Going Global: China’s Growing Influence

Beijing, unlike Washington, has its act together

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (flickr/theglobalpanorama)

While it might be too early to call China a superpower on the level of the United States, the time to do so is quickly approaching. Recently, Time, The Economist, and the BBC all referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as the most powerful man in the world.

When it comes to the way China interacts with other states, they have a stringent, non-interventionist policy—a stark contrast to the United States and Russia. If you want to see this policy in action, go to any Wikipedia page for a major world conflict and look for the Chinese response. It will almost always read, “We urge [countries A and B] to do things conducive to peace and stability in the [x region].” It’s very rare that they will outwardly condemn or support anyone.

As for domestic matters, the Chinese populace and leaders listen to and respect science in a way that the U.S. does not. China intends to put its own men on the moon by 2036, and it has been taking considerable steps to reduce the pollution that it produces. Xi himself has a degree in chemical engineering, and it’s not unusual to find Communist party members there with STEM degrees.

It’s almost as if the Americans only care about space development when it’s part of a dick-measuring contest with other countries, while China is more interested in the innovation, research, and development that space exploration grants.

China through the last decade can be compared to Japan in the 1970s. Japan mass-produced cheap, low-quality goods for years, but out of that came Sony, Toshiba, Nintendo, and many more commercial giants. The exact same thing is happening right now with Alibaba, Xiaomi, Huawei, Tencent, Oppo, and so on—many Chinese goods are already high-end, even in a competitive market. Some of you may even have a OnePlus smartphone.

China also has a middle class, a group that has almost vanished in North America. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company has estimated that 76 per cent of China’s urban population will belong to the middle class by 2022, earning between $9,000 and $34,000 USD per year, which is reasonable income in China. The Chinese also put a high value on education, so most of its young people are rushing to become engineers and programmers.

All of this progress that China is making should embarrass the Americans. They have been penning angry letters to China for years over their arms buildup in the South China Sea, but changing nothing. Considering the diplomatic efforts of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter in encouraging China to open up to the world and embrace capitalism, its success is almost an insult to the United States. It has become clear that China is considering the nation less and less important.

Canada gets it; the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which is comprised of Asian countries minus China—isn’t dead yet. While the Americans have withdrawn from what was meant to be Obama’s trade legacy, Trudeau was negotiating last week with other Asian states. Without the Americans around to argue for things that would be against Canada’s interest, the Canadian government knows that being part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is intelligent dealmaking, especially with NAFTA negotiations being uncertain.

Furthermore, it has been reported that Trudeau is set to travel to China in December to discuss a new free trade deal. There will be domestic ambivalence towards opening up with China, and even Andrew Scheer of the Conservative Party isn’t crazy about the idea. Other Liberals will have a problem with Trudeau bringing up human rights with the Philippines and not China. But he could make Canada a lot of money in trade.

We need to remember that one of the reasons why China has been able to do what it has is because of a lack of democracy and human rights. But as far as the Chinese are concerned, Donald Trump is an example of democracy gone wrong. Meanwhile, they can ensure that their leadership is strong and intelligent, and that smart decisions get made quickly.

It’s still too early to consider China the world’s lone superpower. Its government still doesn’t have full regional influence or power projection in the same way that the Russians or Americans do, but they’re well on their way with their presence in the South China Sea and recent aircraft carrier purchases. They’re also projecting soft power in Africa and investing everywhere. Most importantly, Chinese Millennials want to learn English and get STEM degrees, and the population as a whole understands the value of science, education, and innovation. They’re not getting rich off of sociology degrees.

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