The USA claims that China seeks world domination. China claims no such ambition. What’s the case in reality?
07.01.2023 | Yishai Gelb
In December 2022 I participated in a conference in Tel Aviv, and on the agenda was the triangular relationship between the USA, Israel, and China. A few keynote speakers included Efraim Halevy, Former Chief of the Mossad, and Cai Run, Chinese Ambassador to Israel. On the one hand, the American speakers insisted that China was aggressively pursuing a policy to become the dominant power in the Middle East and in the international arena. On the other hand, the Chinees speakers insisted that they seek economic opportunities only, and have absolutely no interest in stepping into the US’s position as world hegemony. And in the middle, the Israeli speakers were split down the middle.
So who’s speaking the truth? What are the Chinese real ambitions in the Middle East, and where does Israel stand? To answer these questions, we must take a look at the actions taken by the Chinees government and military, the rhetoric coming out of Beijing, and the US’s position as the world leader and how historically world empires behaved during their decline to understand how they perceive reality. Such an answer can cover a 500-page book, however, this paper will give a 750-word answer that should satisfy your understanding of the two narratives, and the situation on the ground.
Regarding China's actions in the Middle East. Since 2013, China has embarked on a mega project to connect China to world markets through Chinees infrastructure, starting with roads and bridges, to ports and pipelines. This project is called the belt and road initiative. The goal was to create an alternative route for China to import and export that didn't include American-controlled trade routes. This endeavor included the Middle East. Ports in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, treaties with the Gulf states for pleantyful supplies of fossil fuels, and investment in roads and railways to the ports, including the port of Haifa in Israel. Until now it seems like the actions on the ground are solely economical. But what about the rhetoric?
At the opening of the Communist Party congress this past October, Xi Jinping, who has put himself in a position to rule China for at least another decade, and possibly for life, reiterated the goal to make China a modern socialist power by 2035, boosting income to middle-income levels and modernizing the military. Then by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, he wants to secure the nation “leads the world in terms of composite national strength and international influence.” One does not need to be a political analyst to understand what the Chinees leadership's ambitions are. And those who understand the strength of China know that they could reach their objective.
The Chinees military already surpasses that of the USA, in manpower, naval power, and some advanced technologies. The US still has air supremacy, but not for long. Diplomatically, China has a larger coalition of states who could back China on the world stage, with 82 counties who vote along with Chinees policy at the UN. The US still surpasses China with capital, resources, and military and monetary influence on the world stage, but for how much longer? In November 2022 Saudi Arabia hosted the Chinees president shifting towards an agreement with China to sell oil in Yuan and not in USD, deeply destabilizing the US’s influence and control over energy markets.
Now, looking at the US’s position in the world as a world leader, it’s telling the reaction from Washington. Ray Dalio describes in his latest book Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order the phenomena of rising and declining empires as a cycle. A cycle where empires rise and fall in similar ways over the course of history. During that cycle, an empire experiences the days of the rise, the high of being at the top, and also the period of decline.
The US experienced the rise from its founding until the end of World War 1 in 1919. It was at the top from then until the 2008 market crash, while the 1990s was the peak of the American empire. And since 2008, the US has been slowly declining.
Usually, with a decline of an empire, there is a rising empire. As the two powers grow near in strength, there are visible signs of growing conflict between the two, The declining empire wishes to preserve the world order that it created, calling the rising empire a threat to the world, as the rising empire might seek to challenge the declining empire.
So where are we now? Both the US, the declining empire, and China, the rising empire are nearing equality in strength and influence, and now the arms race is in full swing.
In 2013 the US pivoted to Asia moving its forces and resources to the South China Sea. By redirecting to Asia, the US needed its allies in the Middle East to pick up responsibility for their security leading to the Abraham accords as well as the objective to sign an Iranian deal and decrease US resources in the Middle East. The decreasing US presence in the Middle East gave way to alternative influences to enter - Russia militarily, and China economically. So is China simply filling a vacuum and economic opportunities, or do they have aspirations for more influence in the Middle East, including the military?
Given China's growing economic and military abilities, and taking into consideration the US’s signs of decline, together with Chinees rhetoric, it seems to me that China's ambitions are significant. China, like the US, is facing economic difficulties in the past couple of years and also has a demographic problem. I see these problems as solvable and won’t prevent the eventual growth of the Dragon in the middle kingdom. China and the US are on a collision course, the question is whether it will the upcoming war be a cold war or a hot war.
I recommend taking a look at Ray Dalio's Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order in the video below