Is the effect of the slowdown in economic growth, more supported than what the planners anticipated? After the arrogance of these last years, China has become a little more humble. The world’s number one economy — at least measured in purchasing power parity — realizes that it's not ready to supersede the United States. Thus, at the beginning of the year, in Chicago, Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang declared at the time of a forum that “it's the United States who leads the world. China has no plans, nor the capacity to challenge their leading role.”
After a period marked by calls for a stronger assertion of China on the world stage (basically since the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008), a new consensus was formed among the Chinese specialists in foreign relations: The United States will remain in the decades to come the only superpower and China is not capable of disputing such domination. As for Japan, which we hoped would join an Asian agreement with the West, it's a lost cause. The compromise with the former invader is deemed impossible at this time. It will remain under American supervision. With the confrontation with Washington, it's best to substitute a more focused policy of competition.
Jin Canrong, professor at the University of the People in Beijing, even dares to make this comparison: rather than speaking of a Chinese century which would succeed an American century, it would be necessary to place the current China at the level of the United States in … 1872. Why 1872? For the first time that year, the American economy surpassed that of the United Kingdom. The British Empire would, however, remain the world leader until the First World War. It was only after the Second World War, 70 years later, that the United States would assume the role of first class. Their designated successor, China, must also be patient.
The world tends toward economic bipolarity, but the United States remains the single pole in strategic, military and political power, adds Yan Xuetong, famous professor of foreign relations from the Qinghua University in Beijing. China did not manage to diffuse a counter-model (its authoritative capitalism) with the one birthed by American liberalism, the only one able to influence world elites.
Yan Xuetong, like several other researchers, is quoted in an enthralling analysis on the reformulation of Chinese foreign policies written by Antoine Bondaz on behalf of the European Council on Foreign Relations. The echo of these Chinese concerns is the opposite of the idea of an American decline which is circulating even in the United States, in Europe or in the Arab world.
That does not mean that China is going back in its shell. On the contrary, it wants to become more and more active on the international stage and will strengthen its military presence in the region, especially in the disputed maritime space of the seas around it. But, unlike Moscow, Beijing is pragmatic, less ideological in its way of weighing on international architecture. It's through the economy that Chinese leaders want to extend their influence. It's the strategy of the “Roads of Silk.” There are three of them: toward Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
For those who fantasize about a world dominated by China, it will be necessary to wait for the 22nd century.