The Implications of China’s emergence as superpower

Author : Philippe Lefevre, étudiant à la Sorbonne, membre de SONU

Firstly it is important to note that under the current world order, China has thrived and continues to do so.  As much as a complete reversal of this order could be expected when we hear of a rising superpower, for now this does not seem likely, especially as China has removed itself from the traditional role a superpower often takes when becoming a hegemon.  With these in mind, as well as China’s unnatural fit as an ally for many, being an authoritarian communist nation, we must look at the implications of China’s emergence in our current world system through economic, political and military contexts.

China’s eruption onto the world stage as a superpower has the most impact economically. Since joining the IMF Reserve Currencies list, founding the AIIB, New Development Bank and starting one of the largest and most ambitious infrastructure projects ever seen, it is impossible to say that China has not, and will not continue to, fuel the world economy. However, what China giveth, China taketh away, and the record breaking investment projects China is spearheading will be expecting a return, potentially placing a huge swathe of countries under Chinese debt. Whilst this would not break the Bretton Woods system we have now, it would allow China to dictate the flow of goods and services for a long time to come, ensnaring many who rely on Chinese investment. Another factor is the domination of cashless payment systems as China, where paper money originated, vows to become cashless in the next few decades, forcing many countries to modernize rapidly, triggering investment bubbles over cryptocurrency and spurious digital transactions.

When we think of Global politics, it is often useful to consider the United Nations (UN) as a platform, not a figurehead. In its current role, China has no need of said platform, utilising the UN when it suits them and completely disregarding it when it does not, for example the complete ignorance of the UN Court Case in the South China Sea. As a superpower this could only further undermine the UN as a stable political system but will increase its usefulness as a platform to spread Chinese views as China replaces funding that the United States (US) pulls out of. Furthermore, China does not take a diplomatic role as other superpowers have tried, it cares not for outsourcing its model, preferring only to protect it from all attempts to destabilise it. In this way, the implication is a spread of authoritarian politics, not under the communist model of China, but rather each system being spurred by the success of the other. China does not wish to become the leader of all these more authoritarian systems, but would be happy to help support them, as it is doing in Venezuela and Africa.

The biggest change for China militarily will be recognising that having a military means more than just a projection of Soft Power. Whilst Xi Jinping has rapidly modernised and deployed his troops as Peacekeepers, they have as of yet, remained unused. The implication of China becoming a Superpower is an utilisation of this force, with deadly repercussions for all involved. Should China believe that retaking Taiwan or actually annexing the South China Sea is not only in its interest but militarily feasible, whereas currently the US Fleet patrols the area tightly, then there could be a deadly arms race once again, with Nuclear and Conventional weaponry at the forefront. For now China enjoys merely supporting itself through its military forces, but as a superpower, China could do more than support but actively settle disputes. Under a US Hegemony most of its regional neighbours have worked alongside the US to restrain China. Without this, more regional groups could form to continue this encirclement à la Truman Doctrine. This also suggests increased importance in military blocs such as NATO and, more subtly, harmonisation of Market Unions into Military Unions, following the European Union’s PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) Model.

A Chinese Superpower would be the first time we see a non-western state truly emerge onto the world stage like this. Previous examples have had deep roots in Westphalian, Imperialist models which developed in Europe and the West. The implication of this is a world system with the same rules being stretched as far as possible to accommodate Chinese ambitions, but with no alternative to replace it, unless catastrophic war breaks out. For China to be recognised as a superpower also brings great support to authoritarian systems, which would not necessarily look to China as a model or a leader, but stay afloat due to Chinese investment and support. How the world will respond to entire countries being in critical debt to this pragmatic but brutal nation is also unknown, but without a doubt, it will be an unsettling time finding out.



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