Those who fear the creation of a new international order brought about by a polar shift caused by a decline in American power coupled with Chinese apparent increase in technological and military progress may have less to fear.
China aims to recapture its former glory, but firstly appears to have no ambition to reshape the already deeply dysfunctional international order. International anarchy prevails as always, despots test nuclear devices with impunity, coups overthrow democratic elections without so much as a sanction regime, the WHO knowingly propagated false and misleading information at the behest of the PRC, and the olympics the international order and the UN have no lower to go.
Meanwhile, they seem to have little interest in rearranging either the IMF or the World Bank, and have instead created parallel institutions that so far have been run with ample insulation from political pressure, despite their reliance on Chinese funds.
The biggest concern is that their aim is to delegitimize democracy around the world through their brand of totalitarian capitalism, scooping up territory around Asia, bullying and cajoling their neighbors, and propping up authoritarians whose excess makes their own regime look more legitimate by comparison.
The apparent general precept of their modern foreign policy is “might makes right,” the notion that now that they have a large economy and one functional second hand Soviet aircraft carrier, their increased power means that they can now make demands on the countries around them without any real rivals.
If this becomes a new norm in Asia, this will prove very dangerous to their regime stability long term.
First, China has no “allies” other than those it buys through complicity, and those allies are usually autocrats, often whose citizens don’t particularly like them, and should they fall, will likely turn on China. Look at Myanmar for a prescient example of the anti-Chinese explosion consequent to PRC support of the Tatmadaw regime’s ongoing political genocide. They are instead surrounded by enemies, countries who either don’t trust or openly despise them. Should China’s military ambitions reach a higher pitch, it is very likely that many of its neighbors will begin to remilitarize, host US military bases, or outright nuclearize, an outcome that ought to terrify China.
A flashpoint battle like a clash with Japan, Vietnam, or the Philippines in the Southeast Pacific, or devastatingly a battle with Taiwan would likely cause Japan and South Korea to promptly nuclearize. Vietnam will also likely seek this capability longer term as well, leaving China surrounded on nearly every land border and the only stretch of open ocean by nuclear armed, highly hostile states.
Second, China is already in decline. The reclassification of the PRC as an ethno-state through the actions of “Xi Jinping” thought over the past several decades despite their historical colonization of multiple formerly independent nations with other ethnicities means that China can not reasonable accept inward migration, but with a plummeting birthrate and the lingering effects of the tragic one-child policy, the country’s demographic decline means that it will be one of the worst hit countries in Asia by economic stagnation and massive economic burdens by a demographic bulge within a couple of decades. This is not the case for their neighbors, as Southeast Asian countries, in particular, fellow nuclear power India still have high fertility rates, meaning that as China’s development tapers off and their economy enters a period of long term decline, India will surpass them in population within the next couple of years, and likely economically within the next couple of decades, though it is hard to know exactly because China’s economic numbers are very likely fabricated. What this means in practical terms is that China’s supremacy in Asia will very likely only last at most two decades, after which all of the neighbors who it now faces active conflicts with will be in a position to challenge them within a generation, deeply threatening the long term stability of China should it fail to stop bullying its neighbors or undergo democratic transition.
China should strongly consider its path over the next few years, but in the event that it does become increasingly belligerent, the world can rest assured that no amount of totalitarianism can keep them from brushing with fate as all of the enemies that they accrue over the coming decades experience a faster rise than the PRC can maintain.
Staff writer: Ari B