The unstoppable growing power of China

By The New York Times

We publish below an editorial and two analytical articles of the NEW YORK TIMES that we have selected, on the consolidation of the power of Xi Jinping and the reaffirmation of the People’s Republic of China in the current complicated world political, economic and financial chess.

The Editor of Other News


Xi Jinping Dreams of World Power for Himself and China

By The New York Times Editorial Board

President Xi Jinping of China has played his boldest political card yet, maneuvering to extend his rule indefinitely so that he can maintain control of the country’s complex system long enough to achieve the dream of great-power status, asserting economic and political influence across the globe.

Since China began to open to the West in the late 1970s, the United States and its allies have tried to integrate it into the political and economic system they built after World War II, hoping that economic progress would lead eventually to political liberalization.

Mr. Xi’s move proves that policy has failed and that China will set its own path, challenging the liberal order based on the rule of law, human rights, open debate, free-market economics and a preference for elected leaders who leave office peacefully after a fixed period. Despite increasing concerns about China’s evolution, the West has yet to come to grips with this threat.

Since taking office in 2013, Mr. Xi has amassed power assiduously, taking control of not just the government but also of the Chinese Communist Party, the military and the press. He has imposed his views on the educational system and culture, hardening an already authoritarian system that ruthlessly controls social media and wields law enforcement to crush dissent. The obsession with control hints at a deeply insecure state, not a global power.

Nevertheless, he has persuaded the party to effectively make him emperor for life by announcing plans to amend the Constitution to abolish term limits, which would have ended his presidency in 2023.

The changes seem to ensure that Mr. Xi will continue pursuing his agenda, which has begun to lift millions of people out of poverty, reformed state-owned enterprises, protected the environment and built strategic industries. If all goes according to plan, he could preside over the transition when China eclipses the United States as the world’s largest economy in absolute terms within two decades.

Diverging from the free-market path, Mr. Xi has involved his government more deeply in economic affairs, reining in China’s private companies and insisting on more market access abroad for Chinese businesses while limiting opportunities for foreign companies in China. That’s a major reason the Trump administration formally declared China a strategic competitor and is preparing to impose tariffs on some Chinese imports and to limit Chinese technology investments in the United States. The two sides will have a chance to discuss the matter when China’s top economic strategist, Liu He, visits Washington this week.

In a break from his predecessors, Mr. Xi is also pushing a more aggressive foreign policy that includes establishing military bases in the Western Pacific and Africa, modernizing the military and starting a $1 trillion program to develop roads, bridges and power networks across Asia, Europe and Africa. He has worked to dilute international norms on human rights and interfered to an alarming extent in Australia’s political and economic life.

Mr. Xi has also been touting China as an alternative model to politically strained democracies like the United States, and such ideas, fueled by Beijing’s checkbook diplomacy, have found resonance in places like Rwanda, Cambodia and Thailand.

But doubling down on the strongman model is risky. By moving from an autocratic collective to one-man rule, Mr. Xi has upset the political norms that were put in place to erase the personality cult of Mao and make political transitions more predictable.

The system Mr. Xi has created also makes it less likely he will receive sound policy advice or be challenged on decisions in ways that could avoid mistakes. That’s because he solidified his power base during the first term by waging an aggressive campaign against corruption and dissent, silencing political rivals and stacking the ruling Politburo with loyalists reluctant to speak up.

But not all are happy. Despite the risk, a well-known political commentator and a prominent businesswoman have penned open letters urging lawmakers to reject a plan that would allow Mr. Xi’s power grab.

One has to wonder what such control will do to innovation, a driver of progress in successful economies. Or whether knowing he has a job for life, Mr. Xi — who has presented himself as a benign father figure overseeing China’s peaceful rise — may be tempted by other risks, including in foreign policy.

By consolidating unfettered power, Mr. Xi now owns it all. If he fails, there is no one to blame but himself. And there are many daunting problems facing China, including an aging population, a need to maintain high growth rates, and heavily indebted state-owned and private businesses.

