How does China want to replace the US system

BIjing has had it for years The pillars of the US-led world order are being torn apart – the subversion of its founding institutions, international norms, and liberal ideals – but Chinese President Xi Jinping has not offered an overarching vision of how China-led replacement might work. This is changing.

Xi combined his ideas for a new world order in the Global Security Initiative (GSI), a platform of principles on international affairs and diplomacy that, he says, could make the world a safer place. Some seemingly attractive proposals are included — countries should resolve their disputes through dialogue, respect each other’s differences, and take into account different national interests to achieve “security for all,” Xi said in a speech in April. “We need to work together to maintain peace and stability in the world,” he said. “Countries around the world are like passengers on the same ship who share the same fate.”

There is a deeper threat behind the pleasant feelings. The initiative can also be called a despot’s manifesto. Its principles and practices would lead to a world order more friendly to repressive regimes than the current one, based on democratic ideals. The GSI is the latest, and perhaps most disturbing, evidence that the standoff between the United States and China is escalating into a full-fledged competition for global leadership. What started as a trade war over Beijing’s discriminatory trade practices and a technology war for control of the industries of the future is now a war of ideas – a battle to set the standards that govern global affairs. The United States and China are locked in a struggle to determine how countries interact, the legality of different forms of government, the rules for trade, and the meaning of human rights.

TBiden administration Defending and strengthening what Washington calls a “rules-based” world order has been at the center of its policy in Asia, to counter the threat from Beijing. “China is the only country with the intent to reshape the international order, and increasingly the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in May. “Beijing’s vision will distance us from the universal values ​​that have sustained so much global progress over the past 75 years.”

Chinese leaders don’t see things that way. For Beijing, the current regime has become inherently hostile to it and constraining its global ambitions. By upholding democracy as the only legitimate form of government, the regime undermines China’s authoritarian state’s standing on the world stage. Even worse, in Beijing’s view, it gives undue diplomatic, economic, and ideological leverage to the United States and its partners, leaving China vulnerable to sanctions and pressure.

“Chinese policymakers believe that the current global order is geared toward American hegemony, and that … the world’s greatest power is doing everything in its power to contain, suppress, and encircle China,” Tuvia Gering, a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told me. “They need to put in place the infrastructure for a world that is more China-centric, or at least a world less US-centric and the West.”

Beijing’s agenda is also shaped by its narrative of inevitable American decline and Chinese rise. China says Washington and Western democracies more broadly have become unable to lead the world — exemplified, in Beijing’s eyes, by its failed response to the coronavirus pandemic. China, and specifically Xi, whom Beijing is marketing as a key theorist, can offer new solutions. Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in an article published in April, wrote that the Security and Cooperation Initiative “contributes China’s wisdom to mankind’s efforts” and “China’s solution to international security challenges.”

“The world is beginning to fall apart,” said Li Wang Huyao, head of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a Beijing-based think tank. “With China being one of the largest stakeholders in this global system, I felt there was a need, and an urgent need, to propose some kind of security recommendations and initiatives” in order to “start a constructive dialogue on this issue” and “reduce the risk of [world] fall into another catastrophe.”

Xi may have been pushed to unveil the Public Security Initiative due to the war in Ukraine, which summarizes Beijing’s concerns about the US-led regime. On the one hand, the war reinforces the Chinese narrative that the current system is in disarray, and Washington is to blame. (Beijing blames NATO expansion in the conflict.) However, the US response – the transfer of weapons and intelligence to Kyiv while imposing a raft of sanctions on Russia – also deepened China’s fears that Washington could turn the world order against them.

It stands to reason, then, that one of GSI’s core tenets is opposition to “unilateral” sanctions. This idea is not necessarily new: Xi and his diplomats have been promoting it for years, as have others at GSI. By bringing them together under the GSI banner, Beijing now has a tire it can sell.

