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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchBecoming Strong: The New Chinese Foreign Policy

Becoming Strong: The New Chinese Foreign Policy

Author:  Yan Xuetong 

Affiliation: Tsinghua University 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: July-August 2021/ USA

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Word Count: 3111

Link:  https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-06-22/becoming-strong 

Keywords: Post Pandemic China’s Foreign Policy, New Battlegrounds, US-China Rivalry, and the New Multipolar World

Brief: 

The article identifies the major landmarks of China’s new post-pandemic foreign policy in a world in which the US-led unipolar system is fading due to the acceleration of China’s rise and the US’ relative decline, and which will be replaced on the horizon by a multipolar system. The US-China relations will be at the center of it. China is now progressing to become strong, ambitious, and outspoken in its claim to global leadership, challenging the US in many areas. Thus, Beijing’s post-pandemic voice will be heard more resolutely than before in the face of any attempts to contain it by Washington. The article is divided into three parts. The author first illustrates the changes taking place in Chinese foreign policy in several domains after clarifying “China’s dual identity” as the first global power able to compete with the US, according to the economic growth figures, as well as the world’s “largest developing country” as it prefers to call itself. It is right, according to the author, as the per capita GDP is still far from its counterpart in advanced economies (in 2020, it was estimated at only 10,484 USD per person in China annually, compared to 40,146 USD per person in Japan, 45,733 USD in Germany, and 63,416 USD in the US). However, this label indicates its permanent geopolitical bias, for even if China catches up with the West economically, its geopolitical loyalties will remain constant with the developing world. This dual identity will color all aspects of its foreign policy in the post-pandemic era. The author then provides examples of this policy’s features. China, for instance, avoids defining its relationship with the West on ideological grounds as a “new Cold War.” This framing will have negative repercussions on its continuous growth. Also, China insists that it does not aim to project its political and value model abroad or impose it on others as American Liberal Internationalism does. But at the same time, it is working to create an ideological environment favorable to its rise, diminishing the attractiveness of Western political values and their universal validity. Beijing will not accept the rules and institutions set by Washington without consulting with it, but it aims for international norms to be truly pluralistic and comprehensive. For this reason, Beijing hosts many headquarters of multilateral forums and institutions, such as the Forum for Cooperation with African, Arab, Latin American, East Asian, and other countries. In addition, Beijing has recently shown assertiveness towards the West in order to obtain reciprocity based on equality and mutual respect, so it has been responding to Western sanctions reciprocity rejecting any sanctions or criticism of its policy as an interference in internal affairs. In the economic field, Beijing is seeking to reduce its dependence on foreign markets in exchange for supporting the huge internal market and building strong domestic supply chains, distribution, and consumption in order to reduce the country’s vulnerability to external economic pressures. It is also working to promote its currency in foreign trade and investment to reduce exposure to US financial sanctions. Last year, for example, China started limited internal experiments with a digital currency that will enable it, in the long run, to conduct international transactions with trading partners outside the US Financial Messaging System (SWIFT), which is a major source of American geopolitical leverage. At the same time, China will continue to make the Belt and Road Initiative a success, despite its slow progress due to the pandemic. Regarding military strategy, it will remain largely unchanged in the post-pandemic world, i.e. developing the military’s fighting power to a global level, raising its readiness for war at any moment, focusing on quality over quantity, on cyber capabilities more than traditional skill, and on smart weapons systems more than individual combat skills, emphasizing that the primary mission of its army is deterrence, not expansion. Beijing, however, remains wary of getting involved in direct military confrontations, since its army lacks experience, as it has not fought a real war since 1979. In the second part, the author argues that US-Chinese relations will not be less tense or less competitive during the Biden period than they were previously, given that Biden’s policies so far are in many ways a continuation of the confrontational approach adopted by his predecessor. The current US administration is trying to form coalitions against China based on technology and human rights issues in which the interests of the two sides conflict. This will be a source of tension in the coming years, and will also be the source of the most serious threat to China. Anti-Chinese technology coalitions are an obstacle to its technological supremacy, while ideological coalitions will motivate separatist forces in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Both involve core interests that China will not compromise on. To counter this, Beijing has begun to strengthen its bilateral strategic partnerships with its neighbors or with far countries. Beijing seeks to limit tensions with Washington in the economic sphere and avoid any military clashes, especially over Taiwan. Moreover, it expresses its willingness to cooperate with Washington on issues of global governance reform, pandemic, economy, and others. Thus, the author urges both sides to think of competition as a race, not a boxing match, where each side does its best to move forward, with no intention of destroying or permanently changing the other, which he calls—quoting Wang—”the healthy competition”. In the last part, the author talks about the new battlegrounds between the two powers that will be concentrated firstly in cyberspace. Cybersecurity will become more important than territorial security, the digital economy will become a primary source of national wealth, and the race for 5G and 6G communications networks will increase. Furthermore, the author believes that international cooperation will take the form of coalitions to specific issues, rather than revolving around international or even regional institutions, as Washington and Beijing will establish clubs for themselves in which they attract other countries. Other governments will try to double benefit from these clubs, especially since many of them have already adopted hedging strategies to avoid picking sides between the two powers. This club-based international order has its own complications. A country that joins at the same time that a club is led by one of the two powers will not be a trustworthy partner for both. However, such an order may lead to making the competition between the two powers much less dangerous than their involvement in a comprehensive competition, as the example of the Cold War. The author concludes that China’s new foreign policy has already begun to take shape after the pandemic, as China will always work to adjust its policy to suit the changing internal and external conditions. The US will no longer be alone with global decisions and the rest of the countries will find that they must reconcile with this new reality.

 

By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA  Senior Research Associate

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