Napoleon Bonaparte once said “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world” when talking about China (Globe and Mail, Welcome to the Asian century). Seen from today, he could not be more right. The Chinese tiger woke up during the cold war, and it has finally finished rubbing the sleep out of its eyes. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China could easily replace the United States as the new world superpower in the next few decades. And this will turn the world as we know it upside down. So, how would China become the next global superpower, and what would a world under its rule look like?
In the past decades, the Chinese economy has boomed from a small agricultural society to one of the largest diversified economy on earth. The capitalist and communist hybrid political system (Independent, Is China actually a communist country?) has attracted most of the world’s manufacturing. Almost half of the goods used by humanity are currently being produced in China (Economist, Made in China?). Economically, China therefore has the capacity to become a superpower, and its is not wasting it. China has been spending trillions of dollars to increase its influence around the world through projects, deals, weapons, and infrastructure investments. One of these projects is the Belt and Road Program, in which China spends an estimated 4 to 8 trillion dollars to rebuild the Silk Road. In this program, China is building hundreds of highways, ports, factories and a lot of infrastructure to help countries all around the Eurasian continent. This project appears noble, benefitting the recipients, but is criticized as a way to create a dependency between developing countries and China. With so much investment, these countries will be heavily indebted to China and could easily be turned into Chinese puppets. As claimed by report from Fitch Ratings, China has created this program out of political ambitions rather than economic goals. In 2018, Malaysia has pulled out of the Belt and Road program, claiming that it “is a new version of colonialism.” The Chinese government has also drastically increased military spending to build new advanced military technology such as aircraft carrier and ray guns (Independent, China reveals long-range heat ray gun). It is also expanding its territory and influence in the East China sea by claiming Spratly islands and their resources. And while China expands, what is the western world doing? It is burning itself.
In this time when authoritarian governments such as China and Russia are growing their power, the democracies of the world need to be at their strongest and preserve democracy and freedom. But instead, they are burning themselves. The two largest poles of democracy in the world are currently in political and social turmoil. The United States have never had such a divided population, with about half of it standing firmly behind the controversial Donald Trump while the other half loathes his every actions. The second pole of democracy is also at jeopardy, as Europe has its own issues. With the rise of populism shown through England’s Brexit, France’s Gilet Jaune, and Italy’s Salvini, the very base of the European Union is at risk (Le Point, Le Front national change officiellement de nom) (Time, How the European Far-Right Is Growing in Power). With the democracies that have ruled the world for the past centuries looking inward at their many problems, China has free reins to grow its influence and power. Only the United States seemingly takes action against the rise of China; it has begun a trade war and is demonstrating military presence in the South China Sea to counter China’s increasing aggressive posture in the region (CNN, US Navy proposing major show of force to warn China). However these actions are limited in scope and won’t likely stop China’s growing influence. The next decade could devolve into a Second Cold War between the western democracies and China, and China could replace the US as the new global power. What would a world dominated by China look like?
With China as the new overlord, the world order would be drastically altered. The main change in our society would be a decrease in democracy and freedom. A world dominated by an authoritarian state would lead to the death of democracy as we know it. Over the course of the past century, world powers have influenced other countries into adopting their system, sometimes with controversial actions and goals. Such as the pro-American coup in 1972 Chile or the American backed Greek government in its 1946 civil war. As the world has been dominated by democracies since the late XVIIIth century, and since the fall of the Communist block, most governments are currently either democracies, or moving towards democracies. If China becomes the new world leader, the slow crawl towards global democracy will come to a halt and could even be turned around. Individual freedom will likely be another casualty of the rise of China’s power. Communist China is transparent about its lack of individual freedom and could already be spreading it throughout the world. Indeed, over the past years, China has been developing a Social Credit system that monitors all 1.5 billions citizens and judges them for their actions (Business Insider, China has started ranking citizens with a creepy 'social credit' system). Simple actions such as jaywalking can diminish one’s social credit, and a low score can result in limited access to jobs, education, travel, and other common necessities. China’s government is known to monitor its citizens through millions (New York Times, Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras) of public space cameras associated with facial recognition and to tap phones and electronic devices. As the Huawei incident is showing, some are concerned that China could deploy its monitoring technology on individuals and businesses across the word (Bloomberg, The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies). Limited individual freedom and democracy are a feature of China and could soon become one of the world.
Today, humanity is at a crossroads. We can either accept a surveillance society and a long-lasting authoritarian regime, or we can keep on the path of freedom and democracy. Determining which of the two will prevail is impossible. One thing is certain: our generation will see this struggle unfold and will witness its resolution-- for good or for bad.