China: new global power?
October marks the seventieth anniversary of the Chinese Revolution, when Mao Zedong ended the civil war and declared a republic. After many years of political turmoil and social tragedy, it’s only since Mao’s death in 1975 that China has moved from backward peasant economy to modern capitalist power – the world’s largest trading nation.
China has backed economic expansion with geo-strategic moves. Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and its ‘String of Pearls’ network of ports, China plans or has already developed infrastructure across Eurasia and Africa. President Xi Jinping insists these moves will help promote business opportunities for every country signing up to them. To the consternation of many governments in the West, Italy has recently joined the BRI.
But it’s not all plain sailing. China’s debt has grown, and sales of cars have plummeted. Washington is hostile toward its efforts to consolidate its presence in the South China Sea, and toward what it sees as Beijing’s theft of US technology. Relations are more fraught with Australia and Taiwan. Pressures on Chinese international diplomacy have spread to its conduct with other developing nations, particularly in Africa. China also now faces more criticism of its human rights record at home, especially in relation to the Uyghurs in Xinjian.
Does China exemplify the irreversible shift of world power from West to East? Are laments about the demise of the West and the rise of China greatly exaggerated? Can China really ‘promote harmonious business opportunities for all’ around the world, or will it turn out to be as rapacious as the US and previous global powers?