“Hide your strength, bide your time,” Deng Xiaoping used to say. In recent years, China has become increasingly vocal on the world stage. Has its historical moment come?
Many observers believe that by means of its Belt and Road Initiative, China is remaking Eurasia to serve its goals. Whether this is true and if China’s interests can be aligned with those of its neighbours.
In April 2019, the second Belt and Road forum was held in Beijing. The event, which was attended by the heads of thirty-seven states, confirmed the image of China as a global power with a global agenda.
More and more countries are expressing an interest in the Chinese initiative to improve the infrastructural connectivity of Eurasia, but criticism of the project has gotten louder and louder. The forum was not attended by representatives of China’s closest neighbours: India, Japan and the two Koreas.
The USA was also a no-show while the Trump administration dispatched an official from the National Security Council to the first forum, held in 2017, the second one was openly ignored.
Since the 1970s, when China embarked on its path of economic reforms, the development of the country followed the principle expressed by Deng Xiaoping: “hide your strength, bide your time.”
Everything was subordinated to the tasks of economic growth, which in the 1990s averaged 10% per year. In the international arena, Beijing behaved with extreme restraint, without showing either regional or global ambitions.
The peaceful growth of China in the 1980-1990s was based on an economic partnership with the United States. All this time, the Washington establishment has proceeded from the fact that the integration of the Asian giant into the world economy would lead to Beijing becoming part of a US-led West-centric global system.
There were even hopes that the formation of a significant middle class in China as a result of economic reforms would contribute to political reforms and China will eventually become a Western-style democracy, repeating the path of Japan and South Korea.
In the mid-2000s, the concept of the G2 was put forward an informal unification of the USA and China for global management (another name for it is “Chimerica” i.e. China + America). However, the symbiosis did not work: Washington found that Beijing does not like the role of junior partner to the global hegemon.
When the crisis broke out in the West in 2008-2009, leading to a decline in the US financial system and the ideology of the Washington Consensus, China felt that its historical moment had come.
In July 2009, the then-Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, gave a speech in which he urged China to increase its strength and influence in the world, and in the fall of 2013, his successor Xi Jinping put forward projects for the 21st century: the Sea Belt and Maritime Silk Road transport corridors in Eurasia.
Subsequently, they merged into the “One Belt, One Road” project, which has more recently become known as the Belt and Road Initiative.