Amidst the global political turmoil and events that take our screens hostage seemingly every week, one can discern from them a vague movement against the ‘liberal metropolitan elite’, globalism, with the general disappointment in political circumstances for many clearly manifested through Brexit, Trump and a plethora of nationalistic driven movement across Europe. Although, the shift in domestic political opinion has had greater ramifications on international affairs, fundamentally it affects the continued role of the USA.
The election of Trump displayed the firm lack of appetite amongst American people for the interventionist foreign policy of the Bush and Obama administrations, with Hillary Clinton’s failure partly owing to her representation as a “warmonger” by all sides of the political spectrum. Hence, seemingly voluntarily dispensing with the mantle of unipolar hegemony, Chinese politicians are clapping their hands at the opportunity to fill the gap left by the USA.
Although China’s politicians prefer to deny any ambitions to increase the states’ power or expand its global influence, such a preference is not unbelievable. Aspiring states can hardly be expected to be trusted if aggressive measures are outlined in foreign policy.
Moreover, despite the People’s Republic of China’s historic isolationism it’s clear to all that it is not the same state as in 1980, taking inspiration from the past, particularly that of imperialist China.
Indeed, China now holds a truly internationalist stance on most issues, inspired by the imperial ideal of Tianxia, viewed as a universal solution to the world’s ills, and holding fundamentally different values to the current international system presided over by the USA. Such an attitude prioritises order and elite governance over freedom and democracy respectively, outlined in former President Hu Jintao’s four-point plan for a Chinese harmonious world at the UN in 2005.
Ambitions made more likely by the apparent withdrawal of the USA from the international scene, encapsulated by the exit from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. China now holds the ability to represent itself as a multilateral power, much to the pleasure of the rising (BRIC) and (MINT) states.
Chinese investment in renewable energy to combat domestic pollution issues, totalling a planned £280 billion by 2020, doubles to act as simply another product to export, though it provides monumental control over pricing and access to renewable energy technology nations are increasingly forced to seek.
Centrally, the internationalist nature of China’s foreign policy is predominately pursued through the Beijing Consensus, a more flexible counterpart to the US Washington Consensus. Operating on an almost neo-colonial economic basis, by which state controlled corporations invest in less developed nations in return for the extraction of resources. Particularly rare earth metals, with those extracted from Africa, currently total 85 % of Chinese imports.
Likewise, the continued promise of the One Belt One Road scheme aims to create a chain of ports throughout the Middle East to facilitate the flow of oil towards China. Mitigating the overreliance on the US fifth fleet in the Straits of Hormuz to secure oil and geopolitical weaknesses such as the Straits of Mallaca.
Militarily, China’s exponential investment disproportionally focuses on the navy, with the budget reaching 601 billion yen in 2011, delivering the first aircraft carrier in September 2012 to achieve a global military reach. Although the acquirement of an aircraft carrier is no sign of ambitions for global hegemony, with the UK currently building two, continued investment and frequent cyber-attacks supports US Admiral Michael Mullen’s claim that China will not abide by the status quo.
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement demonstrates the dangerous consequences of US isolationism in a globalised world, a sign of the opportunities afforded to rivals seeking to shape the word in their own image.