In an era of disruption, China is positioning itself as the next foreign policy leader
- As the world’s governments grapple with uncertainties, China, with its belt and road strategy, growing military muscle and AI ambitions, is preparing to emerge as a leading force in diplomacy
As global affairs continue to career out of control, the world’s foreign-policy decision-makers may be forgiven for feeling as if they are floating around in a weightless atmosphere, wondering what they will crash into next. What distinguishes this “negative G” era from others in the past is that the world is not at war, nor is there a global economic crisis.
Rather, this is occurring while the world is at relative peace and in comparative prosperity. Only rarely has an era of disruption coincided with such political calm and favourable economic indicators.
This puts policymakers in a rather unenviable position. The era of disruption has taken hold, with pressure on virtually every facet of the foreign policymaking process: politics, economics, sociocultural issues, the military, cyber, technology, and the environment.
This has coalesced into what amounts to mission impossible; how can foreign-policy decision-makers possibly craft strategies with any hope of remaining relevant and implementable in the long term with so many variables?
Beijing is, in effect, creating its own foreign policy reality. By having a futuristic world vision created in its own image, and by devoting incredible financial resources over many years to seeing it through, China’s government is virtually ensuring that it controls much of the dialectic in global foreign policy. No other government comes close to rolling out an initiative as bold and sweeping as the belt and road, and Beijing is spending more than all other governments combined in its pursuit of AI supremacy.
This orientation to the long term, creative and original thinking, and a willingness to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in pursuit of its objectives is what distinguishes China at this juncture. Beijing is combining all this with an aggressive global diplomatic campaign to take up part of the slack left in the wake of the US withdrawal from much of the rest of the world, and a clear desire to strengthen existing partnerships in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
China’s vision is to become the leading force in diplomacy, even if the US were to regain its global footing in the next presidential election or beyond. It is ensuring that it has, and maintains, a substantial lead in that regard.
At the same time, much of the rest of the world is embroiled in domestic issues which inhibit them from responding with muscularity to the emerging Chinese-driven reality. The US remains preoccupied with its perpetual divisive political squabbling, the UK is still stuck in the Brexit debacle, and other countries continue to devote undue resources to resolving lingering issues.
When the only certainty appears to be continued uncertainty, and while the majority of the world’s governments appear to be trying to determine how to stop careering out of control, Beijing seeing the downward acceleration as an opportunity, rather than a cost.
In a decade, when others are dusting themselves off and trying to figure out what comes next, China will be crafting its next set of long-term plans while sprinting further ahead in the foreign policy arena, and beyond.
Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and author of the new book China Vision