Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2023 > Checkmating Communist China’s Rise and Rise | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 37 September 9, 2023

Checkmating Communist China’s Rise and Rise | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Saturday 9 September 2023, by M R Narayan Swamy



Beijing Rules:
China’s Quest for Global Influence
by Bethany Allen

John Murray Press
ISBN-13: 9781529367799
Pages: xxix + 305; Price: Rs 799

By now there is a growing amount of scholarship that the West, particularly the United States, has realized its folly of having allowed China to grow into an economic behemoth under the naive belief that the Communist state would embrace democratic values if it fell in love with capitalism. The reverse has happened, with China turning more dictatorial and even imperialist after gaining unprecedented financial muscle with Western assistance. As Beijing increasingly tries to lord over the world, brazenly using its new-found power to blackmail other countries, award winning journalist Bethany Allen takes a hard look at what the world needs to do to foil the threat to freedoms from Chinese aggression.

The problem arose as the US equated democracy and free-market capitalism. In the American consciousness, this was a classic characteristic of a neoliberal worldview. It ended up creating a blind spot to the rise of China’s authoritarian state capitalism. The Chinese Communist Party, so the thinking went, would surely fall as soon as the China’s middle class expanded after decades of Maoist socialism. So much so that President Bill Clinton in 1994 (in)famously delinked human rights demands from trade with China. Accordingly, Beijing was integrated with global institutions and markets. Yes, China did grow and grow but the Chinese Communist Party solidly strengthened itself during the entire period until a stage came when an alarmed West began a dramatic U-turn.

The Taiwan-based Allen’s book is in part about what she refers to as China’s “authoritarian economic statecraft” and in part about how the US in particular can lead the much delayed economic and strategic war against Beijing. Using examples, she points out how China is shaping global markets to incentivize adherence to its fundamental geopolitical objectives. Knowing that countries and companies around the world are desperate for its huge markets, capital and investments, Beijing gives out rewards and punishments. In the process, China has come to use its economic leverage not just to stifle global dissent (example Zoom) but to shape the behaviour of companies and governments, legitimize its political model as a superior alternative to liberal democracy, support its expanding military objectives, weaken US alliances, strengthen its surveillance state, and gain sway over international institutions.

What China did during the Covid-19 pandemic, which it probably created, is a classic example. It refused to share information with the WHO early on, causing huge damage. Later, it used its vaccines as a leverage, at times handing them over to countries when certain political conditions were met and withholding them when they weren’t. It even tried to blame the US for the pandemic. Australia suffered heavily for demanding to know the truth from China about Covid-19. But in a way, Chinese heavy handedness during the pandemic fostered widespread suspicion among other counties towards any economic dependence on Beijing.

Using a perspective that steers clear of simplistic China bashing, Allen admits that the US is deeply complicit in creating the conditions that have allowed Beijing’s authoritarian economic statecraft to flourish. And so, she argues, building a democratic economic statecraft is the most effective response to the challenge of China’s authoritarian economic statecraft.

The author complains that American companies serve as a de facto pro-Beijing lobby in Washington, pushing back against legislation that might close off China’s markets – even if that means overlooking the Tiananmen Square massacre, endemic labour violations and the authoritarian takeover of Hong Kong. Former US officials are even hired to lobby on behalf of Chinese surveillance giants. All this will have to change. It will also be important for the West to act through new laws, regulations and multilateral institutions to relink economic and democratic rights, both domestically and internationally. Fortunately, the US is acting, particularly with relation to Uyghur province where China is known to abuse the rights of its Muslim population.

The US, Europe and Japan have already made progress in bolstering economic security explicitly as a form of national security. But Allen feels that one key direction to weaken China’s authoritarian economic statecraft is to reduce the power of billionaires and corporations to shake American political system and dictate the American people’s rights. The US should make it illegal to lobby on behalf of authoritarian foreign governments; Washington must make it illegal or costly for US companies to acquiesce to foreign governments’ censorship demands; public oversight over social media platform must be strengthened; US trade negotiations with China should not prioritize the concerns of big business in gaining access to the Chinese market; and transparency requirements must be put in place for US companies with operations in China.

Among other steps, since smaller countries are vulnerable to a divide-and-conquer strategy, in which China has exhibited great expertise by wooing both Third World and emerging economies away from the West, multilateral coordination will be vital to combat China’s economic coercion globally.

So far so good. But the million-dollar question is: will multilateral networking be possible if a maverick like Donald Trump again takes charge of White House? The more the US tries to fight an aggressive China on its own terms, upsetting even long-time allies, the less are the chances of its success.

Indeed, China’s astonishing economic growth that began primarily from Deng Xiaoping today enables Beijing to offer loans to win friends or threaten to cease business if a foreign country’s policy runs counter to its own interests. Under Xi Jinping, China has become more assertive, putting more ships in the near seas and piling up pressure on neighbours. This has certainly exasperated the insecurity of many countries – and thus created the very insecurity Xi may have wanted to avoid. It is in this paradoxical situation that the US has finally launched a punishing trade and technology war against China. This is where Bethany Allen’s book makes timely and informed reading.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.