The writer is political analyst with a special interest in geopolitics.
Where is China heading?
In contemporary times the debate on geopolitics is replete with China’s unprecedented rise under president Xi Jinping. While a vast majority of political scientists argues that China is inevitably going to be world’s next superpower considering the Chinese economic miracle and growing military prowess, there are those who are skeptical of China’s drift towards authoritarianism, terming it a sure recipe for eventual catastrophe. Regardless, what is clear is that China is undergoing an irreversible change under president Xi, now elected as the lifetime paramount leader of the country.
Changes in the China's internal political discourse
Since assuming office, president Xi has significantly altered China’s internal political discourse, besides having embarked upon an aggressive foreign policy on the external front. Internally, he has cracked down on corrupt practices deeply entrenched in Chinese administrative culture. According to a tally Chinese government has rounded up two million people, and several Communist party officials have been prosecuted and meted out severe punishment for their graft activities. Though Xi administration has drawn flak from the west for what they call a state-sponsored “witch-hunting” campaign designed to persecute president’s opponents on the pretext of uprooting corruption, the ruthless campaign shows no sign of abating, as business owners, bankers, former ministers and military men continue to be sent behind bars for their alleged ill-practices
Shrinking space for dissent
Besides, it is widely held notion that freedom of expression has greatly shrunk under president Xi’s iron-fisted rule. Protests are banned in China, and anything against officially sanctioned narrative is considered a crime. Mainstream media is duty-bound to toe the official line, while social media faces strict oversight of the state with no room for dissent. This fact could well be established from China’s recent rather cavalier initial handling of corona virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan. The courageous self-appointed journalists who told the world about grim stories from Wuhan at a time when official version seemed to downplay the severity of the pandemic, went missing soon after for their dissenting reportage.
Cultural homogenization of Religious and Ethnic minorities
Chinese repressive attitude towards Kazaks and Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim minority, in the province of Xinjiang is yet another stark example of China’s autocratic leaning under president Xi. According to Amnesty International, around a million Uighurs Muslims are languishing in so-called ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang. They are being treated brutally and are being forced to give up their religious beliefs and practices. Authorities are trying to shape nationalistic citizens out of what they call extremists and separatists. New laws have banned sporting abnormally long beard and taking children to mosques. This brutal treatment has drawn harsh criticism from western media, international civil society, and international organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. However, such cries have fallen on deaf years of Communist party leaders who continue to dismiss them as spurious charges and propaganda against the socialist state.
Hongkong National Security Law
Another iteration of Chinese totalitarian designs is the recently enacted National Security Law for Hongkong which has grabbed international headlines and has generated heated debate across the world. The US, the EU and other liberal voices have roundly condemned the law which they see as a flagrant violation of Chinese commitment under ‘one country two system’ pledged back in 1997. The concerns within the liberal quarters are not without reason, as the law criminalizes dissent by allowing national security cases to be tried before government-appointed judges, in secret and without a jury, or on the Chinese mainland. It will reasonably prove to be the proverbial final nail in the coffin of any remnants of democratic rule within the Chinese-controlled territories.
How is Xi altering China's disposition on the international geopolitical chessboard?
From Century of Humiliation to 'Chinese Dream'
On the external front, China seems bent upon claiming greater share of power in global power dynamics. Since assuming office, President Xi has vociferously been peddling the term ‘Chinese Dream’ as a national plan aimed at revitalization of the nation. Analysts argue that one of driving forces behind aggressive disposition of Chinese foreign policy has been the deep-seated resentment of what is known in history as ‘Century of Humiliation’- the period of intervention and subjugation of the Chinese Empire by foreign powers between 1839 and 1949. Unlike his predecessors, Xi Jinping seems convinced that time is ripe for China to abandon former President Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum, "Hide your strength, bide your time", and flex its economic and military muscles to right the historic wrongs.
Belt and Road Initiative and Economic Diplomacy
True to this vision, President Xi floated ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ back in 2013 as a global development strategy aimed at promoting regional connectivity and infrastructural development of the participating countries. The plan is rightly considered the centerpiece of Chinese foreign policy and a true embodiment of Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of re-balancing the global balance of power. Despite stern resistance and vicious propaganda by the US and its allies to depict it as a debt trap, BRI has been greatly successful with 138 countries now having become a part of it.
Commenting on Chinese assertiveness on international geopolitical stage, Council of Foreign Relation’s senior analyst, Elizabeth C. Economy writes, “Under Xi, China now actively seeks to shape international norms and institutions and forcefully asserts its presence on the global stage”. Development of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a Chinese-led alternative to global financial institutions led by West, is a clear indication as to how China will deal with biased international structures should its due share of power is denied.
Assertive China in South China Sea
Chinese expansionist claims in the South China sea have popped up with renewed assertiveness under Xi Jinping. China has dredged islands in the region for new military bases, expanded its marine corps from 20,000 troops to 100,000, and has started transforming its naval arsenal by including new warships, aircraft carriers, and air defense missile system to challenge US and its allies in the region. Increased naval drills by China in wider Indo-Pacific region have alarmed the QUAD countries, who have started sending naval patrol ships on the pretext of guarding freedom of navigation required under UNCLOS (law of the sea convention).
Another glaring feature of Chinese foreign policy under Xi has been the heightened ‘One-China’ rhetoric. To this effect, mainland China has stepped up its military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, repeatedly calling it an ‘inalienable part’ of mainland China. The naval and aerial patrolling of Taiwanese borders have increased unprecedentedly, and Chinese representatives have been constantly castigating democratic rule in the island state.
Sino-Indian Border Clashes- a part of a grand strategy?
Chinese aggressive disposition has manifested itself in its neighborhood as well. Although recent Sino-India border stand-off came as surprise to many, yet analysts believe that it was a part of bigger plot to upset the US’ major regional ally and counter-balance to China. Similarly, China’s reported economic deal with Iran to the tune of staggering $400 bn in the face of US sanctions is yet another exhibition of China’s readiness to oppose the US-led world order. Besides, Chinese tit-for-tat approach in much-debated US-China trade war and more recent technological warfare testify that China is ready to confront the declining super power in all realms of competition. Arguably, one cannot rule out the possibility of “Thucydides Trap” coming into play for one more time in human history.
Hence, China under Xi Jinping has turned many corners. The person calling the shots in Beijing has taken upon himself to purge the country of what he deems as the filth in its midst with an iron hand. Besides, he has vowed to challenge the West-dominated global power structures and earn his country the larger say and clout in the international comity of states. Everything comes at a cost; how this tremendous convulsion plays out for China remains to be seen. But for the foreseeable future, China is here to stay in the global spotlight as power to be reckoned with.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Baboo Hussain Bux on July 27, 2020:
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Israr Ahmed Joyo on July 25, 2020:
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Rawal Ali on July 24, 2020:
Very informative reading about china. Weldon dear Zuhaib Ahmed
Siraj Ahmed on July 24, 2020:
Dear Zuhaib Ali,well analysed
Uzair Ali on July 24, 2020:
It is worth reading because it covers all aspects about China.
Neymar 10 on July 24, 2020: