One of the most notable characteristics of today’s geopolitical situation in the world has to do with the fact that, as time goes, China becomes ever more powerful in both: the economic and political senses of this word. What is even more, during the course of the last decade, this process appears to have attained an exponential momentum – something can be illustrated in regards to the fact that, as of today, it is being often suggested that China is about to replace the U.S., as a country with the world’s largest economy.
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According to Grumbine, “China leads the world in the consumption of grain, meat, coal, and steel… The combination of the country’s huge population and high rate of sustained economic growth is unprecedented… China is on track to become the world’s largest economy sometime between 2025 and 2035”.1
This, of course, establishes the objective preconditions for the influence of China in the arena of international politics to grow increasingly acute. In this paper, I will outline the qualitative specifics of China’s current geopolitical positioning, while explaining the actual rationale behind them, and elaborating on what is likely to be the characteristics of this country’s geopolitical stance in the future.
Probably the most notable aspect of China’s impact on global politics has to do with the fact that the country’s rapid emergence, as the world’s new economic superpower, implies that there is a certain phenomenological quality to the 21st century’s socio-political realities in the world. The reason for this is that it, while suggesting the full objectiveness of economic Globalization, on one hand, it exposes the erroneousness of the claims that this process necessarily results in prompting the affected countries to adopt the ideals of ‘democracy’ (in the Anglo-Saxon sense of this word), on the other.
The reason for this is that was namely due to Globalization (which legitimizes the process of outsourcing) that China was able to realise itself in the possession of probably the 21st century’s most valuable economic asset – a plenty of cheap industrial labourers. This explains the fact why, despite being a formally Communist country, China has not merely maintained strong economic ties with the West, but it in fact serves as one huge ‘factory’ for manufacturing the cost-effective industrial products for Western consumers.
Moreover, China can also be defined as the world’s largest ‘vault’ for the U.S. Treasury Bonds. As Hsiung noted, “In the first half of 2006, China was the second largest exporter nation, reported the Wall Street Journal… In 2006, China replaced Japan as the holder of the largest foreign reserves, totalling $1.5 trillion, over Japan’s $846 billion”.2 At the same time, however, China positions itself as the adherent of the geopolitical paradigm of ‘multipolarity’, which in turn causes the U.S. to perceive China as its principal (along with Russia) rivalry.
This simply could not be otherwise, because such China’s position is being inconsistent with America’s strive to enjoy the undisputed dominance in the world. Whereas, Americans (and Westerners, in general) tend to perceive the notion of a ‘great nation’, as such that is being concerned with the referred country’s ability to dictate its terms to other nations, the Chinese believe that the main characteristic of a ‘great nation’, is its ability to refuse taking orders from abroad. In its turn, this presupposes the inevitability of geopolitical tensions between the West and China, which are bound to define the essence of the relationship between the two.
The above-stated suggests that China’s impact on global politics is best discussed with the conceptual framework of the Realist theory of international relations. The theory’s main discursive premise is that the dynamics in the arena of international politics reflect the never-ending competition between the world’s most powerful nations for influence, territory, and resources.
What it means is that the status quo situation, with a particular country being considered the world’s only legitimate hegemonic power, can never last for too long, just as there can be no end to the fierce competition among nations for the ‘room under the Sun’. As the previously quoted author aptly observed, “A rising major power will (inevitably) challenge the equilibrium of the existing (old) system; and often a war, known as ‘hegemonic war,’ will ensue which will determine whether the current dominant power can keep its hegemonic leadership after defeating the challenger or else be replaced by a new hegemon”.3
China’s strategy of how it goes about preparing itself for the eventual confrontation with the West is being commonly referred to as that of a ‘sleeping dragon’. The allegorical reference in question is concerned with the discursive ambiguity of this country’s foreign policy. After all, it does not represent any secret that, even though it does apply much effort in ensuring that China continues to attract foreign investors, the country’s government never misses the opportunity to undermine the geopolitical influence of the U.S. and its allies.
The most visible indication that the latter is indeed being the case, is the fact that China uses its full-membership in the U.N. Security Council to veto many of the initiatives, proposed by the West. In its turn, this reflects the conviction of China’s top-officials that Western countries tend to deploy the excuse of ‘defending democracy’, in order to violate international law in the most blatant manner.
Such their point of view does make a good logical sense. After all, China is well aware of how the ploy of ‘defending democracy’ can be used, when it comes to justifying the enslavement of a particular resource-rich nation – just as it was the case during the so-called ‘Opium wars’ (1839-1860).4
There are a number of recent examples of China having officially expressed its discontent with the geopolitical ways of the West. Among the most notable of them are: a) China’s official position, in regards to the 2008 Declaration of Independence by Kosovo – the Chinese government considered it a ‘dangerous development’). b) China’s criticism of the U.S. involvement in the civil war in Syria on the side of the ‘fighters for democracy’ (who later formed the bulk of ISIS). c) China’s disapproval of yet another ‘orange revolution’ (this time, in the form of an anti-constitutional armed seizure of power) that took in Ukraine in February of 2014, and which was thoroughly supported by the West. d) China’s decision to join the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group, made out of those world’s countries that openly oppose the geopolitical agenda of the U.S. and its European allies. e) China’s persistence in showing the signs that, in case the current confrontation between the U.S. and Russia escalates into a war, it will side with the latter.
