Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”: a thorny path

Xi JinpingAfter becoming the master of Zhongnanhai and having a great centralized power in hand, Xi Jinping introduced the “Chinese Dream” to make China a superpower and “the centre” of the world. To materialize the “Chinese Dream”, Xi Jinping also launched the “Belt and Road” and “Maritime Silk Road" initiatives. The primary goals are to transform China into a maritime power, increase its presence, and expand its influences over Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the South Pole.

To realize such ambition, on the one hand, Beijing fosters its media campaign promoting “China’s peaceful rise”. On the other hand, China increases its intrusion on land into different regions through the “Belt and Road” (BRI) and on the sea against its neighbouring countries. With its propaganda machine, several countries have initially believed in Beijing's words. However, China’s increasing aggressiveness and assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea, have revealed its expansionist and Great Han hegemonic nature. The “Chinese Dream” of Xi Jinping concurrently enters tough times.

First, China’s assertive and coercive acts towards its neighbours in the South China Sea, or Japan in the East China Sea, have been damaging the Chinese authority's image in the international community. However robust its propaganda machine is, or whether “by hook or by crook”, Beijing’s true colours cannot be covered up because of its aggressive behaviour. Beijing cannot be able to project the so-called “China’s peaceful rise” because Beijing has become the biggest threat for its neighbours in the South China Sea, Japan, or others.

In particular, the fact that China has been harnessing the Covid-19 pandemic to undertake aggressive activities in the South China Sea in the past two months has awakened ASEAN member states. An awaken ASEAN will undoubtedly strengthen the Association’s solidarity, especially among South China Sea littoral states, in resolving issues in the South China Sea. Notably, it is China's increasingly aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea that encourages the US’ deeper engagement in this area by increasing the number of combat ships, submarines, and strategic aircrafts operating in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. This significantly hinders the implementation of Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”.

Second, since the beginning of 2019, The European Union (EU) has been aware of China’s hegemonic ambition. The bloc has defined China as its economic and technological “partner” and “competitor” in its “Strategic Vision 2019”. Besides, the EU has also aired its fulmination against China's acts of aggression in the South China Sea and requested Beijing to adhere to international law. The UK, France, and Germany have even made their own declaration on the South China Sea.

The Covid-19 pandemic made EU truly awake to Beijing’s ambition. In a letter sent to many giant media agencies on May 15th 2020, Josep Borrell – the head of EU diplomatic commission – asserted that “The relationship between China and EU has witnessed swifter changes since the contagion of Covid-19”.

When the pandemic broke out in China, the EU supported China with 12 tonnes of equipment and € 10 million. France sent 17 tonnes of protective equipment by Air France flight to Wuhan. Moreover, many EU businesses have offered fund and medical protective equipment to China. All these support provided to China came along with a brief message.

Nonetheless, when the Covid-19 pandemic breaks out in Europe and the region turns into one of the main pandemic centres of the world, China provides a handful of assistance while does much to publicize and politicalized humanitarian aids to promote its own image. Similar to what China has been doing to ASEAN countries, it has also attempted to crack, entice, and disunite EU member states to divide the bloc. Furthermore, Beijing has pumped low-quality medical equipment, masks, and test kits into Europe that creates anti-China product psyche.

Beijing is not reluctant to exploit the differences among EU members to serve its interests. In the case of ASEAN, China uses its influences over mainland ASEAN nations like Cambodia to obstruct the Association internally. As for the EU, China uses 17 Central and Eastern European countries as an ace to divide and rule. Only then was EU explicitly aware of China’s “divide to rule” ploy, which has been applied to ASEAN members in the South China Sea issues.

The deterioration of EU - China relations is apparently a significant obstruction to the implementation of Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”.

Third, the recent verbal war between Beijing and Washington over Covid-19 pandemic has deteriorated US - China relations. China takes advantage of the current crisis, for which reason the US is busy responding to the pandemic, to step up its aggressive activities in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. This leads to the recent US’ increased deployment of its warships, submarines, and sophisticated aircraft to operate perpetually in this sea. The US concomitantly fosters the cooperation among the “QUAD” (US, Japan, Australia, and India) in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China. The US also launches a campaign that calls for medical and electrical high-tech companies to withdraw from the Chinese market. Against this backdrop, observers around the world warn about the escalation of the China - US confrontation into a “new type of cold war”. This could be seen as the most dominant factor that hampers Xi Jinping’s implementation of the “Chinese Dream”.

Fourth, “developing countries” in Asia, Africa, Latin America or Western Pacific, which are the main actors in China’s “Belt and Road”, have fallen into the China’s debt trap. With no ability to pay back, many of them have to offer either their seaports or land to Beijing as payment. These countries have been explicitly aware that “Belt and Road” is, in fact, Beijing’s neo-colonialism.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted all economies and pushed these countries to more difficulties. Some of them are now facing pilling debt. As such, many countries are requesting Beijing to extend the payment period or even to write off the debt.

Besides the delayed progress of all projects due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ability to make debt payment in USD to Chinese creditors is also affected because of currency devaluation, which is ascribed to loss of revenue from export accompanied with the increasing domestic spending for economic recovery. Another source of non-performing debt is credit-for-petroleum agreements that have been frequently criticised by the World Bank due to the lack of loan transparency.

The Covid-19 pandemic not only hinders the implementation of “Belt and Road” – a tool that helps Beijing realize its “Chinese Dream” – but also create a giant global non-performing loan to China from more than 130 countries partaking in its initiative.

Overall, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed to the world the expansionist and hegemonic nature of Beijing as well as the adverse impacts of “Belt and Road” initiative. The pandemic has also disrupted China’s economy, forcing China to address major non-performing debt and creating new “enemies” for the country. The Covid-19 pandemic places Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” on a more bumping road. The “Chinese Dream” might be merely a dream. Xi Jinping deserves it because he is the one who has embarked on all the unceasing tensions in the South China Sea and the region as a whole.


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