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The peaceful rise of China: Is it going to end?

Since the end of the Cold War, China has slowly but steadily risen to become a serious competitor to the US, posing a new challenge to their increasingly faltering dominance.

After the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, political reforms helped China enter into the global economy. Their quick growth and the implications of a changing power dynamic grabbed the attention of the world. The global community responded by integrating China into international institutions. They believed that cooperation would prevent tensions by encouraging China to conform to the status quo. However, this did not go entirely to plan.

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The status quo

China’s economic cooperation did not extend to humanitarian. Despite signing treaties on human rights, President Xi Jiping’s government remains disinterested in the subject of worker’s rights and are actively dismantling any political rights. Mr Xi’s grasp of power was cemented earlier this year with the removal of the two-term limit on his presidency and with the codification of his own political philosophy within the constitution. He has become the most powerful leader since Mao.

With liberal naivety, the West believed the Asian country could be bent into shape through cooperation and economic interdependence. China is not playing by the same rules.

A double-standard against China

Holding China to the same standards as developed nations is not without controversy. Clearly, the UK was far from perfect during its years of empire. More recently, the US has acted far outside the accepted international norms. US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 would have been a highly scrutinised act had it been taken by an Eastern state. As a world leader, America's credibility has not recovered from the Iraq war and has been compounded by the election of Donald Trump. US foreign policy has taken a far more erratic turn than China’s mostly apathetic approach to the international arena. After withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and calling NATO obsolete, the US is no longer the world leader.

The economic incentive

China is unlikely to attempt to implement any dramatic changes to the global order, as this would pose too great a risk to its economic prosperity. China showed some willingness to make sacrifices to join the WTO organisation in 2001 and is unlikely to want to threaten the economic advantages this inclusion brings. With trillions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves, China could easily damage the US economy. But up until recently, China wouldn’t risk weakening the market for Chinese exports to the US. However, Mr Trump's imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods has made a US-China trade war an uncomfortably real possibility.

An unnoticed threat

So how has China succeeded in increasing its power without posing a threat to the status quo? The answer is soft power tactics. Their use of foreign aid, loans, debt forgiveness, investment and trade with developing counties has allowed the nation to gain massive influence. Developing countries are turning their backs on the West, who are seen to meddle with their state sovereignty. Western aid comes with the catch of Western values, but China does not impose its philosophy when offering help. China is attempting to charm its way to the top. Its doctrine of non-interference is a strong challenge to the Western ideology which has dominated.

An uncertain future

An authoritarian regime tends to be accompanied by domestic unrest. For a long time, the Chinese have embraced a single authority, and economic prosperity means unrest is far less likely. Another Tiananmen crisis could, however, be an inevitability as a desire for political reform seeps its way into public opinion, which would lead to an internal crisis. This could also present an international threat. China’s future will remain worryingly unpredictable until these issues are confronted.