cooperate with the US military in a conflict situation over Taiwan.

To Xi, a Chinese-led world order seems to be hierarchical and paternalistic, characterized by a top-down model of bureaucratic authoritarianism designed to enforce territorial unity, ideological uniformity and political stability.

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