Xi Jinping China Australia trade deal coronavirus US Donald Trump
Chinese President Xi Jinping (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

The storming of the US Capitol will have reinforced the belief amongst the leadership of China’s ruling Communist Party (CCP) that the fracturing of the US represents a huge global opportunity for Beijing.

This opportunity began in earnest with the September 11 attacks. It was locked in by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and it has been accelerated under Donald Trump’s chaotic administration.

Indeed, since June 2018 the CCP under leader Xi Jinping has pushed the line that “the world today is undergoing major changes unseen in a century” in its propaganda. This is a way of saying there is an opportunity to be seized; carpe diem, if you like. 

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This helps to explain Xi Jinping’s domestic efforts, which have the singular aim of the survival (and thriving) of the CCP while shaping the regional and global agenda to meet China’s ongoing expansion.

In order to do this, Xi has reversed years of decentralisation in the vast nation of 1.4 billion people and reconcentrated power in the hands of CCP’s Central Committee, Politburo and elite seven-man Standing Committee — with himself at the top.

Before Xi’s ascension to the top of the CCP, the US and its Western allies believed that he would be a more “modern” Chinese leader than his predecessor Hu Jintao and press ahead with economic reforms.

As veteran China-watcher Jeremy Page recently chronicled in The Wall Street Journal, this was a major strategic miscalculation:

Mr Xi has pursued an expansive, hypernationalistic vision of China’s future, displaying a desire for control and a talent for political maneuvering. Drawing comparisons to Mao Zedong, he has crushed critics and potential rivals, revitalised the Communist Party and even scrapped presidential term limits so he can, if he chooses, rule for life.

In doing this Xi has made a mockery of the so-called “peaceful rise” of China that has been relentlessly promoted by every leader since Deng Xiaoping gained control of the CCP in the late 1970s.

By 2017, when he was reelected for a second five-year term atop the CCP, Xi had become confident enough to announce that China’s model was something that could be emulated elsewhere:

The China model for a better social governance system offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence. And it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.

China’s reasons for exporting its authoritarian model are twofold: defensive and economic. It is trying to reshape global institutions, whose aims and processes of fairness (whether real of in principle) do not suit it.

And its economic aims under its signature foreign policy program the Belt and Road Initiative are far more easily achieved with compliant, authoritarian states whose leaders can ride roughshod over their people’s desires and interests.

Two clear nearby cases in point are the South-East Asian nations of Laos and Cambodia which have become effective Chinese client states.

Certainly, China has been facing something of a recent backlash from some Western nations — notably Australia — emboldened by the pushback from the US under Donald Trump. But others have been playing a different game.

Despite being at the forefront of human rights agitation in recent decades, the European Union recently inked a free-trade agreement with China. The move has been largely derided as a hasty and unnecessary win for China, another result of the trans-Atlantic schism under Trump.

While Joe Biden’s imminent inauguration at least offers some promise, China will be certain to continue exploiting the divide in the US and any (likely) further domestic conflict that comes from it.

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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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