CRF Blog

The Chinese World Order

by Bill Hayes

In The Chinese World Order for the New York Review of Books, Andrew J. Nathan reviews these three books: The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region by Michael R. Auslin, Post-Western World: How Emerging Powers Are Remaking Global Order by Oliver Stuenkel, and Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison.

Ten years ago the journalist James Mann published a book called The China Fantasy, in which he criticized American policymakers for using something he called “the Soothing Scenario” to justify the policy of diplomatic and economic engagement with China. According to this view, China’s exposure to the benefits of globalization would lead the country to embrace democratic institutions and support the American-led world order. Instead, Mann predicted, China would remain an authoritarian country, and its success would encourage other authoritarian regimes to resist pressures to change.

Mann’s prediction turned out to be true. China took advantage of the growing potential of unrestricted global commerce to emerge as the number one trading nation and the second-largest economy in the world. It is the top trading partner of every other country in Asia, not least because of its crucial position assembling parts that have been produced elsewhere in the region. Sixty-four countries have joined China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) infrastructure initiative, which was announced in 2013 and consists of ports, railways, roads, and airfields linking China to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe — a “New Silk Road” that, if it succeeds, will greatly expand China’s economic and diplomatic influence. Twenty-nine heads of state attended Beijing’s OBOR conference in mid-May.

Meanwhile, China has remained an authoritarian, one-party state that is backed by an increasingly powerful military. China’s military budget has risen at the same rate as its GDP for the past quarter-century, from $17 billion in 1990 to $152 billion in 2017 — a 900 percent increase. This has allowed China to acquire aircraft carriers, sophisticated missiles, advanced submarines, and cyberwar capabilities that challenge American military dominance in Asia. It has vastly expanded its naval presence in what it calls the “near seas” around its coast, and even into the Pacific and Indian Oceans. [more]