Thursday, August 3, 2017
China’s Approach to Replacing U.S. Global Leadership
As the United States and several of its Western allies are re-examining their commitments to foreign aid, as the United States and the UK move to separate themselves from what they claim are disadvantaged global entanglements and treaties, China is completely repositioning herself to step in. Many believe that the United States has so undermined its standing credibility – literally letting a president undo decades of promises and commitments from prior administrations in just a matter of months – that no matter how the United States may reverse its current vectors in the future, China will be fully our equal (economic power and global political influence) by 2050 and well on the road to pushing us into second place.
Both the United States and the People’s Republic of China have leaders with strong personalities focused on achieving passionate cult-like followers. Donald-the-populist has is solid base – about a quarter of the voting body politic that believe he can do no wrong. Xi Jinping (above) eyes the Maoist model where one strong PRC leader sets the agenda for almost everything.
The difference between these two men, outside of the checks and balances of our political system, lies in their preparation for leadership. Xi has spent his life in government, educated and experienced in all things government, an internationalist who also understands the value of military power. Admittedly averse to reading books and professional papers, Donald Trump has spent a lifetime in the cloistered world of a privately-owned company where he set all the rules, where most of his contacts with the outside world are reflected in 3500 lawsuits, foreign financiers/real estate developments and a reality television production. Untrusting of sophisticated advisors to fill in where he lacks expertise, Donald Trump is just completely out of Xi’s league, a sitting duck for Vladimir Putin’s highly effective manipulative techniques.
Meanwhile, France’s Emmanuel Macron and China’s Xi Jinping have stepped in to leadership when it comes to climate change, and Germany’s Angela Merkel has become the advocate for human rights and hence the “leader of the free world,” telling her European allies that they should no longer rely on the United States’ military umbrella or treaty commitments. As the U.K. and the United States succumb to misguided populist anti-globalism – pretending that individual nations can operate alone in reliance of bilateral (versus multinational) trade agreements in a modern world of total global entwinement – China’s Xi has stepped into our former role as leader of a movement towards economic modernity and open trade. The new globalizer.
Since the 1950s, China has always pursued a “what’s in for China” strategy of foreign aid, but without internal political interference and laced with a deep concern over poverty. The United States has vacillated between foreign aid as a strategy for containing our perceived enemies regardless of the diabolical governments and dictators we supported and efforts at aimed at human values, rights and survival, often burdened with our domestic “moral values du jour.”
Today, the United States is challenging its commitment to NATO, its support of humanitarian aid within the United Nations and generally around the world, and its willingness to continue to fight disease and poverty worldwide. Perhaps a more detailed examination of China’s historical polices – which have recently morphed into stepping as quickly as they can into those arenas where the United States is cutting back – would be useful. For example, President Xi has committed a whopping $64 billion for aid to Africa, where China has already wrapped up regional output agreements for oil and food production. Writing for The Diplomat (8/25/16), Ron Matthews, Xiaojuan Ping, and Li Ling explain China’s long-term foreign aid practices.
Stripped of ideological preconceptions and prejudices, the model offers a coherent economic diplomacy framework for promoting the development of underdeveloped states whilst simultaneously sponsoring China’s national interest. Beijing’s aid strategy targets poverty reduction, principally through improvements in agriculture, education, health services, and welfare facilities.
Beginning modestly in the 1950s, aid flowed to North Korea and Vietnam for political purposes. Later, Deng’s 1978 “opening up” policy paved the way for the Tenth Five Year Plan’s (2001-05) unequivocally economics-driven “going out” strategy, linking overseas aid to Chinese investment opportunity. Although the Tenth FYP merely encouraged “going out, actively and gradually,” the Eleventh FYP (2006-10) referred to “going out further” and the Twelfth (2011-15) to the need for “speeding up implementation of the going out strategy.” Presently, China’s 28 strategic sectors have cultivated over 160 flagship multinational enterprises that benefit from commercial contracts via foreign aid projects, especially in Africa. Investment is focused on profitable enterprise, aimed at sectors of “mutual” national economic security concern, such as food, energy, and minerals.
China’s complementary investment and aid model has four broad attributes. First, there is an emphasis on China’s “South-South” credentials, particularly the importance of equality, common development, and a “partnership of equals,” reflecting what is held to be a “win-win” development equation. This approach is based on aid-trade-investment deals leveraging donor-recipient synergy and mutual benefit. On the one hand, aid is a mechanism for fostering self-reliant development among low-income developing states, while on the other, it aims to ensure an unfair burden is not placed on donor country citizens. Aid is thus not altruistic, but rather a crucial strand of Chinese soft power. The world’s second biggest economy, China, is uniquely positioned as a developing country (with 82 million citizens mired in poverty) to offer valuable real-time development insights to shape appropriate and effective aid policies in fellow developing states.
