The World According to China
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The World According to China

Elizabeth C. Economy

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eBook - ePub

The World According to China

Elizabeth C. Economy

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An economic and military superpower with 20 percent of the world's population, China has the wherewithal to transform the international system. Xi Jinping's bold calls for China to lead in the reform of the global governance system, suggest that he has just such an ambition. And his irongrip on power in the wake of the 2022 Party Congress suggests that he now has the mandate.But how does he plan to realize it? And what does it mean for the rest of the world?

In this compelling book, Elizabeth Economy reveals China's ambitious new strategy to reclaim the country's past glory and reshape the geostrategic landscape in dramatic new ways. Xi's vision is one of Chinese centrality on the global stage, in which the mainland has realized its sovereignty claims over Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China sea, deepened its global political, economic, and security reach through its grand scale Belt and Road Initiative, and used its leadership in the United Nations and other institutions to align international norms and values, particularly around human rights, with those of China. It is a world radically different from that of today. The international community needs to understand and respond to the great risks and and potential opportunities of presented by this transformative vision.

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Politics and the Plague

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary and President of China Xi Jinping made the most of the moment. Speaking via videoconference at the opening ceremony of the United Nations World Health Assembly (WHA) on May 18, 2020 (Figure 1.1), he offered $2 billion over two years to help with the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus had first come to international attention in China and was now sweeping through the rest of the world. China itself had largely contained the spread. Everyday life was rapidly returning to normal, and Xi was prepared to assist other countries more in need. He pledged that when China was ready with a vaccine, the country would make it “a global public good.” And in a nod to the mounting calls from over 120 countries for an international investigation into the origins of the virus – a demand China had until then resisted – Xi declared his support for a “comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19.”1 It was a deft move designed to ensure that China would not be singled out in an international investigation and that any report would include Beijing’s impressive success in containing the virus. It was also a personal diplomatic coup for the embattled Xi: the speech brought back memories of his January 2017 triumphs in Davos, where he touted Chinese leadership on globalization and free trade, and Geneva, where he pledged to defend the Paris Agreement on climate change. And his rhetorical magnanimity positioned China once again in stark contrast to the United States, whose president at the time, Donald Trump, had questioned the viability of the World Trade Organization, withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, and announced, just one month before Xi’s WHA speech, that the United States would withhold all its funding from the World Health Organization (WHO).
If Xi Jinping’s pledge before the WHA had represented the sum total of China’s foreign policy over the course of the pandemic, the rest of the world could have walked away from the speech confident that it had found the global leader it needed for the 21st century. But China’s pandemic diplomacy is not only a story about a newly emerged global power shouldering responsibility for responding to a humanitarian crisis. It is also the canary in the coal mine – a warning of the potential challenge that China’s ambition and growing global influence portend for the current international system and the institutions, values, and norms that have underpinned it for more than 75 years.
Xi Jinping speaks at the 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18, 2020
Figure 1.1 Xi Jinping speaks at the 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18, 2020
Source: Xinhua/Alamy
Xi’s ambition, as his words and deeds over the past decade suggest, is to reorder the world order. His call for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” envisions a China that has regained centrality on the global stage: it has reclaimed contested territory, assumed a position of preeminence in the Asia Pacific, ensured that other countries have aligned their political, economic, and security interests with its own, provided the world’s technological infrastructure for the 21st century, and embedded its norms, values, and standards in international laws and institutions. The path to achieving this vision is a difficult one. It requires challenging both the position of the United States as the world’s dominant power and the international understandings and institutions that have been in place since the end of World War II.
To achieve his ambition, Xi has transformed how China does business on the global stage. He has developed a strategy that reflects his domestic governance model: a highly centralized Party-state system that takes as its central priority preservation of its own power at home and realization of its sovereignty ambitions abroad. It is a system that grants Xi a unique capability to mobilize and deploy political, economic, and military resources – both public and private – across multiple domains: reinforcing his strategic priorities within China, in other countries, and in global governance institutions. He also seeks to control the content and flow of information – both within China and among international actors – to align them with Beijing’s values and priorities. In addition, the CCP penetrates societies and economies abroad to shape international actors’ political and economic choices in much the same way as it does with domestic actors. Moreover, Xi leverages the economic opportunities offered by China’s vast market both to induce and to coerce others to adopt his policy preferences. Finally, Xi’s model is underpinned by the hard power capability of an increasingly formidable Chinese military.
Will China succeed? Xi and many other top Chinese officials express confidence that the answer is yes. They argue that their efforts are already bearing fruit, aided by the inexorable trends of globalization and technological change, as well as the decline of the United States. As former senior Chinese official He Yafei has suggested, “Pax Americana is no more.”2 The dominant narrative in China is that the shift in the balance of power is already well underway, and the outcome is inevitable.
Yet there are signals that such confidence may be misplaced. Even as Xi’s strategy achieves gains in the near term, it simultaneously creates conditions that constrain its success over the longer term. The greater the degree of CCP control or economic coercion that Xi exerts, the less credibility and attraction many of his initiatives hold for others and the more challenging additional gains become. Actors in the international community possesses agency that is not available to Chinese citizens. As the discussion of China and the pandemic later on in this chapter reveals, for example, the same elements of state mobilization, penetration, and coercion that achieved success within China played out very differently on the global stage. Xi’s determination to use China’s provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the rest of the world to control the narrative around the pandemic, coerce thanks, and bolster CCP legitimacy, for example, caused Beijing’s international standing to plummet and countries to begin considering how to move their supply chains out of China. What began as a diplomatic triumph transformed into a diplomatic debacle.

