Xi’s China seeks stronger global role

Pres­i­dent set to en­large na­tion’s foot­print af­ter con­sol­i­dat­ing power

The Straits Times - - ASIA - Goh Sui Noi China Bu­reau Chief In Bei­jing

With Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, one of China’s strong­est lead­ers of the mod­ern era at the helm, the coun­try has been as­sertive and, at times, even ag­gres­sive in its be­hav­iour to­wards the re­gion and the world.

Mr Xi looks set to ex­pand China’s role as a ma­jor world leader af­ter the 19th na­tional congress of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party next week, where he is ex­pected to fur­ther strengthen his power.

This as­sertive­ness has also al­lowed China to play a broader and more ef­fec­tive role on the world stage and in­crease its foot­print geoe­co­nom­i­cally in places within its neigh­bour­hood and as far away as Africa and Latin Amer­ica, said Pro­fes­sor Shi Yin­hong of Ren­min Uni­ver­sity.

And this ac­tive ex­pan­sion i n China’s diplo­macy is un­likely to change in the fore­see­able fu­ture, he said.

This is be­cause the fac­tors lead­ing to it, de­spite the greater chal­lenges, dif­fi­cul­ties and risks that will come with the in­creased ac­tiv­ity, will only be­come stronger.

One of the driv­ers of China’s new as­sertive­ness is its na­tional strength, which has grown mil­i­tar­ily and eco­nom­i­cally, Prof Shi said.

Another is that the Chi­nese peo­ple’s self-con­fi­dence has in­creased markedly.

“Xi has... demon­strated that he is a de­ci­sive leader, stronger than his pre­de­ces­sor and de­ter­mined not only to man­age China but to trans­form it to meet huge un­solved chal­lenges, pri­mar­ily at home but also abroad,” wrote Dr Jef­frey Bader of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

The China un­der Mr Xi also has new ca­pa­bil­i­ties, as Prof Shi pointed out, and new needs and in- ter­ests. It is the world’s sec­ond largest econ­omy and its largest trad­ing coun­try.

It is also the largest man­u­fac­tur­ing na­tion glob­ally and sits in the mid­dle of a re­gional man­u­fac­tur­ing hub.

Its mil­i­tary, af­ter two decades of dou­ble-digit bud­get growth, has de­vel­oped stronger ca­pa­bil­i­ties, com­mis­sion­ing its first air­craft car­rier in 2012, among other things.

China, from its open­ing up and re­forms be­gin­ning in 1978, has been a ben­e­fi­ciary of the in­ter­na­tional or­der, be­com­ing more in­te­grated with it as its econ­omy be­came more in­ter­twined with those of the rest of the world.

How­ever, wrote Pro­fes­sor Tony Saich of the Har­vard Kennedy School: “Pow­er­ful coun­tries shape the world and, whether they like it or not, China’s new lead­ers will be forced to take a more ac­tive stance not just on ques­tions of ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty but also ones of re­serve cur­ren­cies, bank­ing and fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tions, trade and in­vest­ments, cli­mate dis­cus­sions, the pro­vi­sion of pub­lic goods, etc.”

Thus, while China un­der Mr Xi par­tic­i­pates fully in ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions of the in­ter­na­tional or­der such as the World Bank, it has also sought to in­flu­ence that or­der, for ex­am­ple, by start­ing the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank.

Still, wrote Pro­fes­sor Fran­cois Gode­ment of the Euro­pean Coun­cil of For­eign Re­la­tions, China has “deep and un­ac­knowl­edged in­ter­ests in main­tain­ing a sta­ble or­der be­cause of its in­te­gra­tion in the global econ­omy”.

“A dis­rup­tion to that or­der would – by ne­ces­sity – be a dis­rup­tion to its own eco­nomic in­ter­ests,” Prof Gode­ment wrote.

Mr Xi now faces op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges brought about by a more iso­la­tion­ist United States and a West­ern world grap­pling with a back­lash against glob­al­i­sa­tion.

He has shown China’s readi­ness to step into the space left by the US, say­ing at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Jan­uary this year that the world “must re­main com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing global free trade and in­vest­ment, pro­mote trade and in­vest­ment lib­er­al­i­sa­tion and fa­cil­i­ta­tion through open­ing up and say no to pro­tec­tion­ism”.

Yet, at last month’s Brics sum­mit that gath­ered lead­ers of the world’s ma­jor emerg­ing economies – Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa – Mr Xi sought to gal­vanise the group­ing to play a more in­flu­en­tial role in shap­ing the in­ter­na­tional or­der.

“We need to speak with one voice and jointly present our so­lu­tions to is­sues con­cern­ing in­ter­na­tional peace and de­vel­op­ment,” he said, adding: “This... will help safe­guard our com­mon in­ter­ests.”

China’s ef­forts to shape the world into some­thing more to its lik­ing will only con­tinue af­ter next week’s party congress that will show­case Mr Xi’s achieve­ments of the past five years and de­ter­mine the di­rec­tion of his lead­er­ship for the next five-year term.


A map of China and the words “wel­com­ing the 19th Party Congress” cre­ated with dif­fer­ent kinds of rice in a padi field in Shang­hai. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is ex­pected to fur­ther strengthen his power at the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party congress next week.

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