China’s Rise has long been represented as a threat. after the us-china rapprochement in the 1970s, the Maoist ideological threat gradually dwindled until it was supplanted by a transfigured “China threat” thesis, which gained strength after the 1995-1996 Taiwan strait crisis. With China’s rapid economic development and military modernization, the adversarial logic started to revolve around economic and military threat discourses. Recently, however, the notion of China as an ideological threat has been resurrected. The notion of “China’s illiberal challenge” is returning with a vengeance, and with President Xi Jinping in power, beijing is promoting authoritarianism and leading a third reverse wave of de-democratization.1 In other words, with China’s rise, authoritarianism is going global and challenging the liberal world order.2 It is a nicely plotted tragic narrative, but does it resonate with reality?
the ideological China ‘threat’
The myth of the so-called beijing consensus as not only an economic model but also a political one ready for international export continues to thrive. “In terms of political values,” as Joseph Nye put it more than 10 years ago, the beijing consensus “has become more popular than the previously dominant ‘Washington consensus.’ ” scholars
3 argue that the “dissemination of the beijing consensus bestows upon ‘Chinese-style socialism’ greater international recognition, not only as an economic development model but also as a new model of a political system and social structure.”
Others are more skeptical about there being a Chinese model in the first place; about China obstructing the promotion of democracy by the us and eu; about the diffusion of Chinese norms; about China’s ideological commitment to create a new “authoritarian international;” and, finally, about the effectiveness of China’s soft power.
Yet, after the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress in October last year, and with us President Donald Trump supposedly surrendering us global leadership, the message of Chinese authoritarian influence reverberates with ever greater force, giving rise to expectations of increasing Chinese political assertiveness and scenarios of a post-american order. Four factors account for the understanding of China as an intentional authoritarian promoter.
First, China’s official “discursive power” strategy, which arguably aims “to create a new political model, rather than just follow the established order” — as expressed in China’s calls for a new type of international relations and a community of shared destiny — demonstrates China’s international political intentions.5
second, the strategic political shift from Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “keeping a low profile” to Xi Jinping’s emphasis on “striving for achievement” involves a foreign policy move from self-restraint toward a more active pursuit of leadership.6
Third, appeals to political, cultural and civilizational diversity coupled with a strict interpretation of the Westphalian norms of sovereignty and non-interference indicate, on one hand, a foreign policy that does not seek to impose or spread its political model to others, yet, on the other, serve as “counter-norms” to liberal democracy.
Fourth, if popular narratives about Trump surrendering us global leadership in the promotion of democracy are true, then it leaves the center stage open for China. This begs the question: Is China an authoritarian norm entrepreneur?
a cursory glance at the mainstream literature in the field shows that it will not be easy for Chinese actors to become authoritarian norm entrepreneurs. In terms of norm diffusion, three stages are identified: norm emergence, norm acceptance/norm cascade, and norm internalization.7