Xi Jinping:  The Emergence of Chinese Ultra-Nationalism?

Chinese leader Xi Jinping started his second term as President last month and delivered his speech with a nationalistic appeal stating China’s desire to take up its “due place in the world.” Xi seems to be taking the long way to achieve Chinese superiority all over the world. Xi began his new tenure in an ultra nationalistic manner rather than with a communist internationalist plea.

Prior to Xi’s re-election, the Chinese Communist Party put “democratic weakness” aside as the Chinese parliament endorsed  a new law including removing the restriction that had limited the presidency to two consecutive five-year terms. The Parliament justified the change as a necessity to line up the presidency with Xi’s two other, more powerful, posts — head of the party and of the military since they have no term limits.

The move was not unexpected; after his accession to power in 2012, Xi has chosen a rough, hard but consolidated long road to walk. His way has differed from the way of his last two predecessors.   Xi’s two precursors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao strictly followed the rule of collective leadership which was introduced by Deng Xiaoping to dilute the one man autocracy of the Mao Zedong era by including a restriction limiting the presidency to two consecutive five-year terms. Following the ending of Deng era, the power transforming processes were kept free from disturbance.

After his ascent in power, Xi Jinping turned away from the path of his two predecessors and wanted to be a Chinese thinker, pathfinder and philosopher like Mao Zedong.

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping adopted the concept of OBOR as one of the greatest investment projects in the history of the planet.  Similarly, the USA launched the Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Western Europe after the end of Second World War; the USA invested US$ 13 billion dollars which is roughly equivalent to US$ 130 billion in today’s money. According to news media China has already invested $ 1 trillion in OBOR and several trillion is due to be invested over the next decade.

Chinese OBOR has the basic objective to gain both political and economic supremacy over western countries. Following the Chinese revolution China’s leadership strongly denounced western capitalism and vowed to fight against US led “imperialism” & “expansionism”. Mao Zedong, founder of modern China emerged as a great competitor to US led capitalistic leadership. He introduced and developed the three world theory. According to his theory, the first world comprises USA led western countries, second world consisting of Soviet Union and its allies and all countries of Asia except Japan, all countries of Africa & Latin America are in third world. Mao Zedong intended to be the pathfinder for the third world countries to struggle against western exploitation. Since the foundation of new China, the Chinese leadership feels comfortable working with “third world” countries against western dominance. China played a vital role in the Korean War and also in the Vietnam War against US expansionism. China also wanted to export revolution to all third world countries but they were not successful due to the lack of Chinese financial capacity or to avoid direct conflict with other countries. Therefore, China’s effort to export revolution was aired on propaganda machinery rather than practically. As an example the Indian Maoist faction only got moral support from China in the mid 60s, when they campaigned for an armed struggle to grow a communist regime.

It seemed, the Chinese leadership was waiting for favorable circumstance and opportunity to establish a proletarian third world.

After the death of Mao Zedong the Chinese leadership has gradually shifted from the policy of exporting revolution towards exporting Chinese industrial products to third world countries. China also shifted from a controlled economy to a free market economy. Under the communist party leadership China turned into a capitalist country. China has the world’s fastest-growing economy with average growth rates of 10% over 30 years. The economic success of China has developed a geopolitical ambition like Mao’s to be a world player.

Now China is at its most prosperous in its history and present President Xi Jinping is the most powerful leader after Mao Zedong. Under Xi’s leadership, China has promoted vigorous growth of military might and geopolitical influence.   President Xi’s aspiration is boosting China to gain the prime role on the stage of the global power game and to subdue US dominance. The rivalry between the USA and China is on a range of different issues such as the South China Sea, cyber security, trade disputes, human rights and intellectual property rights.

After attaining power, Shifting from the previous policy of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, Xi has introduced a nationalistic and aggressive stance in foreign policy regarding dealings with his counterparts. He is looking for geographical expansion of Chinese territory and increasing the Chinese influence all over the world. China already has claims over almost the entire South China Sea and its islands and reefs. The South China Sea is also claimed in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. China has constructed three artificial islands in the South China Sea ignoring cries from its neighbors. Xi also took a very strong stance on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands issue with Japan and declared an Air defense identification Zone in the area. Along with Japan, the US has opposed the Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

Responding to US criticism, China was critical of the presence of the U.S. in Asia Pacific Ocean waters and the US “strategic pivot” to Asia.

