China’s successful economic and geopolitical rise has positioned Beijing to push an agenda that is antithetical to America’s political and economic liberal order. China is no longer a rising power, but rather a peer competitor with the United States fighting to maximize security and global clout. Meanwhile, the United States remains distracted by domestic political polarization and protracted foreign wars. What does this lack of American engagement and increasing Chinese ambition mean for the global order?
This is not another piece on America’s “lost hegemony.” Instead, it is representative of aggressive Chinese ambition and coercive economic diplomacy. Perhaps a more relevant scenario to explore would be: if China rolled tanks into Hong Kong tomorrow to quell the persisting pro-democracy demonstrations, how would the international community react? Would the United States be able to draw a red line for China?
The delayed response from Washington about the Hong Kong protests shows a willingness to sit on the sidelines while China changes the norms of international politics. Washington’s distraction and apathy regarding world affairs have allowed China and others to pursue illiberal policies on the global stage. Moreover, Beijing has already achieved a critical mass of strategic partners necessary to enact change within the international system through a set of policies put in place over the last two decades. Along with these states, Sinocentric initiatives like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are pushing forward a new playbook for the conduct of world affairs through the accumulation of Chinese structural power.
The Pursuit of Chinese Structural Power