Now that China has done away with presidential term limits, Xi Jinping can retain all his current titles and power long into the future. Most commentary defending the move argues that Xi is consolidating power to push through difficult reforms and strengthen China, and that he wants to remain in charge beyond 2022 to preside over China’s emergence as a global superpower, achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
That Xi cares about achieving this great rejuvenation is pretty clear. Yet this goal implies not only China’s economic transformation into a developed country, but also its change into a superpower with global influence, admired and respected around the world. If this is truly Xi’s ultimate goal, then there is something important that both the outside world and Xi himself need to understand: the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will either have to be peaceful or it probably won’t happen at all.
Over the next 20 years, as China’s power and influence grow, tensions between Beijing and the US, along with other regional powers, will inevitably emerge. This is already happening, whether in the South China Sea or at the Sino-Indian border. Even a limited war might have profound consequences for China’s rise, because it could throw its economy into recession or catalyse the formation of an anti-China alliance of Asia-Pacific states, from Japan to Australia to India. This would sabotage both China’s economic and strategic goals.
Asia-Pacific countries have already become fearful of China’s growing military might, but its economic pull has proved stronger for the time being. Asian leaders can also comfort themselves with the thought that China hasn’t fought a war in almost 40 years, and official Chinese rhetoric at least talks about peaceful settlement of disputes. But if China’s military were to show its teeth, it would become clear that a peaceful rise is just a dream and any country in the region could become the next target.
This article has been published by Andrei Lungu, President of RISAP, in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full article on the South China Morning Post website.