China’s leadership is gathering this week in Beijing to prepare another five-year plan, and affirm president Xi Jinping for another five-year term. Journalist Ian Johnson looks for the New York Times at the new role China is playing in the world. “His China could become a model for digitally driven authoritarianism around the world.”
For foreigners, this means getting used to a China that is stronger and more assertive — but possibly more brittle — than in the past. If Mr. Xi is successful, his China could become a model for digitally driven authoritarianism around the world, while failure could force a reconsideration of the wisdom of trying to force-march a country to modernity.
China’s new role is hard to miss in foreign affairs. For decades, Washington has been urging China to get more involved in the world. Usually this meant asking China to help solve international crises — to become a “stakeholder,” in foreign policy jargon. But to many people’s surprise, after years of playing a mostly passive role in world affairs, China has taken a forceful approach.
Beijing has moved aggressively to enforce historically dubious claims to international waters and islands far from its shores, building reefs into islands and making the bizarre assertion that the economic zones around them are Chinese waters — arguments contrary to any independent interpretation of international law.
China has also begun pulling small countries on its periphery into its orbit through a lavish infrastructure plan called the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, in the process propping up regimes that are sliding away from democracy in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.
These ambitious policies to dominate the region are paralleled by tough measures at home. For five years, Mr. Xi has led a fierce campaign against corruption, which arguably was the biggest threat to the party’s long-term ability to rule. But he’s also leveraged this crackdown to sideline political rivals, admitting as much last year when he said that high-ranking officials arrested for corruption had been engaging in “political conspiracies.”
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