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Monday, April 17, 2017

China's Future

CHINA'S FUTURE | The Economist

"Put together China’s desire to re-establish itself (without being fully clear about what that might entail) and America’s determination not to let that desire disrupt its interests and those of its allies (without being clear about how to respond) and you have the sort of ill-defined rivalry that can be very dangerous indeed. Shi Yinhong, of Renmin University in Beijing, one of China’s most eminent foreign-policy commentators, says that, five years ago, he was sure that China could rise peacefully, as it says it wants to. Now, he says, he is not so sure...

The rhetoric of American foreign policy—and frequently its content, too—is shaped by claims to be the champion of democracy and liberty. The Communist Party is less committed to universal values. Alliances often grow out of shared values; if you don’t have them, friends are harder to find. Awe can be a respectable alternative to friendship, and China has begun to awe the world—but also to worry it...

In a wide range of fields, what China is against is a lot clearer than what it is for. It vetoed the interventions Western powers sought in Syria and Darfur and has taken no position on the Russian annexation of Crimea (despite having a dim view of any sort of centrifugalism at home). At the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen China made sure no deal emerged that would even suggest it might have to slow its industrial growth. There and elsewhere it showed itself ready to block but not ready to build. As a former senior official in the Bush administration says of Chinese engagement at the G20, “They love to show up, but we’re still waiting for their first idea.”...

They condemn Western interference in the internal affairs of developing nations, but exacerbate corruption and poor governance in countries where they have a growing stake of their own...

PUBLIC enthusiasm underlines the fact that China’s growing assertiveness is not purely a matter of relationships outside its borders. “Whenever I see a change in foreign policy, I always ask, ‘what’s going on domestically?’ ” says Joseph Fewsmith of Boston University. Mr Xi is purging rivals, clamping down on corruption and, many hope, pushing through tough economic and financial reforms; some foreign distraction might come in handy...

It is not just that seeking to placate the public at home with braggadocio overseas will make it harder still for China to garner allies and respect. There is a deeper problem. Many countries around the world admire, and would like to emulate, the undemocratic but effective way that China has managed its decades of growth. If China’s domestic politics look less stable, some of that admiration will wane. And even if things can be held together, for the time being, admiration for China does not translate into affection for it, or into a sense of common cause. Economically and militarily, China has come a long way towards regaining the centrality in Asia it enjoyed through much of history. Intellectually and morally, it has not. In the old days it held a “soft power” so strong, according to William Kirby of Harvard University, that “neighbours converted themselves” to it. Now, Mr Xi may know how to assert himself and how to be feared, at home and abroad. But without the ability to exert a greater power of attraction, too, such strength will always tend to destabilise."
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