Making China great again

Another great analysis from The New Yorker on the US-China relationship and domination for world leadership


China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected. China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced that the Silk Road would be reborn as the Belt and Road Initiative, the most ambitious infrastructure project the world has ever known—and the most expensive. Its expected cost is more than a trillion dollars. When complete, the Belt and Road will connect, by China’s accounting, sixty-five per cent of the world’s population and thirty per cent of global G.D.P. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, it is building bridges, railways, and ports in Asia, Africa, and beyond:

the “belt” will be composed of land routes running from China to Scandinavia, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Middle East; the “road” refers to shipping lanes connecting China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

It will be more than seven times that of the Marshall Plan, which the U.S. launched in 1947. Since 2013, it has loaned about forty billion dollars a year to developing countries


By some measures, the U.S. will remain dominant for years to come. It has at least twelve aircraft carriers. China has two. The U.S. has collective defense treaties with more than fifty countries. China has one, with North Korea. If its economy surpasses America’s in size, as experts predict, it will be the first time in more than a century that the world’s largest economy belongs to a non-democratic country.

Deng, in 1990, called his strategy

“hide your strength and bide your time.”

Xi declared

“a new era,” one in which China moves “closer to center stage.” He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”

Trump is “very similar to Deng Xiaoping,” the pragmatic Party boss who opened China to economic reform. “Deng Xiaoping said,

‘Whatever can make China good is a good “ism.” ’

He doesn’t care if it’s capitalism. For Trump, it’s all about jobs,”. Xi sent Jack Ma”—the founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba—

“to meet with Trump in New York, offering one million jobs through Alibaba.”

Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back.

“Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,” “That was a big lesson for them.”

Fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’ Because he hasn’t delivered on any of his threats. There’s no wall on Mexico. There’s no repeal of health care.

Trump and Xi to meet at Mar-a-Lago on April 7th, for a cordial get-to-know-you summit. To set the tone, Trump presented two of Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s children, Arabella and Joseph, who sang “Jasmine Flower,” a classic Chinese ballad […] Chinese government approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, clearing the way for her to sell jewelry, handbags, and spa services in China. Kushner has faced scrutiny for potential conflicts of interest arising from his China diplomacy and his family’s businesses. The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia

to treat the state as your possession.”

Modern Chinese leaders

“use the trappings of imperial China” to “impress foreign officials with their grandeur and seriousness of purpose.”

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, it has loaned so much money to its neighbors that critics liken the debt to a form of imperialism. When Sri Lanka couldn’t repay loans on a deepwater port, China took majority ownership of the project.

Joseph Nye, the Harvard political scientist who coined the term “soft power,” to describe the use of ideas and attraction rather than force,

“American soft power comes heavily from our civil society, everything from Hollywood to Harvard and the Gates Foundation,”

Global leadership is costly; it means asking your people to contribute to others’ well-being, to send young soldiers to die far from home. More likely, the world is entering an era without obvious leaders, an “age of nonpolarity,”.

“I think we’re going back to actually the historic norm, separate multiverses, rather than one, which was an exception.”

Prior to this article and Trump’s election, author Evan Osnos was invited on a16z Podcast in June 2016: Politics Over Pragmatism — On China, Trump, and Smart Guns?

He shared his view on China’s evolving demographic where the older generation who’s lived through famine under Mao can still say to the youngsters who expect a better life in exchange for turning a blind eye on their liberties:

“kids you have no idea how good you have it”.

With this generation dying, this may no longer be a hedge against politics.

As an insight, it was interesting to hear that recently middle-class Chinese, not just foreigners or elite, complain about pollution and this consciousness of their health and wellbeing is now seen as a status symbol.