“Matters in Asia ultimately must be taken care of by Asians. Asia’s problems ultimately must be resolved by Asians and Asia’s security ultimately must be protected by Asians”, Xi told a regional conference in Shanghai on 21 May 2014. Indicating the USA’s interference in Asia Xi called on Asian countries to unite and forge a way together, rather than get involved with third party powers. Subsequent to this, Xi announced his One Belt and One Road initiatives to persuade the world.

The ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR) consists of two routes-one overland “Silk Road Economic Belt”, another “21st-Century Maritime Silk Road” in an objective to  link China economically to Europe through countries across Eurasia, Africa and the Indian Ocean.  The land corridors are China-Mongolia-Russia; China-Central Asia-West Asia; the China-Indochina peninsula; China-Pakistan; and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar. The OBOR will integrate of the region into an interconnected economic area through building infrastructure, increasing cultural exchanges, and broadening trade. China is investing to build infrastructure such as railways, roads, ports, energy systems and telecommunications networks to implement OBOR. On the Maritime Silk Road, China will invest to improve efficiency and security of the major sea ports along the routes.

China’s banks are providing massive funds for Chinese enterprise to construct infrastructure while the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will provide loans for other countries. AIIB has issued the first loans for Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The Bank of China has clarified that the Renminbi (Chinese currency) will be the main trading and investment currency. Entering the Chinese Banks into new OBOR countries will promote the globalization of the Chinese economy. China also called upon Chinese expatriates to invest in OBOR projects.

The Chinese President has played his OBOR card when the USA, the prime competitor to China, got an egotistic and unpredictable President like Donald Trump. XI’s OBOR initiatives are contending as the USA turns to isolationism and protectionism.

The USA and its allies are under threat of raising extreme nationalism and communalism. Donald Trump likes to appear as a nationalistic President rather than an international player. In the meantime, Donald trump decided to withdraw from the Paris climate treaty and ignore USA global responsibility. On the contrary Chinese President Xi asserted his eagerness to implement the Paris Climate treaty and intention to work with European leaders.

Emerging as European core ally, Xi also called for more Chinese responsibility for global issues.

Xi’s stance on global affairs impacted positively on his OBOR initiatives. Now the relationship between China and Western Europe is at its highest level of cooperation since the Chinese revolution. Therefore China got a very positive response from Western Europe regarding OBOR initiatives.

So the conference on the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which was held last May was participated in by representatives from all Western European countries including Swiss President Doris Leuthard, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Germany and France are not very enthusiastic about OBOR, but they look for business opportunities which would come from OBOR. In a nutshell, every country of the planet, even the USA private sector is keen to explore the cost and benefits of the enormously ambitious project. It is not surprising that the OBOR initiative has belted a wide range of countries from Asia and Africa to Europe and even South America.

Apart from heads of state, Executives of 61 international organizations attended the summit, including UN secretary general António Guterres, president of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim and managing director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde.

Leaders of ASEAN Countries including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, participated in the OBOR summit and not surprisingly that they moved aside from their dispute with China on the South China Sea.

However, OBOR have been criticized for dominating tiny economies through long-term control of infrastructures, natural resources and associated land assets. China may control the OBOR countries market, labor and exports through transferring Chinese-own production units to those countries. Some also doubt the efficiency of Chinese Banks. Another allegation is that in the context of security measures the Chinese Liberation Army could dominate all the geographical routes of OBOR area and could intervene in internal affairs.

On the other side of coin, the OBOR countries will benefit from Chinese investment much more than from World Bank or IMF loans. So, the OBOR initiative is universally welcomed by both developed and developing countries. The Developing countries (Mao’s Third World)   have huge demands for infrastructure development and required funding, which they can easily obtain from the OBOR fund. Therefore the developing countries are very positive when they analyze the objectives of OBOR.

Historically, the Chinese Dragon used to shock the world when it woke up from hibernation. It woke up in 1949 from opium addiction and the Chinese Revolution (the first Dragon of New China) surprised the world.  Again the Chinese Dragon hibernated in the 1960s following Mao Zedong’s cultural- revolution. During the Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong closed the Chinese door for 10 years but surprisingly he initiated opening the door for imperialist ‘puppet-tiger’ USA through ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy. His step was very significant for awaking the new Chinese-Dragon.

The whole world was astonished again when the Chinese manufacturing dragon, the second dragon occupied the global market in 1980s. Nowadays, nobody can ignore Chinese commodities for even a single day.

The third dragon is Xi’s OBOR initiatives, the world is waiting for the outcome of OBOR, which has already commenced its journey and roams across all the continents and oceans of the planet.

Sazzad Haider is a writer and filmmaker living in Bangladesh. He edits The Diplomatic Journal.