China-style expansion must not be left unchecked as intl order changes

The world is undergoing a period of change comparable to the time when the Cold War ended. The conflict between U.S.-led democracy and the authoritarian regime that China is attempting to expand has become more intense and it appears it will be prolonged.

The international order based on universal values such as the rule of law and respect for human rights is being shaken. Democratic countries must unite and maintain their superiority in the economic, technological and military fields. It is hoped that each country will play a role in overcoming these turbulent times.

Concerns over Xi’s behavior

In China, power is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of President Xi Jinping. The Beijing Winter Olympics slated for February and the National Congress of the Communist Party in autumn will be an opportunity for Xi to show off his power and reinforce his authority at home and abroad.

Admittedly, China’s ruling system characterized by top-down decision-making and surveillance of the public has yielded a certain level of success in mitigating the spread of novel coronavirus infections. The number of people who have contracted the virus and died from it is much lower in China than in Europe and the United States.

The Xi administration regards this as a victory over Western nations. At the Beijing Olympics, it will likely stick to the Chinese style of running the event and tout the superiority of its system.

However, the international community’s scrutiny on China is extremely harsh. Some nations have decided not to send government representatives to the Olympics in protest of China’s human rights violations. Germany has begun reviewing its conventional stance of attaching importance to the economy in deepening relations with China.

Some countries are concerned over a possible situation in which China breaks international rules, expands its interests and spreads a model of authoritarian rule throughout the world. The South China Sea, where Beijing is expanding its military footholds, and Hong Kong, where people have been deprived of freedom of speech and fair elections, symbolize the danger.

The Xi administration has firmly maintained its aim of unifying Taiwan and China and continues military intimidation around Taiwan. There is a strong fear among neighboring countries that China may go ahead with invading Taiwan if it judges it has reached a point where it can prevent U.S. military intervention.

Under Xi’s unipolar regime, which never allows any objection, it is hard to imagine that there is a restraining force on erroneous analysis and policy decisions. The overconfidence and self-righteous behavior of the Xi administration are the biggest risks facing the world.

Return to democratic origin

China’s offensive is not completely unrelated to the shaky ground the United States is on.

It was only a year ago that former U.S. President Donald Trump refused to concede defeat in the presidential election, and his supporters turned into a violent mob and stormed the U.S. Capitol. The failure of a major power that should be leading democracy remains a major flaw.

U.S. President Joe Biden is still on the way toward his goal of unifying Americans. Midterm elections will be held in November. If his Democratic Party fails to maintain its majority, it is feared that Biden will find it more difficult to implement his policies, and the country will end up with deadlocked politics.

The popularity of Trump, who disrespects international cooperation and fuels hostility against the Democrats, remains strong among Americans who oppose rule by elitists.

In recent years, liberals who value measures to tackle climate change, racial equality and the rights of LGBT people have grown in strength within the Democratic Party. In contrast, Trump supporters see such attitudes as disrespectful to local economies that rely on the coal and oil industries and as a rejection of conservative values.

Rejecting and excluding each other can hardly be described as characteristic of a healthy democracy. Some have pointed out that media bias and the prevalence of fake news on social media may have spurred the current situation in the United States.

The source of the power of democracy lies in the process of accepting diverse opinions and finding common ground to make decisions. If the United States loses sight of its democratic origin and divisions deepen, it could cause the foundation of democracy to self-destruct. In order to compete with China, it is urgent that the country restores itself.

In addition to the confrontation between the United States and China, there is a heap of issues in international politics, such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs, Iran’s nuclear problem, Russia’s military threats against Ukraine and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Absence of world’s policeman

The Biden administration has stressed the need to restore U.S. leadership, but it does not necessarily have the will and capability to take the lead in resolving all conflicts as “the world’s policeman.” This was exposed again by the chaos when U.S. troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

U.S. allies and friendly nations, including Japan, must expand their defense capabilities and strengthen regional security. Integration should be promoted through active information sharing.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the importance of the Quad comprising Japan, the United States, Australia and India, as well as AUKUS, a new framework among the United States, Britain and Australia, should increase. It is necessary to expand the circle of cooperation to countries in Europe and Southeast Asia that share the same values.

These frameworks could be used to create rules for outer space and cyberspace. It is desirable to use them to bind China and Russia to arms control.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 3, 2022