Beijing loves to point fingers. The USA, for instance, is the world’s worst hegemonic power, according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China may have a point, because Washington DC does like to throw its dip0lomatic weight around, but Beijing isa close competitor as it seeks to dislodge the pre-eminent USA and establish a new global order.
Chairman Xi Jinping recently claimed at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg that “hegemonism is not in China’s DNA”. Yet this starkly contrasts with China’s behaviour in places like the South Sea and Indian border. In such spheres, China creates new facts from nothing, practices the principle of might makes right, and unilaterally pursues the law of the jungle. These are the actions of a rogue and hegemonistic state.
Yet China also clothes its ambitions in presentable diplomatic garb. In its latest march towards reversing the global order and assuming dominance, China’s foreign ministry published a sweeping proposal for “reform and development of global governance” on 13 September. Two of China’s prime targets are the United Nations and Global South, and its key elements are the Global Security Initiative (GSI) Global Development Initiative (GDI), Data Security Initiative (DSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI).
Bates Bill, Executive Director of the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis, commented: “While much of the proposal is familiar in many of its themes, I think it was different in many ways. First of all, it was sweeping in its scope, calling on the international community to adopt a far more multilateral, equitable and fair set of solutions in relation to global and regional security and development in relation to the tolerance of different social, cultural and political systems around the world” This is ironic, for China is one of the most intolerant regimes in the world today.
Gill continued: “Also, this document did not fall short in issuing some harsh criticism for what it termed a certain country, which I think we should understand to mean the United States, for what the proposal called bullying and hegemonic behaviour, among other epithets, that in the proposal’s view are standing in the way of progress on stability and development.”
China’s proposal is both far reaching and far-fetched. It stated, for example: “Human rights for all is the shared pursuit of humanity…We must safeguard people’s democratic rights, fully inspire their motivation, initiative and creativity and ensure that the people run the country, enjoy human rights equally and become the chief participants, promoters and beneficiaries in human rights advancement”.
Coming from a brutal regime that eschews democracy and enforces Draconian laws, this is sheer nonsense. Nonetheless, despite the blatant contradictions in China’s proposal many will be eager to get onboard.
China will use its rotating presidency at the UN Security Council to push its narrative onto the agenda. As it did with the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Choina is re-hatting existing efforts under its GSI, GDI and GCI labels. China will be energetically pushing these initiatives at the UN, in bilateral diplomatic relations and in other multilateral forums like BRICS.
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Interestingly, the BRI is no longer central to the way China presents itself globally. It is merely one avenue sitting beside the GSI, GDI and GCI and global public good. Indeed many see the BRI as waning, as China transfers attention to these initiatives.
Taylah Bland, Schwarzman fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s center for China Analysis, noted: “China wants to amplify its voice on the international stage, and specifically at the UN and other multilateral organisations. But in order to do that, it does need support. And what better way to do that than to tap into 152 developing countries….in extreme need of assistance.
And while China is committed to supporting and advancing the growth and development of these through its initiatives. China also understands that the Global South in particular is the largest and fastest growing part of world, and that area may actually reap new economic rewards in addition to gathering its greatest support at the international level”.
While China will enjoy a warm reception from many quarters, Courtney Fung, Associate professor in the department OF Security Studies & Criminology at Macquarie University, warned: “…I don’t want to give you the impression that this is all some type of to-down orchestration without any potential pushback. I think we can already see in the human rights-related space, questions being raised and borders being sort of tightened now about permitting GCI language to move into and through the UN Human Rights Council without any type of questioning or clarification.”
Fung also noted: “These initiatives are flexible, they’re ambitious, but they’re also wide enough to sort of alleviate China’s own shortfalls or questions being raised about China’s won particular domestic and international record, while still again promoting China’s own particular approach.”
This recently released “reform and development of global governance” proposal emphasizes how Xi has moved from idea to action, from vision to reality. China is continually solidifying its language and approach to produce a global governance system it can dominate. While China does not have deep-built alliances, highly structured agreements can still find space for cooperation on particular issues.
Fung continued: “[This] is really building upon China’s view that it’s now going to be a leading reformer of the global governance system, a United nations that reflects today’s global distribution of power, moving away from a US-led, Western-led order, and moving now into an order that’s going to give more room to China’s correct position, recognition China’s pole position, in international politics.”
While China is attempting to present an appealing front to its proposal, the truth is that the CCP’s very own governance style - one dominated by a single person with dictatorial powers – facing mounting challenges. Bland highlighted: “In order for China to have a stable environment in order to commit an advanced self on the international stage, it very much needs to get its domestic stability together. That’s obviously out of the control in some ways of the international community, and something that president Xi is going to have to work on himself.”
