Is 2018 the year China’s luck ran dry? When it became apparent that the country’s…
hubristic leadership … lacks both imagination and any real ability to make fundamental political and social changes that might impact its desire for total control.
What is the strategic thinking behind China’s diplomatic heavy-handedness this year? The questioner lists Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Thailand, Sweden and India as countries Beijing has actively pissed off. We could add Kenya, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Malaysia and more places where China has been ‘hurting the feelings’.
The answer to the first question is that China’s luck probably started to run out several years ago, but it has taken a while for many observers (especially in the West) to see past the ‘economic miracle’ cuddly-Panda mirage. As for the second question – there is no strategic thinking, obviously.
Some of the reputational damage arising from domestic repression and overseas arrogance reflects China’s top-down threats-and-punishment chain of command. The Chinese officials who barged into the Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister’s office were presumably under orders to procure the correct APEC communique wording, or else.
But it all goes back to delusional leadership at the highest level. See how ‘Belt and Road’ is looking increasingly like a vanity-driven blunder, and how China has clearly misjudged its ability to counter the US in the trade conflict. Emperor-for-Life Xi Jinping operates in a bubble, is told what he wants to hear and believes his own propaganda.
(Trump is a fantasist – but thanks to separation of powers, checks and balances, rule of law and a free press, it doesn’t make too much difference.)
Not only is Xi alienating overseas audiences, he is disturbing his own elites (and potentially overplaying his personality cult among the masses). If Huawei and Meng Wanzhou aren’t safe, what about the hundreds of thousands of well-off Mainlanders who have broken rules to stash wealth and families in Western democracies? Life was easier when the leadership followed Deng’s ‘hide your strength’ thing and didn’t get in foreigners’ faces.
Here in Hong Kong, we get a customized blend of Beijing’s domestic repression and overseas arrogance. (Here’s the latest summary of the crackdown on pro-democrats.) More and more people are getting nervous. The business community worry about losing legal protections and a level playing field. Local officials fear the decline of the city’s image and threats to the US-Hong Kong Policy Act. Ordinary folk wonder if the CCP is undermining their passports.
It’s all part of the same pattern of Xi-ist overreach – and maybe it’s now unraveling.