Xi Jinping has a plan for how the world should work, and one year into his norm-shattering third term as Chinese leader, he’s escalating his push to challenge America’s global leadership — and put his vision front and center.
That bid was in the spotlight like never before last month in Beijing, when Xi, flanked by Russian President Vladimir Putin, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and some two dozen top dignitaries from around the world, hailed China as the only country capable of navigating the challenges of the 21st century.
“Changes of the world, of our times, and of historical significance are unfolding like never before,” Xi told his audience at the Belt and Road Forum. China, he said, would “make relentless efforts to achieve modernization for all countries” and work to build a “shared future for mankind.”
Xi’s vision — though cloaked in abstract language — encapsulates the Chinese Communist Party’s emerging push to reshape an international system it sees as unfairly stacked in favor of the United States and its allies.
Viewed as a rival by those countries as its grows increasingly assertive and authoritarian, Beijing has come to believe that now is the time to shift that system and the global balance of power to ensure China’s rise — and reject efforts to counter it.
In recent months, Beijing has promoted its alternative model across hefty policy documents and new “global initiatives,” as well as speeches, diplomatic meetings, forums and international gatherings large and small — as it aims to win support across the world.
For many observers, this campaign has raised concern that a world modeled on Beijing’s rules is also one where features of its iron-fisted, autocratic rule — like heavy surveillance, censorship and political repression — could become globally accepted practices.
But China’s push comes as American wars overseas, unstable foreign policy election-to-election, and deep political polarization have intensified questions about US global leadership. Meanwhile pressing issues like climate change, Russia’s war in Ukraine and Israel’s assault on Gaza have sharpened discussion over whether the West is taking the right approach to respond.
All this coincides with longstanding calls from countries across the developing world for an international system where they have more say.
Many of those countries have substantially enhanced their economic ties with Beijing during Xi’s rule, including under a decade of his up to $1 trillion global infrastructure building drive, which leaders gathered to celebrate last month in the Chinese capital.
It remains to be seen how many would welcome a future that hews to China’s worldview — but Xi’s clear push to amplify his message amid a period of unrelenting tensions with the Washington elevates the stakes of the US-China rivalry.
And as the procession of world leaders who have visited Beijing in recent months, including for Xi’s gathering last month, make clear: while many nations may be skeptical of a world order pitched by autocratic China — others are listening.
A more than 13,000-word policy document released by Beijing in September outlines China’s vision for global governance and identifies what it sees as the source of current global challenges: “Some countries’ hegemonic, abusive, and aggressive actions against others … are causing great harm” and putting global security and development at risk, it reads.
Under Xi’s “global community of shared future,” the document says, economic development and stability are prioritized as countries treat each other as equals to work together for “common prosperity.”
In that future, they’d also be free of “bloc politics,” ideological competition and military alliances, and of being held responsible for upholding “‘universal values’ “defined by a handful of Western countries,” the document says.
“What the Chinese are saying … is ‘live and let live,’ you may not like Russian domestic politics, you might not like the Chinese political regime — but if you want security, you will have to give them the space to survive and thrive as well,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.