But while Beijing presents the Global Standards Initiative as a selfless pursuit for the global good, many of its paintings, such as those on sanctions, are self-serving as well. Among those outlined by Xi in a speech at this year’s Boao Forum in China’s Hainan province is “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” which supports Beijing’s claim to Taiwan. Another is to “support non-interference in internal affairs,” a way to silence Washington’s criticism of Beijing’s mistreatment of the Uighur minority or Hong Kong’s democracy advocates. “Respect for the independent choices of development paths and social systems that people make in different countries” gives authoritarianism the same legitimacy as democracy. “Say No to Group Politics and Confront the Bloc” protests against the US coalition system.

Many of GSI’s points – although it does not specifically mention the United States – target tools of American influence, including economic sanctions and Washington’s preference for collective action. CCG’s Wang, who marked a list that included promoting Quad, an Asia-focused security partnership, and providing nuclear submarine technology to Australia, said. Wang sees China’s position as “Security is a comprehensive thing. You can’t just think about your own security [and] I don’t think about my security. We should think about security together.”

FOr some world leaders– especially the authoritarian kind – GSI may be attractive. Many favor freedom from American standards of human rights and democracy, and Washington’s preaching and pressure to adhere to them. In the Chinese version of the world order, national leaders are allowed to do more or less as they like within their own borders. Thus, GSI has the potential to become the ideological backbone of an alternative Chinese-led regime that brings together illiberal states opposed to the United States.

However, Beijing also intends to co-opt and repurpose elements of the existing order to advance its ideals and interests — most notably the United Nations, where the Chinese have worked hard to advance their political ideals. GSI wraps itself in the mantle of the United Nations by calling for states to abide by the institution’s charter. In this way, China is trying to present itself as the defender of the international system. Foreign Minister Wang, in his article, is clearly referring to the United States when he criticizes “pseudo-pluralism” based on “guerrilla bases” in contrast to China, whose collective security initiative is “rooted in true pluralism”.

It’s hard to understand how GSI is a workable proposition, at least in its current form. Although the Chinese present it as a “complete system”, GSI is a vague statement of principles and appears to be a work in progress. Some of its principles seem simply unworkable. Take, for example, “oppose the pursuit of personal security at the expense of the security of others.” Although it sounds like a great idea, it runs counter to the primary responsibility of modern nation-states (including China) to defend their citizens against external threats and promote their prosperity. The Shi’s Global Standards Initiative does not provide any criteria or mechanism for sorting out such competing national interests when they inevitably conflict.

Like all great powers (including the United States), China is more interested in making rules than following them. The Global Standards Initiative mocks “unilateral sanctions” even as Beijing has imposed them on Australia and Lithuania to pressure these two countries into policies more favorable to China. The General Security Initiative (GSI) is critical of the formation of “blocks”, but Beijing is striving to form its own bloc – most notably, a partnership with Russia. Foreign Minister Wang has made frequent flights for miles around the South Pacific, in an effort to lure island nations into a China-led security and economic deal.

No case exposes the contradictions of Xi’s initiative better than China’s position on Ukraine. Although the GSI stresses the importance of territorial integrity, Beijing has made little more than defensive rhetoric for Ukraine, sided with its friends in Moscow as their military dismantled it, and then justified its support for Russia’s position through another panel of GSI: “Security Concerns legitimate rights of all countries very seriously.” According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it would come as no surprise that Vladimir Putin showed a thumbs-up to GSI during a recent conversation with Xi.

So it is unclear how far Xi can reach GSI. The challenge for Beijing will be to convince other countries that it will not simply replace American hegemony with Chinese hegemony. However, the Chinese believe that time is on their side. As their power grows, their voice in world affairs will become more important, along with the import of their ideas.

Most likely, GSI could be part of the ideological basis for a new China-centric field, consisting primarily of illiberal states and Chinese clients. It seems unlikely that the United States and many other democratic societies would endorse Beijing’s principles, thus dividing rather than replacing the existing world order.

The world that Beijing and GSI envision is one in which there is, in fact, no international community – where repressive regimes like China can cruelly mistreat their citizens as they choose and coldly pursue national goals, as Putin does in Ukraine, while other nations consider in the other direction. To be sure, the US-led system has its problems. The Chinese alternative would be the problem.

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