The international sphere is aligning along two blocs, one led by the US and its allies, and the other by Beijing and Moscow
China has stepped up its diplomatic activity considerably. This is not only because it has broken out of the long-standing pandemic isolation that previously hampered its outreach.
The main motive is that China’s role and weight in the international arena have grown to the point where contemplative detachment is no longer possible. This is an important shift in Chinese self-awareness; the question now is what changes in international practice it will lead to.
Non-action as the highest virtue and the non-contradictory interpenetration of opposites are principles of traditional philosophy, but they are also quite an applied way of conducting international activities.
A detailed analysis of this phenomenon should be left to specialists, but it is worth noting that the shift from such a worldview to a more familiar ideological and geopolitical confrontation took place when China adopted the generally alien Western communist doctrine.
Mao Zedong attempted to change not only the social order but also the culture of the Chinese. But his reign ended with a bargain with the United States, which was a return to a strategic equilibrium that better suited the Chinese view of the world. Mutual recognition did not mean agreement and harmony, but it was in line with the objectives of the parties at the time.
This period, which lasted until very recently, is only now showing signs of coming to an end.
There is much debate in America about the last few decades, and there is complaining that it is China that has gained the most from the interaction.
Criteria may vary, but in general it is hard to disagree that Beijing has been the primary beneficiary – at least in terms of the transformation of the country and its place on the international stage. Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of quiet, gradual ascent was entirely in the Chinese spirit, and the result has undoubtedly been justified.
So much so that it was extremely difficult for Beijing to understand that this super favorable and advantageous situation would come to an end.
This proved inevitable for one simple reason: China has acquired a power that, whatever its wishes and intentions, makes it a potential rival to the US. And this has led to a natural evolution of the American approach to Beijing.
After all, the US style is the direct opposite of the classic Chinese style described above. And the latter’s attempts in the late 2010s and early 2020s to slow down the growing American pressure have run up against Washington’s firm intention to move the relationship into the category of strategic competition.
To be fair, China’s assertiveness and self-confidence were also growing, but if everything had depended on Beijing alone, the period of beneficial cooperation would have lasted several more years.
Be that as it may, a new era has dawned. China’s diplomatic revival is intended to demonstrate that Beijing is not afraid to play a role in world politics.
The form of engagement so far bears the hallmarks of the previous period and of that very traditional approach – the sterile precision of the wording of Chinese peace proposals on the Ukraine issue is evidence of this.
But this too is likely to change. China’s desire to maintain an outwardly well intentioned neutrality suits Moscow; it is the West that is quick to allege insincerity, and to do so in a tone that is unbecoming of the Chinese.
Beijing should not be expected to make a sharp U-turn, which is also contrary to its sense of propriety, but the direction is set.
And it is not a question of whether China shares Russia’s assessment of what is happening in Ukraine. Beijing has carefully avoided expressing an opinion because it does not consider it to be its business.
But the realignment of forces on the world stage is taking its course, with China and Russia, whether they like it or not, on one side and the United States and its allies on the other.
And from now on this will become increasingly clear. In his ten years at the helm of his country, Xi Jinping has transformed its domestic and foreign policies.
On the one hand, he has emphasized the classical Chinese outlook more than his predecessors, while on the other, he has honored the slogans and ideas associated with socialism.
The former implies a self-sufficient harmony, while the latter tends to be outward-looking as much as inward-looking. This symbiosis is likely to define China’s positioning in the next five or ten years of Xi’s rule.
The hostile international environment will increasingly test Beijing’s ability to maintain an acceptable equilibrium. Much will depend on how successful these attempts are, including for Russia.
By Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and research director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Published by Rt.com
Republished by The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.com.