The Chinese Way: China’s Path to Power
A continual philosophical trend that unites both the left and the right of political theory has been attempts to predict the ‘end of history’ — the final human epoch. The idealistic liberal perspective was best illustrated by Kant through his ‘eternal and perpetual peace’ theorem, which has been updated by neoliberalism since 1991, notably in Francis Fukuyama’s End of History. Fukuyama argued that the political sphere thus far had failed to understand the ‘larger ideological’ implications that the fall of the Iron Curtain brought with it, namely the total supremacy of Western democratic liberalism.
With the benefit of hindsight however, it has become all too clear that neoliberalism has failed to sustain this dream, as was inevitable. The most visual rejection of neoliberalism was of course 9/11 and the rise of radical Islamic terrorism, however, due to the capacitive weakness and factionalism within the terror movement, the major threat to Western liberalism is in fact Chinese socialism. Through its unique ideology, China has the opportunity to transition from a great regional power into a superpower; one that can shape the world order into the ‘Asian century’ that is promised by China’s immense economic growth.
As the Obama administration begins to be ushered out of office, it has become clear that, although the United States has attempted to move towards a more benevolent foreign policy (Cuba, Iran), the spirit on which Obama was elected has ultimately failed to improve America’s soft power. For one, America’s banks, most notably the Lehman Brothers, are still seen as the culprits of the 2008 financial crisis, which impacted many developing countries to catastrophic ends. Through his investment act, Obama essentially ‘bailed out’ these banks, providing what critical theorists called ‘socialism for the rich.’ Although neoliberalism as an ideology has done remarkably well to bounce back from what could have been its end (should social democratic parties globally have offered up a meaningful alternative), the rise of the ‘new left’ since 2015 through Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Yanis Varoufakis and Pablo Iglesias has illustrated how alternative economic systems can be better. China of course utilises one of these systems. In comparison to states such as the United States, France and Germany, China has comparatively high state-owned industry (at 70%), and important controls on its banking sector which saved it from economic meltdown in 2008. Of course it is foolish to portray the Chinese economic system as perfect, debt and a low-skill workforce are huge issues, but continual growth rates of 10% have given its criticisms of neoliberalism more weight, particularly in developing countries who have suffered tremendously.
George Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ laid the foundations for Obama’s failure, particularly in the Middle East, where the United States’s arming of the Mujahideen is seen as one of the main causes for the resurgence of radical Islam. Cultural theorists would also highlight that America is the most notable example of the extravagance of global capitalism, creating resentment from conservative Islam.
China has the opportunity where America has fallen, to exercise global influence through political alliances. It has not only the economic credibility which Western nations such as Britain crave, but also its repressive and authoritarian system makes it more amenable for great powers such as Russia and Iran. Unlike the United States, China has not been portrayed to have an underlying interest (although it almost definitely does), and has largely kept its influence to smaller, states. If China wishes to become a superpower this must change, and its open criticism of the ‘War on Terror’ and Americanism allows it to spread its influence further than nearly anybody else.
The importance of the 2012 global elections is therefore clearly evident, with Obama riding through into another term on his 2008 optimism, and Xi Xinping becoming General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, the CCP had largely lost its way in terms of its cultural identity, failing to reconcile its Marxist constitution with the massive reduction of poverty through free market capitalism. Seen in his election campaign as the traditional Maoist candidate, Xinping both understood the importance of Maoism, and the toxic brand that it possesses. As such, the Chinese Communist Party began to continually emphasise the importance of Confucianism as the ‘Chinese Way’ of the 21st Century. Confucianism is of course diametrically opposed to communism because it emphasises order and the importance of the family, whereas in revolutionary Maoism, respect is traded for equality.
Nevertheless, the opening of many Confucius institutes in universities around the world has shown the beginning of Chinese cultural exportation, by offering funding in states such as the UK and Canada of Chinese culture to be taught by the Hanban — an offshoot of the CCP. All this is an attempt by the CCP to increase levels of soft power, because although the US is often viewed negatively through its failures rather than successes, the CCP is all too often considered both confused and irrelevant in the global political landscape. Xi Xinping has been immeasurably important in defining the Chinese Way.
In addition, China’s work in the developing world has increased its hard power influence. For authoritarian leaders such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe China represents a break from the neoliberal establishment that has done so much damage to nearly all nations below the Sahara, and for all developing countries China and its Asian Development Bank represent an easier and less demanding source of loans which do not attempt economic restructuring that the IMF and the World Bank have persisted with. Through loans that however evidently benefit China more than they do the recipient, China has begun to increase its power over nations. This means that recipients will be politically as well as economically indebted to China. It seems almost as if the CCP has not decided the best means to extend China’s soft power into the developing world, so is continually exercising China’s economic brute force in the meantime.
China’s road to becoming a superpower may be even more difficult than simply exporting an ideology, however. The creation of the Bretton Woods institutions in 1944 represented the beginnings of American domination of the global financial sphere, and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the appointment of Anne Krueger as the World Bank chief economist in 1982 confirmed that the institutions would follow the neoliberal script. Since then there have been mandated tariff cuts by the World Trade Organisation, and the IMF and the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes have forced states to cut their public sectors on which the most vulnerable all too often rely.
Ultimately, it is impossible for China to extend its economic influence when America has an effective veto on both the IMF and the World Bank, and when all institutions completely disregard the importance of state control over industry. Thus, arguably, in order to become a true superpower, China must rely on the success of its alternative to the World Bank in the Asian Development Bank which is continually increasing its membership, and completely change the global system in order to defeat neoliberalism.
Whether one believes that China should become a superpower or not is besides the point. Most would agree that the purported human rights abuses committed by the CCP, and the continual repression of democratic freedoms is simply not acceptable for a 21st Century country. The reality however is that the CCP maintains a tight grip over the nation as United Russia do in Russia, and that much to the regret of many theorists, capitalism has not brought with it democracy. Instead, China’s ultimate aim is evidently to become a superpower and the export its way of life to other nations — that would bring clear economic and social benefits. It is naive to say that in 20 years China will rule the world, but in order for it not to fall into obsolescence like its neighbour Japan, and to fulfil the economic potential which it has proven, China needs to develop its soft power and structural power. The United States was the pioneer and eventual victor of globalisation. In the post-globalisation world, the ‘Chinese Way’ needs to rise, and along with it will come China to the status of superpower.