In the Indo-Pacific region, China wants complete dominance; it wants to force the United States out and become the region’s unchallenged political, economic, and military hegemon. And globally, even though it is happy to leave the United States in the driver’s seat, it wants to be powerful enough to counter Washington when needed. As one Chinese official put it to me, “Being a great power means you get to do what you want, and no one can say anything about it.” In other words, China is trying to displace, rather than replace, the United States.
Although Beijing has pursued an indirect and entrepreneurial strategy of accumulating power, make no mistake: the ultimate goal is to push the United States out of the Indo-Pacific and rival it on the global stage.
Until now, China has succeeded in growing without provoking. Yet there is a limit to how powerful a country can get without directly challenging the incumbent power, and China is now reaching that point.
In the political realm, China has undertaken a combination of covert actions and public diplomacy to co-opt and neutralize foreign opposition. Toshape the discourseon sensitive topics, it has set up hundreds of Confucius Institutes at universities around the world and launched English-language media outlets to disseminate the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative.
Chinese aid, which primarily takes the form of loans from banks controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, doesn’t come with the usual Western strings attached: there are no requirements for market reforms or better governance. What China does demand from recipients, however, is allegiance on a number of issues, including the nonrecognition of Taiwan.
Beijing has created uncertainty about its ultimate goals by supporting the order in some areas and undermining it in others. This pick-and-choose approach reflects the fact that China benefits greatly from parts of the current order. Permanent membership in the UN Security Council allows it to help set the international agenda and block resolutions it disagrees with. The World Bank has lent China tens of billions of dollars for domestic infrastructure projects.
Considerartificial intelligence. China is trying to shape the rules governing this new technology in ways that favor its own companies, legitimizing its use for domestic surveillance and weakening the voice of civil society groups that inform the debate about it in Europe and North America.
When it comes to the Internet, meanwhile, China has been pushing the notion of “cyber-sovereignty.”
Under Xi, China is unabashedly undermining the U.S. alliance system in Asia. It has encouraged the Philippines to distance itself from the United States, it has supported South Korea’s efforts to take a softer line toward North Korea, and it has backed Japan’s stance against American protectionism.