October 12, 2020


Beijing Believes Trump Is Accelerating American Decline (RUSH DOSHI, OCTOBER 12, 2020, 1Foreign Policy)

We are now living through a third strategic shift. The process began four years ago when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Beijing was shocked that the world's most powerful democracies were withdrawing from the international order they had helped erect. As Chen Jimin at China's Central Party School observed, when it came to facilitating China's rejuvenation, "The Trump administration and Brexit delivered star performances."

Shortly thereafter, the Chinese Communist Party's familiar euphemisms for U.S. power all began to point toward a belief that the Trump era was not merely contributing to American relative decline but accelerating it.Shortly thereafter, the Chinese Communist Party's familiar euphemisms for U.S. power all began to point toward a belief that the Trump era was not merely contributing to American relative decline but accelerating it. "Multipolarity" was now frequently deemed irreversible at the very highest levels. The "international balance of forces" was said to be "increasingly balanced." But most importantly, and only one week before Trump's inauguration in early 2017, China debuted a new phrase to guide its strategy--one that inverted a Qing dynasty-era statement of humiliation into a Xi Jinping-era statement of ascent: The world was experiencing "great changes unseen in a century."
This sweeping phrase has pride of place in most of Xi's major speeches, in official white papers, and in thousands of articles by Chinese strategists and scholars. The confidence behind this statement has been common in the party's authoritative sources ever since 2016. One official commentary written for party cadres on an important foreign-policy speech by the Chinese leader noted, "Although Western regimes appear to be in power, their willingness and ability to intervene in world affairs is declining. The United States may no longer want to be a provider of global security and public goods, and instead pursue a unilateral and even nationalist foreign policy." And as Xi himself put it at a foreign-policy gathering in 2018 that has been convened only a handful of times in the country's history, "China is in the best development period since modern times, and the world is in a state of great changes unseen in a century, and these two [trends] are simultaneously interwoven and mutually interacting."

Prominent Chinese foreign-policy scholars have been even more pointed in this period. They have argued that the "greatest change" in the "great changes unseen in a century" is the shifting balance of power between China and the United States. Zhu Feng, for example, declared that as Western countries were consumed by populism "the East rises and the West falls." Yan Xuetong argued that "Trump has ruined the U.S.-led alliance system" and ushered in "the best period of strategic opportunity for China since the end of the Cold War." Wu Xinbo assessed that the United States was "spiritually exhausted, physically weak, and could no longer carry the world." Jin Canrong modified an official formulation to note "that world structure is changing from one superpower, many great powers, to two superpowers, many great powers."

This shifting perception of the United States preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. And just as past reassessments of American power triggered strategic adjustment, so did this one. During Trump's first year in office, Xi delivered a series of major speeches that suggested it was time to "leave behind" the era of "hiding capabilities and biding time" and to now move toward the "world's center stage."

This third Chinese grand strategy is focused on expansion. It seeks to spread China's influence beyond Asia and contest the foundations of U.S. global order. Since Trump's election, Xi has repeatedly encouraged Beijing to "lead in the reform of the global governance system" and to offer "Chinese solutions" to various international challenges--these are now the top-funded research priorities in the country's think tanks and universities. As part of this global turn, Beijing has also begun to pursue a global military with overseas facilities, to directly challenge U.S. financial power with sovereign digital currencies, to reshape global and not merely regional institutions, and to self-consciously compete in the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution--all with an eye toward filling a growing U.S. void.

Posted by at October 12, 2020 5:18 PM