Perhaps it’s the relative absence of internal debates in China that has caused its policymakers to underestimate their importance elsewhere, especially in democracies. As a result, the PRC has increasingly – and misguidedly – privileged power over persuasion, and assertion over assurance
. The impact is becoming painfully apparent around the Indo-Pacific. Indeed, China’s actions are giving real substance to this way of thinking about the region as India is being driven
into the arms of the US.
When the US is led by the most incompetent and unreliable president in recent history (if not all time), this takes some doing. Why would any other potential friend or ally have confidence in America’s ability to sort out its own problems, let alone the rest of the world’s? This is a major opportunity for China to pose as a champion of globalisation – even as a supporter of the fabled “rules-based international order”.
Perhaps one of the consequences of especially troubled times is that great powers think that “soft power” has little value. To judge from his actions, Trump plainly believes as much. But many of us had begun to think that China was an increasingly engaged and sophisticated foreign policy actor that recognised the importance of cultivating productive international relations. True, the PRC was famously intolerant and repressive at home, but business elites around the world could hold their noses and make lots of money, nevertheless. All of these tacit bargains are beginning to unravel
. Our domestic capitalist class in Australia has noticeably less influence in debates about China than they once did. Likewise, those of us who quixotically argue for a more independent foreign policy position that treats both China and the US with a degree of caution are given even shorter shrift than usual.