China's Authoritarianism in Foreign Policy and the Rogue Superpower

Mahak Gupta


From the last two decades, China has grown internationally as a great military and economic power. During this transformation, many policymakers and scholars had predicted that globalisation and reforms would make the country become a responsible stakeholder and would lead to liberalising its political moves. This idea is called the “convergence theory” which means that China would have followed the US as it grew wealthier. But this did not happen. Economically the country grew without democratizing. The Government instead became more repressive and ideological posing its threats globally with a strategy to intimidate rather than just regionally. The Chinese President has given the technologies of China in the hands of the Chinese Military as the idea of military and civilian technology came across other countries. Aaron Friedberg, a scholar of Princeton University has said that China is moving towards a more technologically sound, efficient and permanent dictatorship by one-party rather than transiting into a liberalised economy. The notion of convergence had died long ago. Here are some of the areas where dictatorship can be clearly seen in China:

Communications: The Internet in China has always been away from the rest of the world and is greatly firewalled and censored. Companies like Baidu and WeChat which are indigenous are themselves heavily censored. Even the private virtual networks are captured by the government as said by the academician who invented the Great Firewall. The media and the print too have always been pro-government and state-controlled. With the approval of the government, the foreign media that published anything about China is also banned usually.

Civil Society Repressed: Growth of any form of the organisation other than the party has been repressed during the communist era. There are only five officially approved faiths for the religious places viz. Taoism, Islam, Buddhism, Protestantism and Catholicism and only the temples, mosques and churches that are state authorised are allowed along with other places where people might get a chance to associate like the NGOs etc. As a scheme for development of urban areas, many churches have been demolished so far. Many public interest lawyers, feminists, environmentalists and defenders have been detained.

Extraterritoriality: The repression is taking a toll as the officials attempt to extend it even outside the borders of China. It has always tried to use economic muscle as bait for achieving its ideological and political ends as in the case of Norway who chose a detained writer as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. It has also harassed foreign companies to enforce the censorship standards imposed by China even in their own countries. Another case is of LinkedIn which was forced to censor posts on China being criticised even when it was meant for the outside audience and this agreement had an impact on the companies’ operations in China. For many years even Twitter was banned in China.

The military: The disputes over land borders have been going on since ages, the East and the South China Sea is the most prominent one. “Island building” programme of China has led to maritime disputed with many countries with its insistence on increased fishing, military, and mineral exploitation. Recently a war-like situation has also developed with India on the Ladakh region of India and an increased capturing of the region by the Chinese military.

Wishes of the party are the rule of law: before this year china was a poor country but in late 1970s reforms were bought into china and stunning results were observed in 1980 with a GDP of $200 billion. About 4-5 years ago it was recorded more than $14 trillion which is 70 times more. It was because of this that other countries began looking up to china. The decisiveness and farsightedness of the government combined with selective free-market practices were admired by all. But the authoritarianism of the government is quite often overlooked. But with development, they have been facing serious problems with regards to immense social dislocations and environmental disasters. This can lead to huge unrest, politically. People have been forced to move to unpolluted areas without any sign of relief. In the year 2018, it faced the slowest growth rate in about 30 years and most probably have been overstated. The authoritarian leaders of china fear that as free people have ousted the people in power around the world, the same would happen to them. Along with above-stated tactics technologies like Orwellian surveillance is adhered to like facial recognition to monitor citizens. It is because of this reason that they have been trying to introduce the world with artificial intelligence and 5g networking. It becomes difficult for the people of any country or in this case the USA as their declaration of independence clearly mentions that securing the rights of the individuals is the highest aim of the government along with liberty, life and pursuit of happiness. Economic and political freedom move side by side in America, where it is the opposite in China. Politics is served by economics and its only goal is to strengthen the political power, abroad as well as home.

The U.S. and its Principles of Foreign Policies

The U.S. has been a boon for the world economy as American companies highly prize their markets. But as put forward Nikki Haley that they cannot turn a blind eye to the hostile political intentions of Beijing just because of the economic relations. China has always upheld its Communist Nationalism and has criticised the idea of Western Liberal Democracy. Its ambitions are strategically rooted in the authoritarian view of the world. The U.S. has always strived for a friendly relation by supporting China by transfer of high technologies for growth and modernisation. It has also helped them be a part of the World Trade Organisation. But the policies of the government in regard to the world have been hostile and without any reciprocation.