Whether Mr. Xi succeeds or fails at this experiment in dictatorship matters not just to China but the rest of the world as well. He is increasingly dominating the international space as President Trump cedes America’s traditional leadership role, including its defense of democratic norms.

The American counterbalance must be more creative and comprehensive than just starting a trade war, as Mr. Trump is inclined to do. In this regard, the White House’s response to Mr. Xi’s power grab was not encouraging. “That’s a decision that would be up to China,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Monday.


Xi Jinping Extends Power, and China Braces for a New Cold War


With presidential term limits abolished, Xi Jinping has new authority for his drive to make China a global power — even if doing so risks conflict with Washington. Credit Pool photo by Mark Schiefelbein

BEIJING — Having cast aside presidential term limits, China is bracing for relations with the United States to enter a dangerous period under the continuing leadership of President Xi Jinping, intending to stand firm against President Trump and against policies it sees as attempts to contain its rise, according to Chinese analysts.

Even before the announcement on Sunday that he could rule for the foreseeable future, Mr. Xi had ordered the Chinese military to counter the Pentagon with its own modernization in air, sea, space and cyber weapons, the analysts said, partly in response to Mr. Trump’s plans to revitalize American nuclear forces.

Rather than beginning a final term next month as a lame duck, Mr. Xi will govern with new authority to pursue his agenda of making China a global power even if it risks putting Beijing in conflict with Washington and triggering a new Cold War after 40 years of mutual engagement, the analysts said.

“In the Asia-Pacific, the dominant role of the United States in a political and military sense will have to be readjusted,” said Cui Liru, former president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank under the Ministry of State Security that often reflects official thinking. “It doesn’t mean U.S. interests must be sacrificed. But if the U.S. insists on a dominant role forever, that’s a problem.”

Asked if conflict was likely in the region, Mr. Cui said: “I don’t exclude that possibility. In this transitional period, it depends on how the two sides handle it.”

He added that it was “not normal for China to be under U.S. dominance forever. You can’t justify dominance forever.”

Mr. Xi appears to share the view of many Chinese analysts and military officials that the United States is a superpower in decline — and that China must step into the vacuum it leaves behind.

He has accelerated the military’s plans to build a blue-water navy, increased spending on weaponry in outer space, and established China’s firstmilitary bases abroad. He has promoted a global infrastructure program to extend Beijing’s influence and ignored Western concerns about human rights, which have diminished under the Trump administration.

The move in Beijing to scrap constitutional limits on presidential terms comes as former officials in Washington have expressed growing remorse about the longstanding bipartisan push for trade with China — which they now worry has allowed Beijing to prosper at America’s expense.

Mr. Xi’s emergence as a strongman has driven home the disappointment among American policymakers that China has not become more open and democratic as it has become more wealthy. At the same time, Beijing has rejected pleas for fairer terms of trade, angering both Democrats and Republicans.

President Trump himself has veered between sharp criticism of China on trade and lavish praise of Mr. Xi. He congratulated Mr. Xi on his “extraordinary elevation” at a leadership congress in October and likened him to a “king.”

Mr. Xi’s attitude toward China’s place in the world was echoed Tuesday in the state-run newspaper, Global Times, which proclaimed in an editorial that “the country must seize the day, must seize the hour.”

“Our country must not be disturbed by the outside world or lose our confidence as the West grows increasingly vigilant toward China,” it said.

In some respects, Mr. Xi’s move to extend his rule in tandem with his drive to make China a dominant global power should not have surprised the United States, Chinese analysts said.

“It is now clear Xi’s agenda to rebuild an Asian order with China at its center is here to stay,” said Hugh White, a scholar and former defense official in Australia who has argued that the United States must be prepared to share power with China in the Asia-Pacific region.

“I think Xi is impatient,” Mr. White added. “He wants China to be the predominant power in the Western Pacific. He wants to do it himself and for it to go down in history as his achievement. That makes him formidable.”

At the same time, analysts said, Mr. Trump has shown little interest in global institutions and ripped up an ambitious trade pact that included more than a dozen Asia-Pacific nations as one of his first acts in office.

“Xi is exploiting the space that America voluntarily abandoned,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. In contrast, he said, “China speaks again and again of globalization as a good thing.”

