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“Xi [Jinping]’s ambition, as his words and deeds over the past decade suggest, is to reorder the world order,” writes China expert Elizabeth C. Economy. In The World According to China, she argues that Chinese leader Xi seeks a transformed international system in which a reunified and resurgent China is on par with or has surpassed the United States.
Economy, who was a longtime fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and most recently served as the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, explains that China has “reclaimed contested territory, assumed a position of preeminence in the Asia Pacific, ensured that other countries have aligned their political, economy, and security interests with its own, provided the world’s technological infrastructure for the 21st century, and embedded its norms, values and standards in international laws and institutions.”
As Economy demonstrates through a series of case studies, Xi has pursued a distinctive strategy to realize his ambition. He leverages the power of China’s market and its military to induce and coerce other countries into complying with Chinese interests. He also uses China’s leadership positions in the United Nations and other global governance institutions to reinforce his policy preferences within those bodies. By following Xi’s playbook, Beijing “has made headway in advancing its human rights, internet governance, and development norms,” Economy writes.
“Increasingly, however, China’s state-centered model and coercive diplomacy have limited the attraction of many of its initiatives,” Economy observes. From cultural exports like Confucius Institutes to infrastructure projects funded by Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), flagship Chinese foreign policy programs have encountered growing resistance around the world.
“In many developing and middle-income countries, the export of China’s development model through the BRI is incurring significant political and economic costs,” such as environmental pollution and degradation, unsustainable levels of debt, and corruption, she writes. BRI projects, Economy notes, are a frequent source of popular protest in host countries.
Furthermore, “while the world lauded China’s leadership in providing PPE [personal protective equipment], much of the goodwill Beijing earned evaporated as Chinese officials began to adopt a more coercive and combative form of diplomacy colloquially referred to as ‘wolf warrior diplomacy.’”
Economy posits that the conflict between the United States and China is not, as Xi frames it, a competition between a “rising East” and a “declining West,” but “a clash of values and systems.” To counter China’s influence, Economy recommends that the United States first set an example at home to make sure that its own governance system reflects its stated values of democracy, inclusivity, and sustainability. Then, it should devote more political and economic resources to support these priorities abroad through U.S. diplomatic efforts.
To ensure that “a world according to China remains an ambition yet to be realized,” Economy concludes that the United States must acknowledge the global nature of the values-based competition with China and build broader coalitions that move beyond Washington’s reliance on traditional allies and partners.
Economy is currently on leave from her position as senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution to serve as senior advisor for China at the Department of Commerce. The book was written while she was a senior fellow at CFR prior to her government service and represents her personal views.
To interview the author, please contact CFR Communications at 212.434.9888 or [email protected].