Centuries of history, cradle of many philosophical ideas and today one of the world’s biggest economies, militaries and population combined in one country – China is the sleeping giant that has woken up.
The “strong” have always attempted to divide the world amongst themselves: In the 15th Century Spain and Portugal divided the world outside of Europe among themselves; in the second half of the 20th Century the world was divided by the Iron Curtain in an Eastern and a Western part and today the international community speaks about a Global North and a Global South, again dividing the countries of the world in two groups.
In the 21st Century another country raises demands to take a leadership position in the world and be a global power – China.
However, while most global powers so far have followed the principle of divide and rule, China uses a different strategy in its rise to global leadership: “One Belt, One Road”
“One Belt, One Road” is an international trade initiative by the People’s Republic of China. Almost 1 Trillion US-Dollars have been invested in several programmes all over the world. A 260-mile Railway starting in Laos and eventually connecting eight Asian countries, or power plants in Pakistan funded with Chinese investments to prevent blackouts in the region are just two examples of a revolutionary shift in infrastructure policy. Chinese investments are used to build infrastructure mostly across Africa, Europe and Asia and therefore to forge ties with the rest of the world, economically and political.
The Belt and Road initiative is part of a bigger plan to ensure that China joins the global superpowers. The consolidation and strengthening of power is designed on three levels:
The Nation: The Nation of China is strengthened by international programmes like the Belt and Road initiative. But beyond that China is claiming more and more a leadership position. With Trump’s presidency a shift of power and trust in leadership away from the United States has occurred. With the US-withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord many members of the international community, particularly old US-allies in Europe like France and Germany, are looking east of Europe to forge new ties of partnership – particularly with China.
The Party: The People’s Republic of China is led by the Communist Party, the only party in China. Over the last years changes in the party’s policies have occurred, also due to internal pressure. Not all Chinese people support the one-party-system. Political activists are raising their voices, demanding political autonomy for themselves. But these people are silenced. The response of the Chinese government is to strengthen the Communist idea of a one-party-system. The reasoning is a simple one: “Why question the Communist party when the alternative is Chaos and corruption?”
Mr. Xi Jinping: Any country that demands to take a leadership position in the international community needs a strong leader itself. Mr. Xi Jinping is that for China. President since 2012 Mr. Xi is probably one of the most powerful leaders in the world. To strengthen this image the Communist Party refers to his leader as “lingxiu”, a Chinese word for a leader, which was used for other characters in the Chinese history, such as Mao.
These three levels are part of a new political doctrine: Xi Jinping Thought. The doctrine of the President is advertised in schools, newspapers and TV-shows all around China. Some people might even call it propaganda. No matter what it is called, the Xi Jinping Thought is about to enter a new platform: The preamble of the Chinese Constitution.
Implementing the new doctrine in the constitution has already begun with the constitutional amendment of February 25th, which abolished the limit of the presidential term, therefore allowing Mr. Xi to stay in the centre of power of China. Maybe indefinitely.
The amendment and the new doctrine raise the question where China is going. Will China follow democratic ideas and the liberal society of “the West” after already adopting the capital economical ideas or will they converge more towards an authoritarian strongmen-regime?
Time will tell, but it is clear that China is a wildcard in global governance.
Despite all critics on Chinese politics, a drift to an authoritarian strongmen government is nothing we observe only in China. With Donald Trump in the USA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia we have three more presidents who want to make their country great again. China is not the only wildcard in politics.
In the beginning of the 21st Century old political doctrines and the seats of power of the international community are changing and shifting towards new ends, but as the ancient Chinese proverb says: “When the wind of change blows some build walls while others build windmills”. And the wind is blowing strong from China.