Nor is smooth application and traction evident or expected for its governance proposal. Fung said: “I’d like to point out…that China is still on the back foot. I would argue, if we look at the example of the initial GSI output in April of last year, it came across as very defensive.”
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“I think we have to remember again,’’ Fung said, “that there is potential for these types of pushbacks to occur, and that China has to be putting its best foot forward in terms of flexible, elegant diplomacy, but allows it to try and thread a very thin needle. There are these hardline domestic issues that China still has to face first, and that sort of wariness about the way that its own domestic and international reputation can be affected on the international stage.”
China’s solution are attractive to those with authoritarian tendencies, but the fact is that the CCP is increasingly clashing with western ideals. For instance, Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently declared that the national goal is to make “good use of rule-of law as a weapon, and constantly enrich and improve the legal toolbox for foreign struggles”. By this he meant that China’s own laws are being weaponised against governments, businesses, individuals and anyone the CCP views as detrimental to its interests.
Such Chinese “lawfare” is an effort to reshape economic and power relations and to create a system “with Chinese characteristics”. Among those domestic laws being propounded to advance territorial and extraterritorial advantages are this year’s amended Counter-espionage law and the new law on Foreign relations.
Under the former law, China is intent not just on unmasking espionage, but the targets are all “documents, data, materials or items related to national security or interests”. National security is therefore anything the CCP says is it. The latter law also decrees: “Foreigners and foreign organisations in mainland China shall comply with Chinese law and must not endanger China’s national security, harm the societal public interest or undermine societal public order.”
Foreign entities doing business in China are already feeling the heat. Consultancies such as Mintz, Bain and Capvision have been raided by the authorities, while executives of the American multinational investment company BlackRock and Franklin Templeton have been ordered by the CCP to take classes on Xi Jinping Thought. They are to dedicate a third of their working time to studying the CCP leader. “Attendance is compulsory” and participants even need to submit papers on what they learn.
Xi’s legal pogrom is designed to create an information vacuum that he can fill with CCP inspired narratives that support his twisted perspective. The aim is not the truth, but whatever the CCP deems as beneficial to its existence. Accurate data on Chinese companies is therefore dwindling, as businesses race to comply with Chinese legal requirements, in direct contrast to Western standards disclosure.
China’s economy is in freefall, with pressures coming from a rapidly aging population and a labor force that is becoming more expensive. Instead of focusing on productivity, thousands of man hours are wasted in studying Xi Jing Thought, while party committees stifle innovation.
Xi has made the party central to every aspect of Chinese life, controlling the population through heavy policing. The internet and media are tightly controlled, and surveillance permeates every part of society. The pinnacle of Xi’s orwellian approach is the concentration camps and forced labor programs for Uyghurs.
Nothing is too sacred to be immune from the CCP’s glowering control. Chinese local governments are even clamping down on traditional Buddhist and Taoist practices such as the Hungry Ghost festival, where offerings and spirit money are burnt.
Calling them “uncivilized”, one country government warned, “We must consciously resist worship activities with feudal superstitions, break old habits such as burning spirit money, setting off firecrackers and leaving offerings.”
Or consider the CCP’s refusal to reveal the truth about its failed COVID 19 policy. New research from JAMA Network suggests that an estimated 1.87 million Chinese aged 30+ died in the first two months after Xi unexpectedly reversed his zero-COVID policy. This compares starkly with 60 000 COVID related deaths reported by the Chinese government from early December 2022 to 12 January 2023.
The CCP’s tenuous grasp on reality is also illustrated by its use of international bodies to advance its own fallacies. For example, only Italy has more UNESCO heritage sights than China, plus the latter possesses a vastly greater number of cultural practices than any other country. China is using such UNESCO recognition to supposedly unify the country and foster social harmony. However, these are merely tools for the CCP to exert dominion of Chinese society, including its diverse ethnic groups, by han chinese, even at the cost of deliberately distorting history.
The remarkable gulf between China’s words and actions is growing. While some countries have woken up to the dangers of China’s brand of authoritarianism gaining a foothold, others are all too willing to ignore all morals and to accept Chinese money. Of course, this is what Beijing is relying upon as it brandishes its various initiatives and proposals.
Recent history should provide clarion warnings about the extreme danger in trusting Xi. indeed 25 September marks the eighth anniversary of Xi’s famous promise in the Rose Garden at the White House when he told President Barak Obama: “China is committed to the path of peaceful development and a neighboring foreign policy characterized by good neighborliness and partnership with our neighbors… We are committed to respecting and upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy according to international law. Relevant construction activities that China is undertaking in the islands of Nansha Islands do not target or impact any country, and China does not intend to pursue militarization”. Theworld can already see how those empty and disingenuous promises turned out.