The new world disorder should help China spread its influence,
but is it ready?
China has stepped up its pace of global expansion. Whether economically, politically, or militarily, in recent months the world’s most populous nation appears intent on spreading its influence by any means necessary, and to places traditionally considered outside of its sphere. Is the Sino Era upon us?
►Is there anyth ng about th s part cular moment n h story that s conduc ve to Ch nese expans on sm?
This may be golden times in a number of way for the Chinese to expand their influence. This golden opportunity derives from the fact that the United States is challenging and undermining the world order, while, in many ways, Chinese president Xi Jinping has come out as the defender of that order. But this opportune moment comes at a time when China is also experiencing difficulties itself. China faces a banking and overborrowing problem that is stifling its ability to act more strongly. On top of that, as they try to reach out to the world, particularly through investments, they are running into cultural problems other expanding powers have run into earlier. The Chinese appear to be less sensitive to cultural differences and display higher levels of arrogance in the environments they operate than most other countries.
►G ven th s golden opportun ty, why doesn’t t sh ft ts way of deal ng w th the world?
We have to recognize that China has a system of governance that is not consonant with its economic system. The Chinese government views the world in a particular light which is complicated by its increasingly competitive relations with the outside world. For example, it is trying to expand its power and project it toward the Pacific. In addition, it is engaged in a highly competitive relationship with India and with the United States. Its view of the world, on the other hand, is shaped not only by economic and security considerations and its political ideology but also by its historical culture, China is discovering that it is met with a not wholly unjustified suspicion when it tries to expand into other parts of the world. Let us, for example, examine how China is trying to expand its influence in the Pacific region. There are a number of islands in the Pacific - the Spratley and Paracel Islands are examples – on which the Chinese had no claims earlier. Now they put forth claims. In some cases, the status of the islands had already been decided by treaties that were signed a long time ago. But now the Chinese want to extend their claim over them. There seems to be no neighboring country with whom they share waters that they do not have a debate on ownership of islands, territorial waters or economic zones. It is by now an established fact that they have been building runways and landing facilities on some islands and sand bars. Simultaneously, they have been expanding their navy. Something interesting for Turkey: several years ago, a Ukrainian semifinished aircraft carrier – just the hull - went through the Bosporus and the Chinese got their first aircraft carrier. Now they are also building their own. When you put all these things together, China seems to be engaged in an expansionary period. Most people respond with suspicion to Chinese motives.
►Ch na seems to be sh ft ng ts econom c focus as well. Dur ng the f rst half of th s year compared to last year, Ch nese fore gn d rect nvestment n the U.S. plummeted by 92 percent. There was a rec procal sp ke n FDI n Europe but now Europe seems to be tak ng a closer look at Ch nese trade pract ces as well. Is th s a response to Trump or s there someth ng else go ng on?
I have to speculate on this question, but it seems that many countries, and certainly China should not be an exception, find American behavior rather unpredictable. In the past, the Americans have introduced restrictions on some Chinese investments, treating them as security concerns. One might remember that the Chinese wanted to take over the management of the Port of Los Angeles but eventually this was not allowed because it was considered a security risk. I think one reason why the Chinese might be cutting down on their investments in the United States is because they are having difficulties predicting the direction in which the relationship will develop. On the other hand, the Chinese are trying to pursue the One Belt One Road policy which aims to connect China to Europe by various routes. It’s not surprising that Chinese investments are also headed in that direction. Mistrust in the United States and economic and political difficulties in Europe affect Chinese trade, but it’s too early to tell if it is going lead to any major shifts in Chinese policy.
►Ch na appears to be deepen ng ts relat onsh p w th Turkey.
Cons der ng Turkey s a NATO ally, and perhaps one of the most exposed of the all es because of ts geostrateg c pos t on, t seems to be a pr me target for NATO’s compet tors. Ch na has been accused of buy ng pol t cal nfluence n Austral a and s currently be ng nvest gated for s m larly surrept t ous act v t es n the U.S. Should Turkey be concerned about, shall we say, the sneaky ways n wh ch
Ch na operates?
Turkey is probably happy to expand its relationship with China from a variety of perspectives. In terms of geostrategic considerations, a good Chinese relationship would be a counterweight to Russia. The second factor pertains to America’s trade relations with the world: As the world trade order becomes less predictable, the economic relationship with China acquires greater importance. Turkey also hopes that when the Chinese try to penetrate the European markets, Turkey might prove to be a good location where they would make investments to produce for the European markets. In fact, the idea that some Chinese cars might be produced in Turkey has already been discussed. Now obviously, as with all other countries, when China projects its economic power, it will also try to derive political benefits. But I don’t see that this is going to be very easy. I think on the whole, Turkey looks upon an expanding Chinese-Turkish economic relationship as a good thing.
The employment of so-called sneaky measures, on the other hand, is by no means unique to China. I think all countries try to use this. Let me remind you that during the Cold War the Americans tried to inject money into the Italian elections to prevent the Communists from winning. But this is just one example; there are many other examples. Obviously, I would not be surprised if the Chinese, like other countries, try to acquire greater political influence through a variety of means. I think any country should be sensitive about this possibility, and not only with regard to China.