Most worrying for the United States, analysts said, was the strategic competition emerging in Asia, where China is seeking to challenge American military dominance that has been the status quo since World War II.

“China’s military objective is to break through the first chain of islands,” said Mr. Cui, referring to the waters beyond Japan and Taiwan where the Chinese military wants to establish a presence.

Chinese military experts have also emphasized the importance of dominating nuclear, space and cyber technologies, said Phillip C. Saunders, a China expert at the National Defense University in Washington.

Their views mirror those of American strategists who also see these fields as critical to success in modern war, he said.

The Trump administration announced this month a new nuclear policy calling for revitalization of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to counter Russia and to a lesser degree China — an approach that has upset Beijing.

“Trump is obsessed with strategic forces,” Mr. Shi said. “He is determined to maintain American military predominance in face of China’s strategic buildup. That will make the relationship more profoundly confrontational.”

The United States has also tried to build a stronger “Indo-Pacific” coalition with Australia, India and Japan as a counterweight to China’s rise. The four democracies would increase military cooperation and invest in infrastructure to compete with Chinese projects in the region.

But Chinese analysts said that Beijing did not believe the effort would amount to much because the United States was unwilling to spend money on the projects.

“In the short term,” Mr. Shi said, “China does not care about it because the ability to form a real coalition is limited.”


As Xi Tightens His Grip on China, U.S. Sees Conflict Ahead


WASHINGTON — A few weeks after Stephen K. Bannon left the White House in August, he was invited to a dinner at the Council on Foreign Relations to discuss American policy toward China. With his unbridled China bashing and dark talk of a looming conflict in the Pacific, Mr. Bannon expected to be roughed up by the group, which included China scholars, writers and veterans from past Republican and Democratic administrations.

Mr. Bannon’s hosts were hard on him, but not in the way he expected. Rather than faulting him or his former boss, President Trump, for their hostile approach, they pressed him on why Mr. Trump had not followed through with his tough talk about trade and North Korea. “I walked out of there thinking, ‘Something has changed with the elite,’” he recalled.

China’s relentless rise and its more recent embrace of repressive tactics that recall the Mao era — a process accelerated by President Xi Jinping’s bidto stay in power indefinitely — have fractured a deeply rooted consensus in Washington about the long-term direction of its relationship with Beijing.

Gone is a widespread agreement among diplomats, scholars and businesspeople that China is gradually converging with the United States and, therefore, that Americans should work to manage any flare-ups between the two countries. With China now unabashedly charting its own course — one that diverges rather than converges with the liberal democracies and market economies of the West — conflict, many say, is inevitable.

“Even those who are the most optimistic, hopeful and in some ways romantic about the U.S.-China relationship have been forced to confront a new China,” said Kurt M. Campbell, who, as an assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, was an architect of the Obama administration’s policy of pivoting toward the East.

Mr. Xi’s power grab has thrown this new China into stark relief, “exacerbating the fault line that already exists between China and the liberal democracies of the world,” said Orville H. Schell, the director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society.

A decorative plate featuring an image of Mr. Xi next to a statue of Mao Zedong at a souvenir store in Beijing. Credit Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The disillusionment with China, he said, began setting in long before Mr. Xi cemented his grip on the Politburo. Be it saber-rattling in the South China Sea, proselytizing on American college campuses, theft of corporate secrets or censorship of the web, China has alienated one constituency after another in the United States.

“The military is gone, the press is gone, the intellectuals are gone, civil society is gone and now the businessmen are gone,” said Mr. Schell, who arranged the dinner for Mr. Bannon and has deep ties to China. “If you’re taking the long view, you’d have to say we’re on diverging pathways.”

Beyond a general spike in tensions, however, the results of this widening divide are difficult to predict, experts and former officials said, because it is occurring against a backdrop of uncertainty in Beijing and Washington.