The fact that during the latest Victory Parade in Moscow, the Chinese troops marched through the Red Square (thus, showing the whole world China’s support of Russia), and the fact that it now became a customary practice between Russia and China to conduct joint (both, naval and ground) military exercises, proves the validity of this suggestion perfectly well.5 It is understood, of course, that this has a strong effect on global politics, as we know them.
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The reason for this is quite apparent – because of China’s current geopolitical stance, we can no longer believe to be living in the ‘unipolar’ world, unilaterally ruled by the Anglo-Saxons. After all, China’s (and India’s) support of Russia exposes the sheer fallaciousness of the claims that, because of the enactment of Western economic sanctions against Russia (due to its annexation of Crimea), this country ended up effectively ‘isolated’. This, in turn, produces a strongly negative effect on the overall prestige of the West.
Along with opposing the expansionist aspirations, on the part of the U.S. and its allies, China applies a continual effort into establishing its strong economic presence in just about every part of the world. This is being reflected by the Chinese government’s willingness to provide the ever-increased amounts of economic/financial aid to the Third and Second World countries, and to invest in these countries’ infrastructural projects. According to Heinemeyer, “China has lent more money to other developing countries over the past two years (2010-2011) than the World Bank…
Loans of at least $110 billion were signed, in contrast to the World Bank with around $100 billion”.6 What makes China’s foreign financial investments especially appealing for the governments of country-donors is that, as opposed to what it is being the case with such Western-based organisations as the IMF or WTO, China does not require these countries to change/alter the locally adopted form of a political governing – hence, proving their commitment to the ‘democratic reforms’. It is understood, of course, that China does not act in such a manner, due to some philanthropic considerations, on its part, but because it helps this country to expand the range of its economic influence in the world, which in turn is expected to empower China geopolitically.
As of recently, China’s impact on global politics is also being assessed, within the context of how this country goes about applying its ‘soft power’ across the world.7 Apparently, the Chinese government is thoroughly aware of the fact that the chances for this country to attain regional (and consequently global) domination will be significantly increased by the flow of investments into the expansion of what can be referred to as ‘China’s discursive/cultural realm’. Since the year 2004, China has begun establishing the so-called Confucian Institutes, throughout the world, the number of which is estimated to account for 480.
Officially, the purpose of these institutes is to popularise Chinese culture and to help people in other countries to learn Chinese language. As Szczudlik-Tatar noted, “The (Confucian) Institutes operate under the auspices of the Ministry of Education… The objective of the Institutes is to promote the teaching of Chinese abroad”. 8 However, due to being the integral part of how China goes about exercising its ‘soft power’, these Institutes are best discussed, in regards to what account for the de facto purpose of their establishment – to win the potential agents of influence in the countries that China considers important to its long-term strategic interests.
The most notable effect of this is that the country is now indeed being increasingly perceived in terms of this planet’s yet another fully legitimate centre of power – hence, validating the suggestion that the world has again entered the era of ‘multipolarity’.
Another important aspect of how China affects global politics, has to do with the country’s strongly defined negative stance, in regards to the functioning of the Western-based ‘non-commercial organisations’ (NCOs) on its territory.9 In its turn, this reduces the chances for the country’s systemic integrity to be undermined from within. After all, there is now a plenty of evidence that it is specifically this type of organisations that stood behind the recent of upsurge of the so-called ‘orange revolutions’ across the world (Libya, Egypt, Syria, Ukraine).10
This, of course, has a number of implications for the body politics in the world, the main of which can be formulated as follows: ‘orange revolutions’ have no chance to prove successful in the countries where the governments possess enough willingness to do whatever it takes to restore law and order. Evidently enough, this also empowers China as a country where the deployment of the Western ‘soft power’ technologies would be very unlikely to succeed.
Moreover – it exposes the significance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests (which were meant to trigger a classical ‘orange’ revolution) in an entirely new light – had the protestors succeeded in setting China on the path of ‘democratisation’, the country would have been destroyed from within a long time ago – much like it happened with the ‘democratised’ USSR in 1991.11
The Chinese official newspapers of the time used to reflect upon the actual significance of the 1989 protests in following manner, “If we are tolerant or conniving with this turmoil and let it go unchecked… Then the improvement of the economic environment and the rectification of the economic order, the improvement of our living standards… will all become empty hopes”.12
The discursive significance of China’s stance on the ‘export of democracy’ by the West is quite apparent. It helps to enlighten people that it is specifically the provisions of the so-called Peace of Westphalia (1648), according to which the independent nation-states are forbidden from meddling in the internal affairs of each other, which continues to serve the conceptual foundation of international law, as we know it. This, of course, exposes the recent military attacks of Libya and Syria, undertaken by the U.S. and its allies (without being sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council), utterly illegal.
