In the past decades, China’s economy has improved steadily, and this growth has been instrumental in their various investments worldwide. Through its development banks, infrastructure initiatives, military development and soft power investments, it has made itself a major player in the international community, and continues to carve out a greater niche in the world.
For the past half century, the world has seen the rise of China. From being a heavily agrarian country, it has shifted to being an industrial giant. With the introduction of its economic reforms in 1978 and its adoption of market liberalization, the country has experienced an increase in its GDP from an annual average of 6% from 1953-1978 to 9.4% from 1978-2012. With its continuous economic ascendancy, China has been tagged as the world’s second-largest economy, next only to the USA. Estimates of some leading institutions such as World Bank (as illustrated by Visual Capitalist) and Pricewaterhouse Coopers even show that China is very much on its way of booting out USA from the topmost rank – and to sustain this stance for a prolonged period of time.
With money comes power. Through recent years, China has been able to invest in big-ticket projects that allow itself to be a major and influential player in the international arena. It has shown its ambition to be a global superpower, bolstering its stronghold in various aspects of society and pervading influence across different regions through its development banks, infrastructure investments, military, and soft power, to name a few.
Financing: Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
Among its development banks like China Development Bank (CDB), Export-Import Bank of China (Ex-Im Bank), BRICS-led New Development Bank (NDB), the more conspicuous one could be their Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Having its first operations in January 2016, it is China’s own version of multilateral development bank, putting it in the ranks of prominent development banks such as World Bank, European Investment Bank, and Asian Development Bank. Boasting of 87 members at the moment, it provides funding for projects centering on energy, transportation, telecommunications, infrastructure, urban development, and the like. With this move of China, it seems to show to other countries specially the developing ones that it is very much willing to finance their development projects, and that its trajectory of success can be replicated by them. Furthermore, its policy in shareholding of 75-25 percent split between Asian and non-Asian members would surely have an implication. It limits the possible influence of prominent western economies such as US and Canada in the way development is perceived and planned by the developing Asian countries. As of May 2018, the specific figures for Regional vs Non-Regional Shareholding Split are the following: Regional Members (members from Asia-Pacific region) – 76.80%, and Non-Regional Members – 23.30%. China’s current shareholding is 31.02%.
Trade: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
Carrying the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, which refer to the routes from more than two millennia ago linking Asia, Europe and Africa, the Belt and Road Initiative is a project of China that involves land and maritime routes to further cooperation and trade, creating “a new era of globalization”. The Chinese Government already pledged financial commitments for the fruition of this project through its Silk Road Fund, AIIB, CDB, and even the BRICS-led NDB. Easing trading is surely a big advantage for China and its overcapacity at home. It can tap new foreign markets, and this will further pump up the country’s economy. 60 countries have already expressed their interest to take part in this project, seeking solace from it in times of global economic slowdown. In spite of its positive promises, there have been some concerns over BRI. For instance, it has been noted that there are issues related to interest rates, environment, human rights, and terrible governance. In addition, there is the staggering difference between China’s rhetorical promises and the actual investments, and the question on the competence of its contractors. Some have also expressed their wariness over China’s motives, saying that the BRI is China’s way to maneuver their geopolitical ambitions.
Military and Geopolitical Interests: Bases and Land Grabbing Issues
Although China has only one overseas military base at present, it has beefed up its military capacity by producing more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than those of South Korea, Japan and India combined. It has commenced its first overseas military base in Djibouti and invested in various ports that could serve them for their military purposes. Furthermore, in spite of their loss in the maritime dispute with the Philippines in the Hague’s Ruling on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, China continues to build their military outposts on their artificial islands, boosting their military presence in the said sea. The issue of China’s land-grabbing also extends beyond this infamous maritime row. Alarm has been raised over their encroachment in India’s Himalayan borderlands, Russia’s Lake Baikal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka’s Hambatota port.
Soft Power: Language, Culture and Media
A term coined by Harvard University scholar Joseph S. Nye Jr. in 1990, soft power pertains to the means by which a country makes others “want what it wants” without resorting to coercion. China has been pouring large amount of money to promote their Chinese language and culture. In 2004, they opened their first Confucius Institute in Seoul, South Korea, and as of 2017, there are reported 516 Confucius Institutes in 142 countries. Media and film have also been tapped. Xinhua, the Chinese government’s primary news agency, has already 170 foreign bureaus; their China Daily and Global Times have English language editions that are available worldwide; and their CCTV, the state’s TV broadcasting news service broadcasts in different languages and has reporting teams in more than 70 countries.
The abovementioned strategic areas of control and dominance all form part of the harbinger of China’s further ascendancy. As the long-standing global power that is the USA takes a backseat in its international leadership with its “America First” policy, China has very much demonstrated its enthusiasm in assuming this role, and thereby, acts as a vanguard of globalization. Given this bold move of China, this situation opens up a whole new panorama in the global landscape: a multipolar world, a multilateral order, and balance of power.