Paper tiger: resisting China by giving them what they want
If the Chinese government wants global leadership, give it to them. They will not measure up.
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke at Davos this past January, there has been much speculation about whether the People’s Republic is making a move towards greater leadership in international affairs.
Lately, however, the pendulum has swung back the other way, with numerous articles written by China observers stressing that Beijing is not yet ready to pick up the mantle of global leadership.
The titles of the articles reflect the concerns: “Global leadership remains beyond China’s grasp — for now” by Yong Deng. “Why China isn’t ready to become a global leader” by Deng Yuwen. “Forget the hype about leading the world, China has to get its own house in order” by Wang Xiangwei.
Why is China perceived as being incapable of replacing the United States as global leader?
According to popular opinion, the Chinese economy is incapable of providing for its citizens while simultaneously engaging in a superpower arms race; China’s military industrial complex is still developing, and cannot produce the technology and weapons systems needed for a hi-tech army; China still suffers from internal political instability in areas like Xinjiang, which must be pacified before Beijing can ascend to global leadership; corruption infects the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army, degrading combat readiness in a military where generals sell promotions to the highest bidder; China has yet to develop the diplomatic “soft power” needed to convince other countries to become its ally; and, perhaps most importantly, the People’s Liberation Army does not have the power projection capabilities of the U.S. military, and will not for the foreseeable future.
All of these claims are more-or-less true, and they may also make a good argument — from an American perspective — why China should be encouraged to take on greater global leadership responsibilities.
The argument, essentially, is this: if the Chinese government or its sympathisers clamour for a heightened status in the world, then the US should invite Beijing to join in partnership, and shoulder equally the burdens of “global leadership.”
The United States can make this invitation because it knows that if Beijing were to accept the proposal, then the Communist Party leadership would be writing checks that the Chinese economy and military cannot cash.
At the same time, if the Chinese President were to reject the invitation to assume responsibility for the grave problems the world now faces, then Beijing’s claims to strength and moral leadership in Asia and beyond would be proven hollow.
If China wants to become a global leader, then it can be invited today to fix the pressing problems of the world.
There is currently a terrible famine under way in the Horn of Africa — perhaps a massive Chinese relief operation and the deployment of thousands of PLA peacekeepers to the region might help.
The civil war in Yemen has seen terrible crimes committed by both sides — perhaps a Chinese naval task force stationed indefinitely in the Gulf of Aden can protect innocent civilians by periodically launching cruise missile strikes against hostile forces.
The Mediterranean migrant crisis is truly tragic — perhaps Chinese rescue boats can patrol the North African waters, saving anyone trying to cross the treacherous seas, and provide them with food, clothing and a comfortable apartment in Guangzhou.
The political and economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, and the government has been accused of numerous human rights violations — perhaps a high-profile Chinese diplomatic mission to Caracas can bring both sides to the negotiating table, and deliver a long-term solution.
The United States military is now deployed in force to the Korean DMZ and the Eastern European Baltic states — they need support to contain Russia and North Korea, two notorious challengers to the “international order,” and the deployment of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers and weapons to these regions would bolster deterrence against Moscow and Pyongyang, while providing an excellent opportunity for U.S. and Chinese soldiers to work together and cooperate.
If the Chinese government were to prove itself truly capable of competent global leadership, and Beijing could effectively solve these global crises once-and-for-all, then, well, c’est la vie. They have earned it. The sun has indeed set on the American empire.
But if not, and if Beijing is in fact incapable of defending a global system that it now endorses and actively seeks to uphold, then it should be careful what it wishes for.
China would never agree to undertaking any of these actions, of course, nor are they capable of carrying them out successfully.
So why not make them the offer?
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations should invite Beijing to deploy large numbers of Chinese troops and aid personnel to the four corners of the world, and propose large-scale peacekeeping and relief operations for the People’s Republic to undertake throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
In response, the Chinese government would then be forced to choose between one of two options:
Accept, and then deploy large quantities of Chinese diplomatic and military forces outside of Asia, while simultaneously draining the government treasury of hard currency.
Deny, whereby Beijing’s claims of strength, power and international leadership are proven to be false.
Such a strategy would not only expose China’s hollow claims to global stature, but would also remind our allies how much they depend on us.
Nations like South Korea would never trust their defence to Chinese soldiers — they would rather die before becoming subservient to Beijing. Would the Europeans trust their defence to an avowed ally of Vladimir Putin?
Helping our friends remember their debts will ease our future negotiations with them.
We Americans are reluctant imperialists. We have grown weak and poor and can no longer afford to police the world. Every cruise missile fired from a U.S. Navy destroyer represents millions of dollars stolen from the futures of American children.
If another global power can emerge and provide international security and prosperity better than we can, then we will tend to our garden.
Until then, regretfully, we are in charge.