China as Hegemon?

As China continues to grow, some people start to worry. Some take a dark view of China and assume that it will inevitably become a threat as it develops further. They even portray China as a terrifying Mephisto who will someday suck the soul of the world. Such absurdity couldn’t be more ridiculous, yet some people, regrettably, never tire of preaching it. This shows that prejudice is indeed hard to overcome.

— chairman Xi Jinping1

It is not just westerners that project a desire for hegemonism upon China. A dissident writer in China recently wrote something that led me to question him: “… explain what you mean by ‘he [Xi Jinping] has stressed the belief that Asia belongs to Asians, a trenchant testimony to China’s aspiration for regional hegemony…’ Do you mean Chinese hegemony in Asia? How then do you come to such a conclusion?”

The reply was equally baffling: “… please notice: this sentence only means China’s ambition for hegemony in Asia, but not Chinese hegemony in Asia. It is ‘ambition’, not ‘hegemony itself’.”

Unsatisfied I wrote back: “Yes, but whereupon do you base your conclusion that China has ambitions to be a hegemon because it goes against what Chairman Xi says?”

The response led deeper down the rabbit hole: “Almost all of Chinese leaders say that they are against hegemonism, Xi being not an exception; their words cannot be completely trusted as true but cannot be completely ignored as untrue. They surely are pragmatists and pure hypocrites: until they take action we cannot be very certain what they will do or are thinking. Do you think that If they had that power of the U.S., they would still say so and do so?”

So what does Xi say?

… we have made a solemn pledge to the whole world that we will never seek hegemony or commit any act of expansion, and that China is and will remain a staunch force for upholding world peace.2

Recently, veteran journalist Eric Margolis wrote an article entitled “China’s Plan to Lead the Globe.”3 Is it Margolis’ title? Regardless, one wonders what is meant by the title? Lead the world in what way? And at whose behest?

Margolis writes, “As tensions in the South China Sea between the US and China continue to rise, the US Navy and Air Force are quietly gearing up to fight a war in the disputed region.” Apparent from the wording is that the tensions are caused by the ratcheting up of US militarism in “China’s extensive coastal waters” — waters far removed from US shores.

As John Glaser observes, “… the apparently looming conflict between the US and China is not because of China’s rise per se, but rather because the US insists on maintaining military and economic dominance among China’s neighbors.” In other words: hegemony.4

In his article, Margolis dissects an “important” book The China Dream by professor general Liu Mingfu, “a leading Chinese military thinker and commentator who speaks with the voice of China’s military.”

Margolis writes, “One need not be a swami to see that China’s surging power will soon clash with that of the American hegemon. The battle lines are already drawn: China’s aggressive claims to the South China Sea – viewed by the US Navy as an American lake. Taiwan. Tensions over Burma. Korea. China’s access to the open seas.”

“Aggressive”? Just how aggressive is that Chinese claim vis-à-vis the US claim to Hawai’i, American Samoa, Palau, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the entirety of its continental landmass composed of 49 states?

According to Margolis, the key to containing “China’s growing power” is an India-US alliance. However, as James Petras writes, Indian president Narendra Modi nixed such an alliance against China, saying: “I strongly believe that this century belongs to Asia.”5

Referencing Liu, Margolis writes “that America must quietly cede some of its power to China in the same manner that the British Empire did to the United States after 1900. The United States and China must share power and jointly rule the world as benign hegemons.” [italics added]

Margolis dissents from Liu on various points in his book, which I cannot readily comment on given I have not read Liu’s book. However, the following opinion by Margolis deserves rebuttal: “America, he claims, is a half-democracy: democratic at home but promoting dictatorships abroad. He [Liu] seems to believe that China is as democratic at home as the US – a claim that defies reality.”

It is an opinion because Margolis simply offers his words without definition, without facts, without rationale, and without substantiation. It was a careless piece of writing. First, how does Margolis define “democracy”? Comparing and contrasting democracy in Cuba, the US, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, author Arnold August details that socialist Cuba is eminently more democratic than the US.6 Wei Ling Chua in his book, Democracy: What the West Can Learn from China (2013), provided several examples and compelling arguments that the US lagged far behind China on any democracy scale.7

Am I going to argue that China is a democracy? No, I am not. However, I will refute the knee-jerk emotions of many western journalists who are hornswoggoled to believe they live in anything approaching a democracy and who deride other nations thereupon based on western disinformation.

Margolis asks,

Will Washington back off and allow China to be the master of Asia?” He answers his query, “It seems highly doubtful.”
But two things might derail China’s rise to world domination. First, China’s history is replete with example of internal strife, civil wars, and regionalism. This ‘Chinese curse’ could come back to haunt Beijing.

Xi Jinping writes that China is resolutely advancing to a socialist state, albeit it is still in the earliest stages of this transitioning. China embraces socialist principles that seek the best for the entirety of humanity, and not “world domination” as Margolis posits.

A chapter title from Xi’s book reads: “The Chinese Dream Will benefit Not Only the People of China, But Also of Other Countries.”8

“While playing close attention to our own security, we must also pay attention to the common security of the world, and contribute our effort to turning the world into a safe place for all nations.”9

*****
How does Chinese media respond to the increased US military presence in the South China Sea?

Washington is taking dangerous gamble in the South China Sea. With aggressive US interference, there has been much speculation about the possibility of a US-China military clash in the region. Washington hopes this will convert into pressure on China. It may not expect a compromise from China over island construction, but hopes China would be psychologically burdened in its maritime development.10

Global Times, the English language offshoot of the People’s Daily asks: “How could China, the world second-largest economy, neglect maritime security?”

China has made it clear that relevant facilities under construction [in the South China Sea] will be used for peaceful regional development and cooperation. The US suspects the sites may be turned into military outposts to confront US maritime hegemony…. Blocking China’s legitimate actions out of imaginary worries and suspicions is a blunt violation of the norms of international relations and diplomatic principles.

The dangerous provocation of the US, driven by their illusion of the worst-case scenario, is unwise and reckless. It is pressing Beijing to act in compliance with Washington’s desire. However, China won’t dance to the rhythm of the US.11

Xi stated clearly,

We stand for peaceful resolution to international disputes, oppose all forms of hegemony and power politics, and never seek hegemonism nor engage in expansion. We will resolutely defend our sovereignty, security and development.12

Question: If the Chinese navy started patrolling off Guantánamo Bay and holding military exercises in the Straits of Florida with Cuba, how would the US respond?

  1. Xi Jinping, The Governance of China (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2014): location 3918. []
  2. Xi, loc. 3663 []
  3. Eric Margolis, Information Clearing House, 25 May 2015. []
  4. John Glaser, “The US and China can avoid a collision course – if the US gives up its empire,” Guardian, 28 May 2015. []
  5. James Petras, “A Critique of “US Grand Strategy toward China,” Dissident Voice, 29 May 2015. []
  6. Arnold August, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion (Zed Books, 2013). See review. []
  7. See review. []
  8. Xi, loc. 947. Title from interview in May 2013. []
  9. Xi, loc. 3153. []
  10. US takes dangerous gamble in S.China Sea,” Global Times, 29 May 2015. []
  11. See “US economic pressure to make China go own way: Analyst,” Press TV, 9 May 2015. []
  12. Xi, loc. 593. []
Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.