China’s Plan: Great Economic Power or Competition with the U.S.?
By: Shojauddin Amini
The current international order is unipolar, with the United States of America as the superpower that created and directs it. All countries have followed America‘s lead in the international environment. However, researchers of international relations have suggested that this unipolar era is coming to an end, with the emergence of new powers such as China, whose economic power allows it to compete with the US in all fields and potentially prevent the further expansion of American influence. The withdrawal of the US from the Middle East is also seen as a contributing factor, as it is believed that China is the only power that can fill the void left by the US.
I, conversely, maintain that the unipolarity of the international order will not be ending in the near future, nor will China be able to rival the United States, nor will it be able to fill the void left by America. It is more accurate to say that the US has not yet withdrawn from the Middle East, allowing China to take its place. To support this assertion, I will address the following points:
1- China has always prioritized increasing its economic power over war and militarism. It has maintained a policy of silence regarding the Ukraine crisis in order to promote its own prosperity. This has led to a revision of the principles of “Mao Communism.” In order to become an economic powerhouse, China has sought assistance from the West, which it once referred to as imperialism. Mao Zedong, the leader and founder of Communist China, who was known for his revolutionary stance against Western imperialism, eventually agreed to negotiate with the United States in the late 1970s. This paved the way for China to enter the Western economic market.
Following Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin, who assumed control of the nation, economic development and relations with the West, particularly the United States, became their primary focus. Currently, Xi Jinping is also following in the footsteps of his predecessors. The Chinese view war and militarism as the greatest impediment to the economic growth of China. Consequently, the economy has always been their priority. This is because when the equilibrium between economic strength and military power is not maintained, a country will experience economic decline, not prosperity. Had militarism been a priority for the Chinese, they would have adhered to the principles of Maoist Communism and not embraced Western capitalism. From this preface, it can be inferred that China seeks to increase its economic power but not to compete with America.
2- At the height of the Ukraine war, there were widespread rumours that China would support Russia against the West, but this did not come to pass as China prefers to engage in profitable trade rather than war, particularly when it comes to the financial gain or loss of another country. China maintained a policy of silence in the Ukraine war and did not take any action to avoid being seen as supporting Russia. If China wanted to challenge the US–led unipolar world, it should have aided Russia against the US and its allies in the Ukraine war, which it has clearly chosen not to do. Russia is a formidable rival of America and its allies, and is the most powerful competitor in the game. Therefore, it can be concluded that China is more interested in economic prosperity than war, even if it means standing against the US.
3- For the past year, the Ukraine crisis has been a major topic of discussion, especially after Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited in August. Upon further examination, it is clear that despite the US‘s attempts to draw China into the conflict, China has been careful not to become involved. This is because China is a major exporter to the West, and any war with Ukraine would also involve the West, which would have a detrimental effect on the Chinese economy. Therefore, it can be said that China is wary of jeopardizing its economic progress.
4- It was assumed that China would take the place of the United States in Afghanistan following America‘s withdrawal, yet this never came to fruition as Afghanistan was nothing more than a means of increasing China‘s economic power. China is only interested in economic gain, and has its sights set on Afghanistan‘s natural resources, such as oil, copper, gold, lapis lazuli, and silver. China has no intention of fighting terrorism, establishing good governance, supporting health and education, or protecting human rights. This is evidenced by the Amu Darya oil extraction agreement signed between Chinese authorities and the Taliban group in January. It is also important to note that China has not provided any financial support to the Taliban, and its expectations from the Taliban are limited to mining and controlling the Uyghurs.
5- The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia was focused more on economic matters than politics. It cannot be interpreted as China attempting to supplant the United States in the Middle East, as it is aware that doing so would come with a great cost that it is not willing to pay. China does not have the same ambitions for overseas activities as the United States does, and is cognizant of the expense associated with such activities. The presence of Chinese officials in Saudi Arabia caused Iran to lose faith in China, and the Chinese were taken aback by the warm welcome they received from the Saudi authorities, and in line with them, issued a statement that was contrary to Iran‘s interests. If China wishes to form a powerful bloc against the United States, it must bring together America‘s adversaries, not push them away. To this point, China has not only declined to unite America‘s foes around a single axis, but has also opposed them (Russia and Iran).
6- China has thus far considered trade with two groups of countries: authoritarian and weak. Authoritarian governments seek out countries with the most closed political systems, which are characterized by external stability, a lack of opposition, and an absence of protest–induced collapse. This is in contrast to China‘s economic prosperity since 1980, which has been largely due to trade relations with Western democratic governments, particularly the United States. However, when it comes to profitability and lucrative trade, weak governments remain China‘s primary target, as they offer the potential for greater returns with less effort. Afghanistan and African countries are examples of weak governments and, thus, a desirable opportunity for China. At present, many governments around the world are attempting to establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan and bring an end to the current crisis. Meanwhile, China is quietly and shrewdly attempting to take advantage of Afghanistan‘s natural resources without regard for the shared concerns of other countries.
7- At present, the United States of America, the world‘s superpower, is ahead of other countries in all fields. It also has the means to interfere in the affairs of other countries, which makes America‘s intervention justifiable by utilizing these tools. Democracy, human rights, and women’s rights are some of the most effective tools that America has at its disposal to interfere in the affairs of other countries. By utilizing these tools, America can either interact with countries or attack them. Furthermore, it has powerful allies, including the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Israel, and the Arab nations. Each of these allies can compete with China independently. Therefore, America and its partners can demolish countries overnight and replace them at a great cost. America and its partners are risk–averse and can manage these hazardous missions. Now, China does not possess the tools that America has. Thus, it cannot compete with it. It is unclear what tools China can rely on to solicit the support of other countries, making them subservient. It is more accurate to say that China does not have the necessary influential political tools outside its borders.
In the political realm, China failed to implement the reforms that the West had anticipated. Initially, the Western countries were hopeful that China‘s economic growth would benefit the world, but this did not come to fruition. China has remained steadfast in its closed and authoritarian one–party political system, which is contrary to the values of the Westerners. This single–party political system has been in place in China for a long time, and is only appealing to the Chinese, not to those outside of the country. Is it possible for China to become the world‘s leading power or to follow in America‘s footsteps and isolate itself? I believe the answer to this is no. Becoming the world‘s leading power or isolating itself has a cost that China is not willing to pay, as it does not believe its economy is capable of doing so.
We stated that China is unable to disrupt the unipolar world in the near future due to its incapability of hindering the growth of America‘s influence globally and its inability to compete with America in all areas. China is only attempting to increase its economic power, which may inadvertently lead to economic competition with America, but nothing more. China views politics through an economic perspective, thus having a business–oriented outlook on politics. Becoming the world‘s leading power entails requirements and costs that China is not willing to invest in. For China, lucrative trade has always been a priority, and this is why it has distanced itself from Russia and Iran‘s recent crises.