Our media and chattering classes put on their serious faces, nod with gravity and warn of the dangers of Russian interference in Western politics, business and even sport. What they fail to recognise is that China’s Xi Jinping is Putin Plus.
The central committee of the Communist Party of China recently altered the nation’s constitution. It removed the clause that the president and vice-president of the People’s Republic of China ‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’.
Xi Jinping, who celebrates his 65th birthday today, is now in effect president for life, ruling a country with a population of approximately 1.5billion, with a GDP of over $14trillion, and with 2,693,000 personnel the largest standing armed force in the world.
This means that for the foreseeable future China will continue to move forward according to Xi’s thoughts, his guiding principles and under his absolute leadership. What does this mean for the future of the West’s relationship with China? The answer lies somewhere between disturbing and ominous.
With China’s economy growing and its global influence rising, Xi is more than ever convinced that China requires a highly authoritarian one-party system. According to Amnesty, human rights in China are at their worst since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, or ‘the June Fourth incident’ as it is known in China.
China’s government rejects accusations of human rights abuses and challenges to its judicial sovereignty. It insists the country is run according to Chinese law. The prospect of a multi-party system with free elections is dismissed as threatening to undermine Chinese society and undo its economic achievements.
Xi’s ultimate goal is to preserve the rule of the Communist Party and to that end society must be controlled at all costs. China is so strong that the opinions of outsiders can be ignored.
China, a globally oriented superpower, is determined to export its ideology and influence throughout the world. Its increased presence in Africa is part of a wider effort to ‘create a paradigm of globalisation that favours China’. Africa is a key source of raw materials, especially crude oil, of which China is now the world’s second largest consumer, with more than 25 per cent of China’s oil imports coming from Sudan and the Gulf of Guinea.
Beijing is also seeking to project its military power well outside its usual sphere of influence in the Western Pacific. It pursues a determined arms export strategy. Often China is willing to sell its prospective client states advanced technologies which other countries are unwilling to sell to all but their closest allies. It has become the world’s third largest exporter of major arms, an increase of 143 per cent from five years previously.
Beijing is determined in its efforts to build what are known as ‘anti-access/area-denial’ capabilities, particularly in its air and naval forces. Its new generation of advanced fighter jets, anti-ship missiles and stealthy diesel-electric attack submarines not only give it leverage over its neighbours but can also prevent the USA from effective intervention in defence of its allies in Southeast Asia.
Technical progress in China is remarkable, from ultra-long-range conventional ballistic missiles to fifth-generation stealth-capable fighter jets. Last year the hull of the first Type 55 cruiser, China’s latest warship, was launched, and it is working on its second aircraft carrier. Its capabilities are enough to make any NATO navy think twice.
Until recently the People’s Liberation Army has been equipped with outdated weaponry, and it still lags in development. But the government has set 2020 as the goal for ‘mechanisation’ and ‘informisation’. Russia may stand accused of meddling in Western elections with fake Facebook accounts, but China is busy developing the capability seriously to disrupt Western military, industrial and social computing capabilities.
There is no comfort in arguing that these advanced weapons systems are difficult to integrate with the mass of earlier technology, and that new military tactics will need to be developed. China is revamping its military command structure to create genuine joint headquarters involving all the key services. In terms of artillery, air defence and land attack, China is capable of giving the West real concerns.
China has been able to advance technically in part through industrial espionage. According to the US Justice Department, the scale of China’s corporate espionage is so vast that it constitutes a national security emergency. Virtually every sector of the US economy is targeted, costing American companies hundreds of billions of dollars and more than two million jobs.
Earlier this year Chinese government hackers were accused of stealing sensitive data from the computers of a US navy contractor. The data included plans for submarine-launched supersonic anti-ship missiles.
Europe, too, has problems with Chinese industrial espionage. ‘China wants to be the world’s leading economic power by 2020,’ said Walter Opfermann, a German espionage protection expert. ‘For that they need a speedy and intensive transfer of high-level technological information which is available in developed industrial lands.’
Ironically China has been able to grow rich and powerful and able to develop the capability to challenge the US and the West due to American power-projection in the Pacific. This has enabled the development of a relatively stable international climate ensuring the free flow of energy supplies and other key commodities.
Perhaps the possibility of trade with China blinds Westerners to reality. When Xi Jinping visited London in 2015 the red carpet was rolled out: a two-night stay at Buckingham Palace, state banquet, processions through the streets, trade talks, and Free Tibet protesters hustled out of sight in case the Chinese were offended. Human rights issues were quietly swept under the carpet; business is business.
Russia is a distraction from the real problem, which is the growing power and aims of China.