October 27, 2017 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads - Xi Jinping and the Emergence of a New World Order


Traveling in Japan and Korea this week, one development overshadowed all: the rise of Xi Jinping as the undisputed leader of a new China ready to march to its own tune. "Chinese international standing has risen as never before," Xi exclaimed during his mammoth, three-and-a-half hour speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress. A new era has emerged, Xi said, one that “sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.” The bold, at times swaggering speech marked the end of the Deng Xiaoping era and the start of the Xi era.

Indeed, China has already taken important steps in recent months toward a more central role in global affairs. For the first time, Beijing is making bids for leadership positions at the United Nations, the World Bank, Interpol, and other international organizations. All of this comes at the same time the United States is stepping back from its longstanding global leadership role, exiting international agreements, reducing its presence in international institutions and foreign venues, and weakening the security alliances that have stood at the core of its global standing. Nature and international relations both abhor a vacuum. Xi’s China stands ready to fill it.

In a sense, none of this should come as a surprise. Since the George W. Bush administration, Washington has called on Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder” in the global system. But to many I spoke with in Japan and Korea, China’s moves are neither upholding the international status quo nor reforming it constructively. Instead, Beijing is assertively reshaping the global order to its own advantage. The result is a further erosion of the postwar liberal order the United States has led both to its advantage and to the advantage of many other nations — including China.  

Nor is that all. In addition to growing its influence within existing institutions, China is developing new, parallel institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. All have sought to sideline the United States and allow China to wield more economic influence over smaller nations. China’s military footprint is expanding, too, with new island building in the South China Sea, its first foreign base in Africa, and new funding for a strategic deep-sea port in Pakistan. 

This, decidedly, isn’t Deng’s China. In order to give China the chance to grow, Deng sought out and achieved better relations with Europe, Japan, the United States, South Korea, and the Soviet Union. Deng thought there was strength in acting with caution abroad, as the Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel notes at the end of his monumental biography of the Chinese leader:  

“there is no question what Deng would say if he were still alive. He would say that China should never behave like a hegemon that interferes in the internal affairs of another nation. Rather, it should maintain harmonious relations with other countries and concentrate on peaceful development at home.”

Sage advice, at a time when China was weak and facing strong competitors. But that’s not Xi’s China, which has emerged as a true global force on the world stage. And it isn’t just a new era for China; it’s a new era for the entire world.

For more on the changes in China, and what they might mean for the United States, watch our recent program with Graham T. Allison and our short video on the 19th National Congress leadership transition. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic or anything else we’re working on at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

China’s President Just Laid out a Worrying Vision for the World

Editorial Board/The Washington Post

President Xi Jinping’s speech should concern the democratic nations of the world, the editorial board of the Washington Post concludes. While Western countries called for China to be a “responsible stakeholder” for the last decade, Xi looks to be an unwilling participant in the gradual liberalization that many had hoped for. Instead, Xi is consolidating his and the Communist Party’s power at home, and seeking a more hostile position beyond its shores, not least in the South China Sea.

Behold the New Emperor of China

Graham T. Allison/Wall Street Journal

President Xi Jinping is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, writes Graham T. Allison in the Wall Street Journal. This is the first of his five key points to understand about the Chinese leader. The op-ed is a clear and concise overview of how Xi has become such an unlikely and influential figure in the world today — and how he might very well become the “new emperor of China.”  

Xi Jinping Signals Departure from Low-Profile Policy

Charles Clover/Financial Times

The 19th National Congress is “the closest thing China has to a three-ring political circus,” Charles Clover writes in the Financial Times. The ceremonies and speeches set off a rash of interpreting slight shifts in political strategy. Most notable from Xi’s marathon speech was the apparent abandonment of Deng Xiaoping’s more reserved, "bide and hide" focus in foreign affairs. Clover provides a smart and detailed overview of the CCP’s National Congress and what it means going forward. 

The Right Way to Help Declining Places

The Economist

In the modern economy, richer places are increasingly pulling away from poorer places. This trend has led to a rise of populist politics in Europe and North America as the people in those areas "left behind" revolt against globalization and immigration. Yet the populists do not have the answers, argues this cover story in the Economist. Instead, the publication argues, governments should work to reduce geographic inequality by, among other measures, helping people to move more.

Trump National Security Aides Insist US Word Is Still Good after Iran Deal Put on Notice

Anne Gearan and John Wagner/The Washington Post

Can nations trust the United States to uphold the deals it makes? After President Trump’s decision to not certify the Iran nuclear deal, there is renewed suspicion that Washington is a less than trustworthy dealmaker. The president’s decision, while not killing the deal outright, nonetheless put Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a position of having to affirm that whatever happened with Tehran was immaterial to any future deal between Pyongyang and Washington. Not everyone was convinced, however. Even allies have voiced concerned that the decision on Iran could spill over into other areas of nuclear diplomacy.

Nafta Needs an Update, Not Repeal

George P. Shultz and Pedro Aspe/The New York Times

The former secretary of state and treasury, George P. Shultz, and the former secretary of finance in Mexico, Pedro Aspe, lay out a simple three-point plan to reform — and save — the North American Free Trade Agreement. The authors are clear-eyed about the skepticism that has grown recently over the benefits of the trade deal signed in 1993. But they nonetheless make a smart and well-argued case to continue this North American partnership that has done so much to help the economies of all countries involved.  

A Russian Ghost Submarine, Its US Pursuers and a Deadly New Cold War

Julian E. Barnes/Wall Street Journal

The pride of the Soviet navy was its submarine force, which deteriorated as the Cold War ended. In recent years, however, Russia has embarked on a major overhaul of its submarine program to reclaim its underwater glory. Moscow has recently unveiled new technologies that threaten to allow nuclear-armed ships to slip past US detection all too easily. This smart essay in the Wall Street Journal on the Russian Krasnodar submarine is a detailed, frightening look at how Moscow has wielded this new threat in the murky deep.

Rex Tillerson and the Unraveling of the State Department

Jason Zengerle/The New York Times Magazine

“I take what the president tweets out as his form of communicating, and I build it into my strategies and my tactics,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tells Jason Zengerle in this profile for the New York Times Magazine. In other words, Tillerson attempts to factor the 140-character missives into his diplomatic decision-making. Of course, diplomacy is not usually conducted this way, and Tillerson has struggled to keep the president happy with his performance. “The question among many people inside and outside the Trump administration is not necessarily what’s keeping Tillerson from resigning,” Zengerle writes, “it’s what’s stopping Trump from firing him.”

Boom in American Liquefied Natural Gas Is Shaking up the Energy World

Clifford Krauss/The New York Times

The last decade saw a revolution in extracting natural gas from the earth by fracking. The next decade looks poised to see a revolution in how that new energy is transported around the face of the earth. The Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry is growing immensely thanks to new investment in import-export infrastructure and specialized shipping containers. The consequences are far reaching. For example, with US gas Europe could reduce its dependence on imported energy from Russia. This essay in the New York Times by Clifford Krauss gives a timely and important update on the growing industry.


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