Mr. Xi’s ascension, experts said, reflects not only his formidable power but also China’s economic instability. Markets were rattled by news last week that the Chinese government seized the Anbang Insurance Group, a debt-ridden conglomerate that owns the Waldorf Astoria hotel and once negotiated to invest in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Mr. Trump’s handling of China reflects not only his protectionist trade agenda and America First foreign policy, but also his reluctance to antagonize Mr. Xi personally — a peculiar deference that prompted the tough questions directed at Mr. Bannon over dinner.

For all his thunderous criticism of China as an economic predator, Mr. Trump has yet to impose a sweeping trade sanction against it. He declined to label China a currency manipulator last year because he said the timing was bad: Mr. Xi had agreed to help the United States press North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile programs.

“China, we probably lost $504 billion, last year, on trade,” Mr. Trump said on Monday at a meeting with governors, a day after Mr. Xi’s bid to lead indefinitely became public. But he added: “I think that President Xi is unique. He’s helping us with North Korea.”

The White House is preparing tariffs on steel and aluminum that would target China and other exporters. It has conducted an investigation into China’s theft of intellectual property, which could result in restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States and retaliatory measures against its consumer electronics products.

Domestic politics, in a year of midterm elections, may drive Mr. Trump to take a harder line. Democrats, who are historically closer to Mr. Trump on trade than most Republicans, have signaled that they will use the president’s tough-on-China stance against him if he does not act soon.

“Now that it’s clear that President Xi isn’t going anywhere, getting tough on China is even more of an imperative,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “If President Trump and Congress don’t crack down on their rapacious trade practices,” he added, “China will continue eating our lunch for years to come.”

Corporate America has long acted as a lubricant for the relationship, prodding the United States to bring China into the World Trade Organization and lobbying against punitive trade practices. But after years of struggling to break into the Chinese markets, suffering the theft of their corporate secrets, many American companies are exhausted.

“You’re hearing businesses that work in China use words like reciprocity and retaliation far more than you ever have,” said Scott Mulhauser, a former chief of staff at the American Embassy in Beijing. “Folks are increasingly frustrated and wrestling with how best to deal with it.”

The frustration is not across the board: Manufacturers tend to be more fed up than Wall Street, which continues to do lucrative investment-banking business with the Chinese government. Technology companies have soured on China, though the market is so vast that they are still willing to consider concessions they would make nowhere else in the world.

The Trump administration reflects those fissures. Advisers like Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who both worked at Goldman Sachs, have persuaded Mr. Trump to hold off on tough trade measures against China in the past.

A demonstrator in Manila protesting China over its expansion of military outposts on disputed islands in the South China Sea. CreditBullit Marquez/Associated Press

But there are signs that the White House’s nationalist wing is ascendant. Peter Navarro, an economist whose books include “Death by China” and “The Coming China Wars,” is to be promoted, and his ideas seem again in vogue with the president.

On the issue of national security, the administration enshrined a harsher stance toward China in the president’s National Security Strategy. The report characterized China in Cold War-like terms, as a revisionist power that will try “to erode American security and prosperity.”

China’s influence on bastions of higher education has also come under scrutiny. The director of the F.B.I., Christopher A. Wray, testified recently that he believed universities were underestimating the ability of Chinese students to collect valuable national security intelligence. He expressed concern about the Confucius Institute, a global learning network sponsored by the Chinese government, whose expansion has elicited criticism over whether it is a tool to influence public opinion about China.

By itself, some former officials said, Mr. Xi’s move to stay in power should not augur greater conflict with the United States. He is expected to elevate Wang Qishan to vice president and give him a major role in managing the relationship. And he dispatched a senior economic adviser, Liu He, to Washington this week to meet with the administration. Both men are respected in the United States.

“I don’t think there’s something inherent in dictatorships and one-man rule that causes clashes with U.S. interests, other than, of course, the conflict in values,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, a former China adviser to President Barack Obama.

For some China hands, the wave of disillusionment reflects unrealistic hopes about how much China was ever going to converge with the United States. John L. Thornton, a former Goldman Sachs president who has taught at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said that in a chaotic world, the two countries should focus on what unites, rather than what divides, them.

“At one end of the spectrum is order and at the other end is disorder,” Mr. Thornton said. “China and the United States are clearly on the same end of the spectrum.”

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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