In the future, the process of China growing increasingly alienated from the West is likely to attain an additional momentum. The reason for this is that, as it was pointed out earlier, China continues to be regarded by Western countries; as such that threatens their geopolitical hegemony. This, course, naturally presupposes that, while engaging with China in the arena of international politics, they will inevitably seek to weaken it.
As practice indicates, China’s top-officials believe that the best way to address the situation, in this respect, is paying the West with the same token of respect. Nevertheless, the chances are rather slim that China will choose in favour of a full-scale confrontation with its geopolitical rivals, prior to having accomplished the set of the following ‘regional’ objectives: a) The international recognition of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan and Tibet. b) The legitimization (by the U.N) of the Chinese government’s claim that China has exclusive economic rights in the area of South-East Asia. Instead, the Chinese government is likely to continue pursuing the strategy of a ‘sleeping dragon’.
That is, it will strive to prevent Western nations from being able to succeed in turning China into the subject of exploitation, on one hand, and to create the objective preconditions for the country’s sphere of national interests in different parts of the world to continue expanding, on the other. This, in turn, will ensure that when it would come to replacing the West, as the world’s hegemon, China will indeed have what it takes to make this transformation possible.
Given what has been mentioned earlier, it can be confirmed that the deployed line of argumentation, as to what should be considered the most notable effects of China’s influence on global politics, fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, this country’s leaders do realise that it is namely the ‘survival of the fittest’ principle, which defines the essence of international relations on this planet more than anything else does. Therefore, China’s foreign policy is likely to remain explicitly Realist into the future, as well.
This eventual development appears to be predetermined by the fact that the existing antagonisms between different countries will continue having a strong effect on how these countries interact internationally – something that will come as a natural result of the fact that, as it was mentioned earlier, the hegemonic power of the West in the world continues to weaken rather rapidly.
Barrabi, Thomas. “Russia, China to Conduct Naval Exercises in Aegean Sea as Part of ‘Joint Sea 2015 Drills‘” International Business Times. 2015.
Grumbine, Edward. “China’s Emergence and the Prospects for Global Sustainability.” Bioscience 57, no. 3 (2007): 249-255.
Heinemeyer, Martin. “Where is China Heading? An Analysis of China’s Foreign Policy and how it affects the Western world.” European View 1, no.10 (2011): 95–105.
Hsiung, James C. “The Age of Geoeconomics, China’s Global Role, and Prospects of Cross-Strait Integration.” Journal of Chinese Political Science 14, no. 2 (06, 2009): 113-133.
Lampton, David. The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Landry, Tristan. “The Colour Revolutions in the Rearview Mirror: Closer than they Appear.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 53, no. 1 (03, 2011): 1-24.
Ma, Qiusha. “The Governance of NGOs in China since 1978: How much Autonomy?” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 31, no. 3 (2002): 305-328.
Naughton, Barry. “The Impact of the Tiananmen Crisis on China’s Economic Transition.” China Perspectives no. 2 (2009): 63-78.
Ogden, Suzanne. China’s Search for Democracy: The Student and Mass Movement of 1989. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1992.
Szczudlik-Tatar, Justyna. “Soft Power in China’s Foreign Policy.” The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs 19, no. 3 (2010): 45-68
Vassilev, Rossen. “China’s Opium Wars: Britain as the World’s First Narco-State.” New Politics 13, no. 1 (Summer, 2010): 75-80.
- Edward Grumbine. “China’s Emergence and the Prospects for Global Sustainability.” Bioscience 57, no. 3 (2007): 249.
- James Hsiung. “The Age of Geoeconomics, China’s Global Role, and Prospects of Cross-Strait Integration.” Journal of Chinese Political Science 14, no. 2 (06, 2009): 119.
- Hsiung, 126.
- Rossen Vassilev. “China’s Opium Wars: Britain as the World’s First Narco-State.” New Politics 13, no. 1 (Summer, 2010): 77.
- Thomas Barrabi. “Russia, China to Conduct Naval Exercises in Aegean Sea as Part of ‘Joint Sea 2015 Drills’” International Business Times. May 15, 2015. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-china-conduct-naval- exercises-aegean-sea-part-joint-sea-2015-drills-1924179.
- Martin Heinemeyer. “Where is China Heading? An Analysis of China’s Foreign Policy and how it affects the Western world.” European View 1, no.10 (2011): 97.
- Lampton, David. The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 118.
- Justyna Szczudlik-Tatar. “Soft Power in China’s Foreign Policy.” The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs 19, no. 3 (2010): 49.
- Qiusha Ma. “The Governance of NGOs in China since 1978: How Much Autonomy?” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 31, no. 3 (2002): 310.
- Tristan Landry. “The Colour Revolutions in the Rearview Mirror: Closer than they Appear.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 53, no. 1 (2011): 4.
- Barry Naughton. “The Impact of the Tiananmen Crisis on China’s Economic Transition.” China Perspectives no. 2 (2009): 70.
- Suzanne Ogden. China’s Search for Democracy: The Student and Mass Movement of 1989 (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1992): 117.