WITH its world-leading economic performance, rapidly increasing military expenditure and ever-more assertive diplomacy, China is resolutely on the rise. Led by a nationalist leader, the country looks set to become one of the world’s foremost great powers, whose voice, ambitions and status cannot be ignored. As Asia’s largest entity attains this position, and as the United States’ global influence appears to be in decline under the bombastic and provocative leadership of President Trump, a newly invigorated, self-confident and ostensibly more forceful China appears to be looking to shape the world in its own image.


CENTRAL to China’s current positioning has been the leadership of President Xi Jinping. Xi’s key political slogan of a “China Renaissance” seeks to restore China to her former status of being a great power in world affairs – just as it was for the period from 1 to 1800 AD when the country produced between a quarter to a third of all annual global trade. Such a restoration is based upon using the country’s ever-increasing economic and military power to boost China’s global standing, international leadership and internal stability, and to re-assert her superior cultural heritage.

This mantra couples with Xi’s notion of an aspirational “Chinese Dream”, which calls upon China’s population to assure their country’s global ascendancy through the pursuit of prosperity, collective effort and national glory. Such goals are long-term in nature, with this period of rejuvenation geared to reach fruition in 2049, exactly 100 years after the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party (CCP) founded the modern People’s Republic of China (PRC). Cementing his central political role, in March 2018 Xi removed the two-term limit for China’s presidents from the country’s constitution, potentially setting himself up as the key architect of this process as president-for-life.


CHINA’S rise rests upon modernising its military and economic strength in order to amplify its international prowess. This includes protecting China’s borders and actively claiming back “lost territory” in the South China Sea (as well as Taiwan), and possessing the means to secure essential trade and energy security routes. This latter provision allows China to acquire the oil, gas and resources essential for continuing the country’s rapid economic growth, which grew at 10% each year from the late 1970s before dropping to 7% in recent years and which is a vital source of domestic legitimacy for the ongoing rule of the CCP.

Crucially, China’s trade strategies are characterized by a non-ideological approach to discovering and exploiting new markets, investment and energy supplies. The success of its authoritarian-capitalist model, which has pulled in excess of 600 million people out of poverty, also makes China attractive to – and compatible with – non-democratic and developing countries, placing it in direct competition with western countries and their promotion of western political values concerning democracy and liberalism.

Xi has further declared that China will be a proactive “constructor of global peace, contributor to the development of global governance and protector of international order”.

China established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in October 2014 to provide an alternative vision concerning the workings of international finance. The AIIB gives China a much larger share of voting rights when compared with the IMF, and is more representative of its world-leading share of global GDP. Lending on a scale that rivals the World Bank, the AIIB is also attractive to other countries – including the UK that is now a member – and clearly threatens the liberal institutions created by the United States, which has refused membership.

The AIIB is also central to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative that will involve total investment of $1 trillion and intends to inculcate economic co-operation and inter-connectivity between China, Asia and Europe.


A PRESIDENT of the United States who is seemingly tearing apart the central pillars of the liberal world order has aided much of China’s success. Notably, Chinese leaders and strategists do not see their country assuming a global dominance akin to the US but envisage a multipolar world order in which a number of different major powers compete for influence.

Tellingly in this regard, some of these other major powers – most clearly Russia but also to a lesser extent India – are also invested in creating a non-western-centric world order better representative of their growing power and their specific values, and hence they may tacitly support China’s endeavours.

An economic crisis on the same or greater scale of 2008 could be when China seizes the opportunity to reject the old world order. With the western-led order currently in turmoil and the US seemingly in terminal decline – and a confident China crafting new institutions to manage the international system – such an eventuality is highly feasible.

Such a re-ordering may occur quicker than we think, with the fall-out – and unintended consequences – of whatever Brexit eventually transpires acting as a catalyst that marks the advent of an Asian Century.

Chris Ogden is senior lecturer in Asian security at the School of International Relations, University of St Andrews