China is seeking not only to enjoy a central position on the global stage, commensurate with its economic and military power, but also to reshape, alter, and redefine elements of the existing system to better fit its views and interests.

The China-led world order they envision is not rooted in traditional Chinese wisdom or Confucianist principles; nor is it entrenched in Communist revolutionary ideals. At the same time, references to China’s imperial past do not mean Beijing merely seeks symbolic manifestations of deference from others. Its vision is rooted in the Leninist idea of power and domination. Leninist concepts of penetration, subversion, and access for the pursuit of specific objectives are also used in practice to support China’s expansion.

Beijing does not seem to aim at a complete overthrow of the current international order. Instead, at least in the medium term, the objective seems to be the building of a new, partial system carved out of the existing order.

This subsystem would be hierarchical with China at the top as well as at the center and asymmetrical. China would be the biggest, most powerful, and most technologically advanced state, with smaller, weaker, subordinated states circling in its orbit. The China-led order would not be global, but neither would it be merely regional. Indeed, it could eventually expand to include much of the developing, non-Western world, where the power asymmetry would be manifest.

Within the confines of this subsystem, China would not seek total, tight control over or full absorption of other countries. Instead, it would focus on developing deep interdependencies, created in the shadow of the country’s economic and military dominance, making it extremely difficult for other states to challenge the system from a position of strength. The political, economic, and security benefits gained through their relations with China would serve both as incentives to perpetuate the system and as leverage to force compliance.

China would not necessarily want other countries to replicate its own political system or governance model. It would prefer, however, that liberal democratic values and principles be suppressed. It would also encourage others to mirror its domestic policies over a wide range of areas, including law and processes, education and media, development and aid, and industrial standards and norms.

In sum, Beijing seems to favor a partial, loose, and malleable hegemony. This hegemony is partial because it implies the existence of a sphere of influence as opposed to an ambition to rule the world; loose, because Beijing does not seem to envision direct or absolute control over foreign territories or governments; and malleable, because the countries included under Chinese hegemony do not seem to be strictly defined along geographic, cultural, or ideological lines, as long as they respect China’s predominance.

The Belt and Road Initiative is central to Beijing’s strategic undertakings. It is the backbone of the new world order that the Chinese leadership wants to see emerge, and its various components are used to engrain China’s long-term influence in the developing and emerging world. This piecemeal acquisition of influence, driven by opportunism, is also guided by a strategic logic that points toward the maximization of power.

China’s vision is still taking shape, and its present form may be transient rather than permanent. A partial order could be an intermediary step toward full hegemony, if China’s material circumstances permit and no countervailing power emerges. The use of military force and coercion, although not now envisaged as a primary tool to achieve strategic objectives, would likely become an additional option as China’s capabilities grow uncontested within the subsystem.

China’s vision for a new world order points to two main areas of priority: the developing, non-Western, non-democratic world and the existing international institutions.

China’s expansion is primarily based not on the use of military instruments but on the use of economic statecraft and the expansion of efforts to shape the external environment through both influence operations and “discourse power”the power to embed ideas and norms that underpin the international order.

China’s efforts put at risk the fundamental principles underpinning the existing international order. Liberal democracies around the world should be made aware that the competition underway affects the existing system as a whole and not only the United States.

The new world order as seen through Beijing’s eyes is a very different construct from anything we have known during our lifetime or in modern history. Trying to make it fit within familiar historical examples of expansion and empire would be misleading. The fact that this order is different, however, does not mean that it should be dismissed as fanciful or doomed to fail.

China's Partnerships Worldwide

1. Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and Coordination in a New Era

  1. Russia

2. All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership

  2. Belarus
  3. Cambodia
  4. Congo
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Guinea
  7. Kenya
  8. Laos
  9. Mozambique
  10. Myanmar
  11. Namibia
  12. Senegal
  13. Sierra Leone
  14. Thailand
  15. Vietnam
  16. Zimbabwe

3. Strategic Cooperative Partnership

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Bangladesh
  3. Brunei
  4. India
  5. Nepal
  6. South Korea
  7. Sri Lanka
  8. Suriname

4. All-Round Strategic Partnership

  1. Germany

5. Permanent Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

  1. Kazakhstan

6. Comprehensive Strategic Parnership

  1. Algeria
  2. Argentina
  4. Australia
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Brazil
  7. Chile
  8. Cook Islands
  9. Ecuador
  10. Egypt
  12. Fiji
  13. France
  14. Greece
  15. Hungary
  16. Indonesia
  17. Iran
  18. Italy
  19. Kiribati
  20. Kuweit
  21. Kyrgyztan
  22. Malaysia
  23. Mexico
  24. Micronesia
  25. Mongolia
  26. Morocco
  27. New Zealand
  28. Niue
  29. Papua New Guinea
  30. Peru
  31. The Philippines
  32. Poland
  33. Portugal
  34. Samoa
  35. Saudi Arabia
  36. Serbia
  37. Solomon Islands
  38. South Africa
  39. Spain
  40. Tajikistan
  41. Tonga
  42. United Arab Emirates
  43. United Kingdom
  44. Uzbekistan
  45. Vanuatu
  46. Venezuela

7. Friendly Strategic Partnership

  1. Austria

8. Strategic Partnership

  1. Angola
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Canada
  5. Comoros
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Cyprus
  8. Czech Republic
  9. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  10. Djibouti
  11. Eritrea
  12. Iraq
  13. Ireland
  14. Jamaica
  15. Jordan
  16. Nigeria
  17. Oman
  18. Qatar
  19. Turkey
  20. Turkmenistan
  21. Ukraine
  22. Uruguay

9. Innovative Strategic Partnership

  1. Switzerland

10. All Round Cooperative Partnership

  1. Singapore

11. Comprehensive Friendly Cooperative Partnership

  1. Romania

12. Future-Oriented Comprehensive Friendly Cooperative Partnership

  1. Maldives

13. Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership

  1. Croatia
  2. Equatorial Guinea
  3. Gabon
  5. Liberia
  6. Madagascar
  7. Netherlands
  8. Sao Tome and Principe
  9. Timor-Leste
  10. Trinidad and Tobago
  11. Tanzania
  12. Uganda

14. All-Round Friendly Cooperative Partnership

  1. Belgium

15. Friendly Coopeartive Partnership

  1. Armenia
  2. Japan

16. Future-Oriented Cooperative Partnership

  1. Finland

17. Innovative Comprehensive Partnership

  1. Israel

18. Ally

  1. North Korea





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