ecently, in a long memo to U.S. Air Force commanders, the four-star Air Force General Mike Minihan delivered an ominous warning “choring up a possible confrontation with China” in two years. Since the beginning of the growth of Chinese economy back in the 1980s under then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, American multinationals have doubled their profits by entering the vast Chinese consumer market. Over the span of decades, China has become the most attractive investment destination for Western companies and start-ups.
Within decades, China emerged as a manufacturing hub for cheaper goods and services and began boosting its export industry filling state coffers with billions of dollars. By 2010, the People’s Republic of China replaced Japan as the second largest economy in the world shocking the world with its new model of economic development known as “Beijing Consensus” or “China Model.”
In 2012, China saw a change in the political landscape, when Xi Jinping became the new leader of the People’s Republic. This was interpreted by Chinese experts as the beginning of the “Chinese Century.” The term is complex and is rooted in a Chinese neologism that describes an economic miracle indicating that the 21st century may be geoeconomically or geopolitically dominated by the People’s Republic of China. Within a year, in 2013, Xi announced China’s dream project, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative, often referred to as the “New Silk Route,” with a new Chinese economic philosophy of a “win-win situation.”
The multibillion-dollar One Belt and One Road Initiative is China’s global infrastructure development strategy that aims to invest in more than 150 countries around the world by building large-scale infrastructure projects such as ports (both dry and seaports), railways, highways, small and big economic zones, and commercial airfields.
Two hundred years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte famously remarked that “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep for when she wakes up, she will move the world.” With Xi Jinping in China, it seems the sleeping dragon has awakened. But will it really shake the world as Napoleon once predicted? Even before the inauguration of the initiative, in 2004, several U.S. geopolitical experts coined the theory of “String of Pearls” which is a geopolitical hypothesis that speculated the Chinese domination in the Indian Ocean via commercialization of key ports by establishing lanes of communication that will connect mainland China with the Horn of Africa.
The major commercial ports in the Indian Ocean, which China is currently developing for commercial use, include Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, Lamu and Mombasa Port in Kenya, Bagamoyo Port and Dar es Salaam Port in Tanzania, Sokhna Port in Egypt, and Sudan Port in the Republic of Sudan. There are also several other small ports, which China is planning to jointly develop with relevant governments in the aforementioned countries.
As per Chinese claims, these ports are exclusively being developed for commercial purposes, but U.S. geopolitical experts see the growing Chinese sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean as a growing threat. In his celebrated book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, American political scholar Robert D. Kaplan observes that U.S. power and influence are trending downward, while China is rising on both accounts across the region.
However, the Chinese leadership refutes these claims and defends its commercialization of major ports in the Indian Ocean as a pathway to boost China’s trade relations with the countries in Asia and Africa. The rapid success of key infrastructural development ports under the OBOR Initiative clearly suggests the beginning of the Chinese Century. According to Chinese historians and political experts, the “Chinese Century” under the leadership of Xi suggests the unification of China’s three key historical traditions.
For instance, according to Chinese philosopher Gan Yang Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are the three main historical traditions that have shaped Chinese culture and society over the course of centuries. In Yang’s view throughout Chinese history ranging from the dynastic rule, Republican Revolution to Communist Revolution; these three traditions have shaped Chinese culture and society and continue to influence the way that people think and live in China today.
In his 2012 seminal lecture at Tsinghua University entitled “‘Unifying the Three Traditions’ in the New Era,” Chinese philosopher Gan Yang explains how China under the leadership of Xi is flourishing across the political, social, economic, and cultural spheres. Referring to the history of China in the 21st century, Gan told the audience, “Modern Chinese history refers to a new understanding of the links and continuities between the success of reform and opening and the Mao era, as well as a new understanding of the foundational role that traditional Chinese history and civilization have played in modern China.”
Jiang Shigong, another Chinese philosopher, shares the same pragmatism about the beginning of the Chinese Century in his essay “Empire and World Order.” Referring to Chinese isolation in the mid-twentieth century after the communist revolution and its emergence as a global power in the 21st century, Shigong explains the process in the following way: “The progression of world history as the progress of smaller political units towards larger conglomerations, or empires, culminating in the latest phase of “world empire.”
Likewise in his other renowned essay “Philosophy and History: Interpreting the ‘Xi Jinping Era’ through Xi’s Report to the Nineteenth National Congress of the CCP,” Shigong explains Xi’s notion of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in the following way:
Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new age, meaning that the Chinese people, who have long suffered in the modern age, have now made a great leap, from standing up 站起来 to becoming rich 富起来, to becoming strong 强起来.” “Standing up,” “getting rich,” and “becoming strong” are ways to divide the histories of our Party and our Republic, referring respectively to the Mao Zedong era, the Deng Xiaoping era, and the Xi Jinping era.
Xi elucidated the foundation of the “Chinese Century” in his famous Nineteenth National Congress address to the Communist Party in 2017. In this address, citing the classical Confucian concept of tianxia (天下), or “all under heaven,” Xi explained his vision for China’s role in facilitating the development of various regions around the world. Today, across the geoeconomic and geopolitical spheres, China is a leading competitor of the West and it was the Chinese economic miracle of the recent century that propelled China to pick the race with the U.S. Today, the question is whether this competition will turn into a confrontation.
Beginning from the last decade, the American Eagle and Chinese Dragon are facing off against each other on various fronts. For instance, the Trump trade war with China in 2016 was the beginning of this direct rivalry, which widened the economic distrust between the West and China. Likewise, Chinese claims to the nine-dash line in the South China Sea also became a major sign of the confrontation that continues to this day.
Recently, Chinese neutrality and a light tone of support for Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine have further escalated the already tense diplomatic and economic confrontation with the West. In response to China’s silence over the Ukrainian conflict, Western countries have collectively decided to deprive China of chip imports, which are essential to its booming telecommunication technological progress.
The ongoing policy of Western sanctions against China and Russia are clearly the calm before the storm. The question is whether the West can afford two fronts if the U.S. and Europe decide to start a war with China. The recent ominous warning of General Minihan about a possible war with China by 2025 clearly signals a worsening situation in a conflict-ridden world. It is time for global powers to think about collective humanity because growing global insecurity signals that leaders are highly cautious and concerned about even the smallest potential threats. Even a small confrontation between China and the United States can result in a full-scale world war that seems to be approaching.