As he began his second term as Chinese president at the opening of Communist Party’s 19th Congress, Xi Jingpin gave an over three-hour speech outlining the party’s vision for the future. One thing was clear: that he is a strategic thinker who sees China playing an increasingly dominant role on the global stage. Given that it is expected that within the next five years the size of China’s economy will exceed that of the US, this is not an idle dream.
Mao Zedong famously said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, suggesting that it is military might that ultimately matters. But he said that in 1938 the context of achieving state power within a country at a time when there was a struggle between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang for control of China. Mao added that while “the army is the chief component of state power”, it must always be subordinate to civilian control, that “the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.”
When it comes to international relations, once a sufficient level of nuclear deterrence has been achieved, as is currently the case between the US, Russia, and China, it may well be that economic power matters more than military power. So while the US continues to pour money into its military and pursuing military actions in many parts of the globe and alienating vast swathes of people, China has been building alliances by providing many nations with support for infrastructure development.
China’s leadership seems to be thinking strategically and long-term, in terms of decades into the future in economics, military, and political spheres, while the US seems to be only concerned about military dominance. But without a strong economic and social base, that will be a hollow kind of power. While the Chinese leadership may be worried by Trump’s irrationality and recklessness that contrasts with their own cautious approach, they must be welcoming the fact that he is accelerating America’s decline in the world.