The tone of Chinese diplomacy and its international relations have markedly changed since 2019. Several factors are driving these changes in China’s relations with the world. They include shifts in the global political and economic climate as well as other factors that are internal in nature.
However, both are driving communist China’s emerging militaristic rhetoric and behavior.
Eliminating Rivals and Economic Growth
The past several years have seen Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s systematic removal of any potential challengers—whether political, economic, or cultural—from Chinese life. That process dampens the spirit and energy of the nation and distorts the internal climate to new levels of fear and suspicion.
This political paranoia within the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been accompanied by an even larger role of the Party. In particular, the CCP is expanding the coordination of state-owned enterprises with private firms. That won’t enhance economic performance, but rather deepen the Party’s control over businesses.
But such actions are viewed as necessary for such a political structure that’s inherently unstable. No real or imagined challenges or contradictory influences are tolerable because it’s all personal to the Party’s and country’s sole leader, Xi. Therefore, in a reversal of a longstanding policy, political control over powerful technology firms and other highly profitable and independent firms trumps economic growth and innovation.
The Caprice, Instability of One-Man Rule
By consolidating more power to himself than any ruler since Mao Zedong, Xi has become the center of gravity of virtually all Chinese life. Such concentration of power into a single person allows for a series of ill-advised decisions.
Worse, it engenders erratic behavioral loops, as poor decisions are “corrected” by overreaction or other poor decisions borne of personality, paranoia, incomplete knowledge, and insufficient consideration. How much and how often is any “adviser” willing to question the judgment of a man who disappears those who stand in his way?
The result of such a ruling structure is rising internal instability. As we’re seeing, that internal instability translates into growing external adventures. The motivations are as predictable as they are self-serving. They are framed as necessary to resist an imagined or historical foreign aggressor or protect the national interest. But the necessity is to help unify the nation, eliminate internal Party criticism, and divert the people’s attention from a long and growing list of external and internal policy failures.
Ukraine War Driving Manufacturers From China
Many policy decision errors have led to the world’s decoupling from China. Recall how the CCP’s hardball economic policies, one-way tariffs, Belt and Road Initiative debt traps, and IP theft finally began to boomerang back on the Beijing regime during the Trump administration. Western firms that operated in China for years began reshoring and nearshoring their manufacturing to minimize shipping costs, IP theft, and rising labor costs in China.
Then from late 2019 to 2021, COVID-19 and its devastating economic impact reverberated worldwide. National lockdowns in much of the world and the economic costs increasingly led the international community to view Beijing and the CCP with deep suspicion and even revulsion.
But it was China’s unquestioned and “unlimited” support of Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine that continues today that has triggered a mass exodus of Western companies from China. Predictably, China’s economy has suffered—and continues to suffer—from the growing loss of Western business. Concurrent lockdowns from Beijing’s “zero-COVID” policy have multiplied China’s growing economic woes.
Economic Slide Is Irreversible
As noted, the factors that directly led to China’s rapid rise to an economic powerhouse are no longer as powerful as they once were. The numbers tell the story, as The Atlantic pointed out last year.
“From 2007 to 2019, growth rates fell by more than half, productivity declined by more than 10 percent, and overall debt surged eightfold,” the article said.
What’s more, China’s aging population is accelerating its economic decline.
“From 2020 to 2035 alone, it will lose 70 million working-age adults and gain 130 million senior citizens,” according to The Atlantic.
A Weakened US Invites Challenges
Beijing’s aggression is also a result of external conditions. Namely, U.S. weakness on the world stage has been evident throughout the Biden administration. As a result, it has emboldened Beijing’s belligerent rhetoric toward the United States and other nations.
The mishandled and tragic United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan not only helped to undercut the prestige of American power, but it left a power vacuum. China (and Russia)—the main adversaries of the United States—were happy to fill that void.
Furthermore, in the Ukraine war, the United States is leading from behind. The Biden administration has shown that it can’t positively impose its will or influence the policies of Beijing or, for that matter, Moscow. As a result, China’s behavior is growing increasingly militant in the Asia-Pacific region.
A Rise in Regional Maritime Disputes
The Chinese regime’s militarism isn’t seen just in its almost daily intrusions into Taiwanese airspace by People’s Liberation Army warplanes, but in the regime’s comprehensive expansion of war rhetoric and naval activity throughout the region.
A thinly veiled threat of nuclear attack against Australia for agreeing to acquire nuclear-powered submarines is just one of many rhetorical escalations by Beijing. China’s continuing naval buildup is enabling it to expand its naval threats all the way to Japan, where it has recently encircled the Japanese archipelago in response to a maritime dispute.
As China’s economic conditions worsen, Beijing will be bolder in its actions, particularly in its own region. Diminishing U.S. power and political will is certainly a factor in Beijing’s policy calculations, but so is the growing internal instability that the CCP leadership is promoting.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.