“LET China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”. This remark attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte has been turned into a reality by the Chinese Communist Party that celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation this month.
Over the past seven decades since taking over power through a revolution, the party has transformed China from one of the poorest countries to the world’s second biggest economy and a superpower.
China keeps amazing the world with its exhilarating economic progress. The country with more than one billion people is now witnessing its third revolution since the creation of the Peoples’ Republic in 1949. Under President Xi Jinping, China is now asserting itself more forcefully as a global power, challenging the American dominated world order.
Though still ruled by the Communist Party, China has long moved away from the doctrinal socialism that formed the basis of the 1949 revolution. It has successfully experimented with a hybrid capitalist and socialist system in which private and foreign investments are equally important.
Under President Xi there has been a significant projection of Chinese power on the world stage.
This ideology was first developed by the late Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, in the late 1970s. He adopted a more pragmatic approach focusing on economic development. His theory of adapting socialism to a given Chinese situation is based on his famous maxim, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.”
But this second revolution led by Deng could not have been possible without the initial socialist revolution led by Mao Zedong that destroyed the old economic, political and social order and established a socialist system. That emancipated the population, thus laying the foundation of modern China.
Over the past three decades, China has completely focused its energies on economic development albeit without the Communist Party’s loosening its political control. That has certainly helped make the country an economic superpower. Now President Xi is leading what is described as the third revolution, turning China into a global power competing with the United States.
President Xi’s speech at the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations earlier this month gives some insight into his domestic and foreign policy vision. Arguably the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, he calls for “rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation”. His policies seem to be driven by his own “China dream” of making the country most powerful global economic and military power.
His predecessors may have also shared this objective but what makes Xi’s revolution more distinctive is the strategy he is pursuing to achieve it. It represents a reassertion of the state in Chinese political and economic life at home, and a more ambitious and expansive role for China abroad. He believes that in order to secure lasting stability and prosperity the Communist Party must reassert its control.
President Xi has launched an aggressive set of reforms that increases rather than diminishes the party’s role in political, social, and economic life. He has relentlessly moved against corruption that has been endemic in the party. His centralisation of power and curtailment of freedom of expression, however, has raised serious concerns. China has increasingly been criticised over alleged violation of human rights. His harsh measures in Xinjiang and Hong Kong have provoked international condemnation.
The removal of the two-term limit on the Chinese presidency has paved the way for Xi to remain in office — as president, party leader and chairman of the Chinese military — for life. That would make him the most powerful leader in China’s recent history. It gives him absolute power to determine the future course of the country.
Under Xi there has been a significant projection of Chinese power. Internationally China is now playing a more proactive role in a marked deviation from its earlier policy of maintaining a low profile.
President Xi’s ambition of propelling China to centre stage of the global power game represents a sharp departure from the approach of previous Chinese leaders who strictly adhered to Deng Xiaoping’s tenet to “hide our capabilities and bide our time, never try to take the lead”. Thus, over the past two decades China avoided being drawn into global conflicts and completely focused its energies on development, which helped it become an economic superpower.
China’s growing assertiveness on the global stage and its growing economic power is seen as a threat to the American domination. China is now challenging US economic leadership far more intensely than ever. Relations between the US and China have worsened in recent times over trade and other issues.
A brainchild of President Xi Jinping, China’s multibillion-dollar Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) — an infrastructure development project linking the old Silk Road with Europe — is a manifestation of China’s growing geopolitical ambitions. A project that has now been in operation for several years, it covers more than 68 countries extending across Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America.
It is not surprising that China’s BRI has become a major cause of concern for America. It is evident that the project is not just about infrastructure development; one of the major objectives of the initiative is to turn Eurasia into an economic and trading centre, breaking the domination of the American-led transatlantic regime.
It is also a manifestation of changing geopolitics and the realignment of forces, reflecting a move to shift the centre of gravity of trade to the East and establish China’s predominance in global politics. The fact that the project has attracted so many countries has further raised American concerns. Now the American-led G7 countries seek to counter China’s growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that could rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Washington’s move to contain China has further hardened Beijing’s stance. In a defiant speech at the centenary celebrations, President Xi warned that foreign powers will “get their heads bashed” if they attempt to bully or influence the country. He said Beijing would not allow “sanctimonious preaching”, in remarks widely seen as directed at the US. The third Chinese revolution is likely to alter the existing world order.
The writer is the author of No-Win War — The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2021