The U.S., since the end of the II World war, has been a major power in areas of military, scientific discovery, economic output etc. It has also wielded power and unmatched influence since then. It is a democracy which respects the rights of other countries. They work on the principle of reciprocity. Aid was provided to rebuild Japan and Germany after the war. Even after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, aid was provided to rebuild Iraq. The Rule of law there is not just positive but has negative restraints too. But with the same, they expect the same from other countries and China’s move to usurp them specifically in the Asian region is reprimand-able.

The way forward

In the wake of advocating a nationalistic, assertive and militaristic approach, the government has built military facilities and seized islands in the South China Sea in violation of the agreement made with the former President, Mr Barack Obama. Over maritime disputes, it has punished the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia by attacking their fishing fleets and disrupting their acoustic cables underwater. Taiwan’s airspace has been violated by them and has kidnapped critics and dissidents in Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong. And the citizens of the UK and Sweden have been kidnapped. Beijing’s military interests are being advanced by those trading with them in high-tech areas without meaning the same. Corruption scandals have been ignited in New Zealand, Malaysia, Angola, Sri Lanka and Australia due to the bribing of foreign officials by China even when they say that they are least interested in other countries politics. Corrupt financing arrangements are relied upon in the initiatives like China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which burden governments across the globe with the debts they cannot payback. The government-funded initiative even suppresses discussions in these instituted which are upon embarrassing topics to China as the case of Uighurs. According to the US Justice Department, the companies in China are systematically directed by their government to steal Intellectual Property from foreign companies as well as the US, which is shared with the military. In the year 2015, New civil-military fusion policy was announced which requires the companies privately owned in China to work for the military. Hence this sums up the fact that trade with China is not just limited to trade but is advancing of military interests of Beijing without paying any heed to intentions of the other country.

Hence the U.S. decided the following strategy which was put forward by Nikki Haley after she chaired a meeting of the U.N. Security Council in 2019. She said that they have long been a world’s leading power and they never had contended with their most important trading partner and a potential military challenger. The Soviet Union’s economy was the very small size of China’s economy during the cold war. At that time the U.S. had drafted new policies to weaken the Soviet economy and also made programs to monitor their progress in the field of technology. This included strategies to serve security purposes nationally by the way of trade promotion and export control. They created the strategic defence initiative and the U.S. information agency which along with countering the soviet propaganda aimed at neutralizing the long-range nuclear-armed missiles of the Soviet Union.

In the case of China, she said that to begin with, they would restructure their regulations on investment and trade and on the upgraded technology sector to protect the U.S. from exploitation. National security always comes before free-market policies hence the government would have to interfere in the private business. This point has been very well presented in the “Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith, who said that ‘defence is much more important than opulence’ while referring to Great Britain. With the problem of china taking advantage with the help of military of all commercial activities done privately, us needs to change the lens by which they examine the international supply chains, foreign trade, inward investments, incentives for technologies and protection of intellectual property. Along with the adjustment of the economic policies, the U.S. needs to make its diplomacy better. To defend against their military threats and understand the radical strategies, the U.S. needs to strengthen its resources and authority to compete with the same efforts with the spirit of saving the prosperity promoting behaviour which was shown even at the time of ii world war. She said that they needed greater naval capacity, a strong army, more long-range air strike forces and an up-gradation of cyber capabilities and it. A need to modernize their nuclear capacity was suggested. The situation where the threat has been imposed by China in the fields of politics, diplomacy, technology, intellectual property etc. the action of whole of the nation is required rather than the whole of the government which has been the strategy of the past.

Recent Developments and trade tensions

When the US imposed a tariff on imports worth $34 Billion from China in 2018 which was of 25%, the trade war between the two had officially begun the result being that China retaliated. These changes affected the supply chains and investment decisions of other countries as well who provided raw materials to China or the intermediaries. The deal between China and US signed in January 2020 wherein the following two years China would buy goods and services from the US worth $200 Billion along with the removal of certain barriers and in return, the US agreed to suspend the tariff of 15% on around $162 Billion. However, these equations were affected due to the outbreak of Covid-19 Pandemic. The charts indicate that the trade deficit with China had become one-third lower well before the Pandemic and has even fallen down more to $12 Billion after the Pandemic. By March 2020, Chinese imports were only 10% of the US merchandise which is equal to less than 1/5th of the total trade deficit of US merchandise.

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