Let’s call China what it really is—not a “People’s Republic” or an ordinary country, no. It is an empire.
It’s a regional empire, true; but it still rules over many nationalities and ethnicities, with dozens of languages spoken as well as ongoing tensions in regions such as Xinjiang Province and Tibet, which bristle at the Han Chinese rule over them.
Xi’s Big Plan
Of course, China has big ideas about becoming a global empire. To do so, it must replace the United States, which it is certainly trying to do. But bilateral currency agreements, global partnerships with multinational corporations, and a huge domestic market aside, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CCP) might find the global empire business tougher than they imagined.
There are several reasons for this. For one, few really wish to live in a world where China calls the shots—least of all the average Chinese citizen. Russia may be the exception but this is hardly a prime endorsement. China envisions an empire built on economic if not military conquest and fealty, not cooperation and mutually beneficial relationships. Ask China’s regional trading partners about that, or, just look at how the CCP treats their own people.
In contrast, the “American Empire” generally isn’t one of repression or conquest. Rather, in broad strokes, it’s one of the willing trading partners sharing in the economic and security benefits that the United States provides. There are exceptions, of course, but the U.S.-dominated global system is unlike any empire the world has ever seen.
Of course, not everyone loves the current arrangements, but who would want to give them up to be dominated by the CCP?
Evil Empire 2.0
Domestically, the CCP has already created an evil empire.
Originally patterned after the Soviet Union, China—with great assistance from the West—has shifted from a brutal totalitarian purist communist state to a brutal totalitarian fascist state with the Communist Party in control. Business is heavily controlled and often state-owned, although private property is allowed by the sanction of the state. All media are controlled, citizens are surveilled, dissent is met with violence, imprisonment, and torture, and human expression in forms other than what the CCP approves of is suppressed.
In the Western province of Xinjiang, for example, 2 million or more Muslim Uyghurs are currently detained in camps, separated from families, tortured, denied religious expression, suffering experimentation, and enduring re-education. Being a Uyghur is literally a crime against the state. But then, practicing the spiritual discipline Falun Gong, following the Buddha and any form of Christianity other than the Party-approved brand are also met with persecution.
That’s not to say that the people who live in China are inherently bad or not smart enough to build a global empire. China is a world leader in artificial intelligence, hypersonic aeronautics, and bio-engineering, to name just a few areas. China’s ancient culture has much to offer the world, but decades under CCP rule has coarsened Chinese sensibilities, with the tempering influence of Confucianism expunged by the Cultural Revolution. That said, the image of one young man standing in front of a tank in 1989 in Tiananmen Square should remind us all of the many good people in China.
More repression: A Demonstration of Power—or Fear?
As a result of the above-named brutalities, the challenge that Xi and the CCP face in turning China into the next global superpower is the ever-increasing dissatisfaction with the CCP from the Chinese people themselves. This is manifesting in several ways.
For instance, Xi’s response to U.S. tariffs has been to take more control over the economy, which means turning healthy, private enterprises into corrupt and inefficient state-owned enterprises. Bankruptcy is the end game there. This gets Xi more party loyalty in the short term, but destroys it in the business sector and productivity.
To put it bluntly, a failing economy means illegitimacy for the CCP. Economic growth is what the CCP has hung its political hat on since 1989. But with an economy that is feeling the pain of Trump’s trade policies—as well as its own wasteful spending, the anti-corruption campaign and a debt crisis—Xi must know that he’s facing the real prospect of rejection by the people and rising separatist impulses in various regions.
Elusive Political Stability
Although Xi’s first priority is political stability, without economic growth, absorbing more productive private businesses into the state gains him only a temporary benefit. As state theft grows and the economy stalls or even shrinks, social disruptions are likely to increase.
Xi must also know this. That would explain why he’s heightened the levels of repression and punishment for dissenters, is moving ethnic Chinese into Xinjiang Province and Tibet, and continues to raise the internal security budget.
The truth is that the CCP has much to answer for and, right now, Xi is the man at the helm, although he can hardly be made responsible for decades of brutality, pollution, and economic mismanagement.
Ungodly levels of air, water, and land pollution are at crisis levels throughout China. Tens of millions of displaced workers shut out from social benefits, an aging workforce without a much-needed social safety net, endemic corruption and failing state-owned enterprises all point to political dissatisfaction and instability.
Add in the Trump tariffs and the possibility that China may soon lose much of its trading relationships with the United States, along with the European Union and Japan, and the situation could get dire quickly. China could soon face a full-blown economic crisis like it hasn’t seen since the 1970s. That is likely one purpose behind Trump’s policies.
One Belt, One Road, but Many Headaches
Meanwhile, China’s big, global empire move is the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative. It’s an intercontinental trade and infrastructure scheme to link China, both physically and financially, to nations in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Oceania. But problems abound. The massive scale of the project involves runaway costs and, in many cases, negative or neutral returns on investment. Many of the participating countries just don’t have the economic heft to deliver the financial returns that China is hoping for.
But with or without OBOR, the CCP can’t possibly deliver the economic development it has to the 300 million or so Chinese who are by now the middle class, to the remaining 1 billion-plus Chinese who live in poverty. Indeed, GDP growth is already falling well below the double-digit growth of the recent past. And even though internal investment is among the highest in the world, the return on investment is much lower than that of the United States and other developed countries.
The Next USSR in 1980 or Japan in 1938?
The reason for Xi’s focus on more control may be the Glasnost policies that dissolved the Soviet Union. Gorbachev loosened restrictions and the Party never recovered. Xi wants to avoid that fate.
But China also resembles the Empire of Japan just before the start of World War II. Like Japan, China is a rapidly growing economic force in Asia with highly educated and brilliant people. Both nations learned technological, financial and military prowess from the West very quickly. Both nations are resource poor, and both rely (or relied) upon a transcendent figure (Emperor Hirohito in Japan, Xi Jinping in China) to drive them forward. Finally, as with Imperial Japan of the 1930s, China engages in aggressive colonialism and adversarial trade.
We all know how the USSR’s and Japan’s empire-building efforts turned out and it doesn’t look like China will be an exception.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.