On Tuesday, Xi Jinping was elevated to the level of Mao Zedong when his name and ideology was enshrined in the Chinese Constitution by China’s ruling Communist Power. This move effectively means that opposition to President Xi will amount to opposition to the Communist Party. Other leaders including Deng Xiping have had their ideologies incorporated in the constitution but no other philosophy than Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong have been elevated to “thought”.
It signals the start of the third era in Chinese politics. The first was uniting the country following a bitter civil war under Mao Zedong. The second was building its economic and political power under Deng Xiping. The third marks an era of solidifying its domestic state and strengthening China’s position abroad which includes addressing demographic challenges caused by the one-child policy and seriously challenging the country’s corruption problem. This was encapsulated in his vision “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” when he became president in 2012. There is even conversation about selecting Xi’s future successor or amending the constitution to extend his term.
It is no secret that China’s power is growing; militarily, economically and diplomatically. What this definition and announcement of this new “thought” demonstrates is that China will continue to play a more proactive role in international affairs in an effort to firmly establish itself atop the international system. In the region, it has worked to consolidate its economic and political position through initiatives such as OBOR (One belt One Road) Initiative and its CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) Initiative. In the world of international diplomacy and leadership, China is stepping up to fill the void from the US departure in key initiatives such as UNESCO and the Paris Climate Agreement. The past decade has seen significant developments and investments in Africa, most recently evidenced by the opening of the country’s first overseas military base in Djibouti. This, of course, is in addition to its aggressive stance in the South China Sea and its tacit support of North Korea.
In the midst of US withdrawal from political and economic balancing initiatives in the region, such as the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), traditional allies in the region are seeking ways of ensuring their own security. For example, Japan has made special efforts to forge relationships with India as they see themselves as “natural partners”. With Shinzo Abe’s resounding victory in the snap election in Japan this week with a superpower, he has won the ability to amend the country’s pacifist constitution which China has already warned against doing. This is a matter of immediate concern.
The major issue is in the long-run as China’s “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” vision confronts the “make America Great again” sentiment. China’s economy continues to grow and set to overtake the US by 2050. Its rising military spending while still being much lower than the US total spending, is troubling. Everything that China has done suggests that it has global ambitions rather than just being a dominant regional actor. If this is the case, power transition theorists would suggest that as two powers (China and the US) reach parity, either side could act belligerently leading to catastrophe. This seems like where we are heading if we consider lessons that history has taught us. After all, the only peaceful power transition on a global-scale has been between the US and the UK in the 20th century.
Image Credit: CC by Xi Jinping/ Flickr