A Pandemic High

At China’s annual gathering of its nearly 5,000 representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing in March 2021, Xi Jinping stated that the country had been the first to tame the coronavirus, first to resume work, and first to attain positive growth. It was the result, he argued, of “self-confidence in our path, self-confidence in our theories, self-confidence in our system, self confidence in our culture. Our national system can concentrate force to do big things.” And he further shared his pride that “Now, when our young people go abroad, they can stand tall and feel proud – unlike us when we were young.”3 Former Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Zhang Chunxian shared Xi’s confidence, asserting that “the phenomenon of China advancing and the US retreating has also been conspicuous” and reiterating an earlier Xi claim that “the East is rising and the West is declining.”4
China’s robust response to the pandemic marked a defining moment in Xi’s almost decade-long drive to reclaim Chinese centrality on the global stage. At his very first press conference as CCP General Secretary in November 2012, he had called for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” – a China that would “stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations around the world and make a greater contribution to mankind.” This was not a new notion. Chinese leaders since Sun Yat-sen, the first provisional president of the Republic of China in 1911, have all invoked the theme of rejuvenation to remind the Chinese people of the country’s past glories and future destiny. As Tsinghua University scholar Yan Xuetong wrote in 2001,
The rise of China is granted by nature…. Even as recently as 1820, just twenty years before the Opium War, China accounted for 30 percent of the world’s GDP. This history of superpower status makes the Chinese people very proud of their country on the one hand, and on the other hand very sad about China’s current international status. They believe China’s decline to be a historical mistake, which they should correct.5
China had experienced a similar burst of national pride during the 2008 global financial crisis. Its economy had emerged relatively unscathed, while the United States experienced its worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. At the time, Vice Premier Wang Qishan told US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson: “You were my teacher. But now I am in my teacher’s domain, and look at your system, Hank. We aren’t sure we should be learning from you anymore.” The official Chinese news service Xinhua captured the zeitgeist: “The changing posture is related to the new reality. The depreciating US dollar, sub-prime crisis, and financial market instability have weakened the American position when dealing with China. In the meantime, China’s high-speed economic growth has massively increased the country’s confidence.”6
Yet the country did not truly capitalize on its economic success until Xi Jinping took the reins of power. Xi is the first Chinese leader to align the country’s capabilities with a vision and strategy to realize the long-held dream of rejuvenation. He and the rest of the Chinese leadership are not satisfied with their country’s position within the international system, the values and policy preferences that the ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Endorsement
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright
  5. Abbreviations
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. 1. Politics and the Plague
  8. 2. Power, Power, Power
  9. 3. Reunifying the Motherland
  10. 4. The Dragon’s Bite
  11. 5. From Bricks to Bits
  12. 6. Rewriting the Rules of the Game
  13. 7. The China Reset
  14. Index
  15. End User License Agreement
Stili delle citazioni per The World According to China

APA 6 Citation

Economy, E. (2021). The World According to China (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

Economy, Elizabeth. (2021) 2021. The World According to China. 1st ed. Wiley.

Harvard Citation

Economy, E. (2021) The World According to China. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Economy, Elizabeth. The World According to China. 1st ed. Wiley, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.