The second major characteristic of Chinese aid is that it comes with no “strings attached.” The foundations for this approach lie in the country’s Five Principles for Peaceful Coexistence (including non-interference), as expounded at the 1955 Bandung Conference for non-aligned states. Beijing’s non-alignment banner is strengthened by its non-imperialistic and non-colonialist past and reflected through its current non-interventionist foreign policy. The resulting “Beijing Consensus” lacks recourse to conditionalities, is imbued with a less moralizing tone, and is characterized by a respect for self-determination and national sovereignty. This contrasts starkly with the West’s paternalistic embrace of the “Washington Consensus,” whereby aid is contingent on recipient nations agreeing to capitalist free market principles and democratic reforms, especially good governance and human rights.
The third feature of China’s aid model is that it is almost entirely bilateral, thereby retaining control over how monies are spent. State-to-state aid allows Beijing to retain ownership of the tendering process, such that prime contractorship is awarded to Chinese companies, with the preponderance of procurement sourced from Chinese supply chains. This emphasis on national interest is balanced, however, by Beijing’s insistence that aid ‘directly’ impacts on development via sectoral biases targeting agricultural, mineral extraction, transport infrastructure and, more recently, manufacturing, as opposed to the ‘indirect’ western donor predilections for improvements in gender equality, human rights, transparency and empowerment.
The fourth attribute of China’s aid model is that while it covers grants, interest-free loans, and concessional loans, separately there is a full spectrum of wider “Other Official Funding” economic diplomacy initiatives undertaken by a plethora of government departments, including commerce, agriculture, international affairs and defense. For instance, between 2010-12 China provided technical and on-the-job training for almost 50,000 people from poorer countries, including the provision of around 300 training programs for around 7,000 agricultural officials. Additionally, Beijing’s health diplomacy drive supported the transfer of 3,600 Chinese medical personnel to 54 countries to treat almost seven million patients. China also engages in international disaster prevention and relief efforts, assigning more than 30,000 peacekeepers to nine countries/regions, including Afghanistan, Haiti, and, most recently, South Sudan.
What’s different is the announced intention of the Trump administration – heavily reflected in its budget appropriations request to Congress – savagely to cut foreign aid, particularly humanitarian support. China has been slowly sliding into the gaps in U.S. foreign aid in nations that seem to have escaped our focus. But China is grinning like a Cheshire cat at the openings that the U.S. is now creating in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The PRC has made its intentions very clear to nations facing these U.S. cutbacks: we will be there for you.
On the military side, China is committed to parity with the United States and to replace our standing power in the sea lanes east and south of the PRC. Rand Corporation senior policy experts, Jeffrey Engstrom and Michael S. Chase (in interviews in The Cipher Brief, August 1st) summarize: “China is investing heavily in its military modernization program as it aims to extend its power, not only in the region, but globally. This has been a key focus of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the run up to the Communist Party Congress later this year, where he is expected to be designated for a second term as general secretary of the party and as president…
Beyond the attention-grabbing acquisitions of aircraft carriers and large amphibious ships, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is also acquiring less heralded, though absolutely necessary platforms to engage in both regional and global power projection. These include the steadily growing fleet of at-sea replenishment ships, enabling naval combatants to operate on-station for long periods of time. It also includes the recently developed Y-20 heavy transport aircraft, allowing the PLA to rapidly send forces and equipment globally.
Of course, to achieve substantial capacity for power projection, the PLA still must invest in large numbers of these platforms. Furthermore, it must also develop other capabilities, including a more capable and larger tanker aircraft fleet to provide air refueling to its large and increasingly diverse fleet of combat aircraft…
The PLA has emphasized modernization of its command and control and communications capabilities, but this isn't just about information and communications. It's also organizational because the ground force traditionally dominated the military. The PLA recognizes this problem and has been working to elevate the status of the Navy, Air Force, and Rocket Force.
The PLA is currently undergoing what is probably the most sweeping reform in its history, which includes a massive reorganization that is intended to make the PLA more joint as well as to strengthen its readiness and power projection capabilities. The PLA recently appointed a PLAN Admiral as the head of one of its theater commands, an important first that underscores the importance it attaches to becoming more joint.
Just be reading the above, you now know a whole lot more about China’s plans to replace the United States as the world’s most influential global power than Donald J. Trump. Scary, isn’t it?
I’m Peter Dekom, and exactly how confident are you that our foreign policy directives are in good hands?