Since taking power 8 years ago, President Xi has massively overhauled China’s military, economy, and political influence. Now, Xi is preparing China for global dominance. Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military leader, once said “China is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” President Xi has emphatically declared that the lion has awakened. Xi announced during his first speech as president in 2012 that his nation would embark on the “Great Rejuvenation” project. “Which, to put it into sort of Trumpian terms, means to ‘make China great again'” Tom Miller, a China expert, said. Miller has documented Beijing’s rise in the book, China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road. Miller says since taking the reins, President Xi has been on a trajectory of preparing China to be the world’s dominant power.
“Under Xi Jinping, China has been deliberately trying to realize its ambition to become the global superpower,” asserts Miller. “And Xi wants to achieve that goal by 2049, 100 years after the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949,” Miller said from his home in London. Chinese scholars say it’s also part of the 67-year-old leader’s deep belief that his country has a divine right to rule the world. “The ‘mandate of heaven’ is from China’s imperial past where Chinese emperors believed that they not only had the right, but they were compelled by heaven to rule the world” said Gordon Chang, an Asia analyst. One way is by military force. As commander-in-chief of the world’s largest fighting force, Xi has remade China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, into a military rapidly closing the gap on US firepower.
Zack Cooper is a China scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “We’ve been incredibly impressed and surprised, by how fast the Chinese military has modernized,” Cooper said. “If you look at what they’ve done in the last 30 years, we’ve seen double-digit growth in their defence expenditures for most of that time,” Cooper added. The results could mean a significant threat to the United States, her allies, and the Asia Pacific’s balance of power. “China seeks to build a military equal to, or superior to, the US military or of any other great power that China perceives a potential threat,” warned Chad Sbragia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for China. The Pentagon revealing for the first time that China now has the world’s largest navy and plans to double its nuclear warhead arsenal in this decade, including ballistic missiles that can reach the United States.
“This has been a tremendous change from the 1990s when Chinese military was not even considered a peer in any way with that of the United States,” said Cooper. Gordon Chang warns that China is also adapting its military capabilities. “It is a great military threat to the USA because China is developing weapons that are specifically targeting American aircraft carriers,” said Chang. China is warning the United States against selling weapons to Taiwan, that Beijing claims sovereignty over and has vowed to take back, by force if necessary. “This interferes in China’s internal affairs and seriously damages China’s sovereignty and security interests. China firmly opposes this, said Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The South China Morning Post reporting that Beijing is beefing up its military capabilities for a possible invasion of Taiwan.
While China continues to secure its borders and coastal waters, Xi is also projecting power far from home. China has plans to open US-style military bases from Asia to Africa to South America. “We are seeing an expansion of China’s military footprint that would not have been expected 10 years ago,” Cooper said. “This will accelerate as China grows stronger, as it goes out into the world to protect its trade routes, not just in East Asia, but also beyond,” he added. China is also relying on its economy and technological prowess. In 2013, President Xi launched China’s Belt and Road Initiative, sometimes known as the New Silk Road. Stretching from East Asia to Europe to Africa, China is busy building roads, railways, airports, dams, power grids, ports, and bridges, all in an attempt to gain economic, political, and diplomatic partnerships around the world.
Miller said “There are now more than 140 countries around the world which are officially a part of this initiative.” In 2015, the government in Beijing launched “Made in China 2025” with the aim of being a technological superpower. It launched initiatives in high-tech industries, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and next-generation technology and telecommunications. “China is doing its best, not only to buy up tech from other countries, but to also create that tech itself,” Miller said. Miller asserts that unlike Genghis Khan and his Mongol empire, President Xi isn’t trying to build an empire in the classic sense. Instead, Miller argues, that China under Xi, wants to become an economic, military, and technological juggernaut that will surpass the United States, and dominate the world for the foreseeable future.
“Do I think that China like the Mongols is going to send hordes of people across Eurasia and to invade other countries, no I don’t,” Miller said. “When I use the word ’empire’ I’m talking more in terms of an economic and diplomatic empire in terms of global spheres of influence.” China’s neighbours watch her rise with mixed feelings. In America, levels of anxiety about China are at historic highs. The Trump administration put Xi’s government on notice for its handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, its poor human rights record, trade imbalance, and a host of other thorny issues. Still, as the author of a recent Politico article wrote, America, and the world, “doesn’t get to veto China’s rise, only to reckon with it.” The question is what will that reckoning look like in the years to come as China continues to get stronger.