Chinese President Xi Jinping makes the most daring geopolitical bet of the 21stst century.
A series of seemingly disparate moves over the past few months represent nothing less than a generational bet that Xi can produce the world’s dominant power for the foreseeable future by doubling down on his state-controlled economy, his party-disciplined society. , its nationalist propaganda, and large-scale global influence campaigns.
Every week, Xi raises the stakes, from reducing seemingly mundane personal freedoms like karaoke bars or teenage time allowed for online games to three hours a week, to the multi-million dollar investor hit by his. increased controls on China’s biggest tech companies and their foreigners. Advertisement.
It is only against the background of Xi’s increased repression at home and his heightened ambitions abroad that one can fully understand Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision this week to strike a new pact. defense, which he called an “eternal accord”, with the United States and the United Kingdom.
Much of the news was either about the eight nuclear-powered submarines Australia would deploy or the growing outrage among the French that their own deal to sell diesel submarines to Australia was undermined by what French officials have called a “betrayal” and a “stab in the return” of close allies. France has gone so far as to recall its ambassador to the United States for the first time in NATO history.
All this noise should not distract from the more important message of the innovative agreement. Prime Minister Morrison saw more strategic advantages and military capabilities from the US-UK alignment in a rapidly evolving Indo-Pacific atmosphere, replacing his previous stance of trying to balance US and Chinese interests.
“The relatively benign environment that we have enjoyed for many decades in our region is behind us,” Morrison said Thursday. “We have entered a new era with challenges for Australia and our partners.”
For China, this new era has many faces: a rapid rollback of economic liberalization, a crackdown on individual freedoms, an escalation of global influence efforts, and military build-up, all ahead of the party’s 20th National Congress in October. 2022, where Xi hopes to seal his place in history and his continued reign.
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, one of China’s top world experts, pointed to Xi’s “bewildering array” of economic policy decisions in a recent speech as president of the Asia Society.
They began last October with the shocking suspension of the initial public offering of Alibaba’s financial arm, Ant Group, in Hong Kong and Shanghai, clearly intended for Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma. Then, in April, Chinese regulators have fined Alibaba $ 3 billion for “monopolistic behavior”.
In July, the Chinese cyber regulator removed ride-sharing giant Didi from app stores, while an investigative unit launched a review of the company’s compliance with Chinese data security laws.
Then this month, regulators from China’s Transportation Ministry summoned senior executives from Didi, Meituan and nine other ridesharing companies, ordering them to “rectify” their digital misconduct. The Chinese state then took a stake in ByteDance, owner of TikTok, and Weibo, the micro-blogging platform.
Xi was prepared to accept the estimated cost of $ 1.1 trillion in erased shareholder value from just six of China’s top tech stocks between February and August. This does not take into account additional losses in education, transportation, food delivery, entertainment and video games.
Less has been noticed of a dizzying array of regulatory actions and policy measures whose overall goal seems to be to strengthen state control over, well, just about everything.
“The best way to sum it up,” says Rudd, “is that Xi Jinping has decided that in the overall balance between the roles of state and market in China, it is in the Party’s interest to pivot towards the state. ” Xi is determined to transform modern China into a great world power, “but a great power over which the Chinese Communist Party nevertheless retains full control.”
It also means growing controls over the freedoms of its 1.4 billion citizens.
Xi took action, for example, to restrict video games for school-aged children to three hours a week, and he banned private lessons. Chinese regulators have ordered broadcasters to encourage masculinity and remove “sissy men,” or niang pao, waves. Regulators have banned “American Idol” style competitions and removed any mention of one of China’s richest actresses, Zhao Wei, from the Internet.
“The orders were sudden, dramatic and often confusing,” wrote Lily Kuo in the Washington post. Jude Blanchette of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said: “This is not a recovery sector by sector, it is a complete economic, industrial and structural recovery.
At the same time, President Xi launched a campaign to share the virtues and successes of China’s authoritarian model with the rest of the world.
“Beijing seeks less to impose a Marxist-Leninist ideology on foreign societies than to legitimize and promote its own authoritarian system,” wrote Charles Edel and David Shullman, recently appointed director of the new China Global Hub at the Atlantic Council, in ” Foreign Affairs. “The CCP is not seeking ideological conformity but rather power, security and global influence for China and for itself.”
The authors detail China’s global efforts to not remake the world in its own image, but rather “to make the world more favorable to its interests – and more welcoming to the rise of authoritarianism in general”.
These measures include “the dissemination of propaganda, the expansion of information operations, the consolidation of economic influence and interference in foreign political systems” with the ultimate goal of “deepening democratic institutions and norms to within and between countries, ”write Edel and Shullman.
In President Xi’s daring gamble lie two opportunities for the United States and its allies.
The first is that Xi, by exaggerating his controls at home, will undo exactly the kind of economic and societal liberalization that China needs to be successful. At the same time, democracies around the world, like Australia, are increasingly willing to seek a common cause in addressing Beijing.
Ultimately, however, Xi’s concerted actions require an equally concerted response from democracies around the world. The Franco-American crisis that followed the Australian defense agreement this week is just one example of how difficult it is to achieve and maintain.