China’s pursuit of greatness part 2 and conclusion

China’s pursuit of greatness part 2 and conclusion

China’s global ambitions

While we earlier mentioned that arctic geopolitics may also further heat the already warming northern cone and that Russia is deploying armored icebreakers and nuclear submarines to assert its territorial claims as mineral deposits are discovered to this can be added that China has been doing similarly. 

With a staff of over 200 academic and non-academic workers, China’s Polar Research Institute established a China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai in 2013 to promote collaborative research between nine Nordic and eight Chinese research universities and institutes. The center’s broader mission is revealed in its statement of purpose, which includes an effort to “promote cooperation for the sustainable development of the Nordic Arctic and a coherent development of China in a global context.” 1 China also constructed a research station on Svalbard, a satellite receiving station in Kirkenes, Norway, a second research center in Iceland, and a third in Finland.2 It jumpstarted its ability to undertake independent research in the Arctic by purchasing an icebreaker from Ukraine in 1994. Named Xuelong, or “Snow Dragon,” the icebreaker enables China to pursue research in the Arctic and Antarctica. China brought its own domestically built icebreaker – Xuelong 2 – online in 2019, as pictured below.

Based on a Finnish design, it is operated by the Polar Research Institute. As a result, China is a leader in Arctic expeditions, having undertaken nine to the Arctic and 28 to Antarctica. And experts believe that China is on its way to building a powerful nuclear-powered heavy icebreaker; only Russia currently possesses such a capacity.3

China’s Arctic interests extend well beyond science-related concerns. A growing strategic interest in the region mirrors the country’s broader global ambition in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. In 2009, the Polar Research Institute set up an Arctic strategic research department to provide policy support for the Chinese leadership on geopolitical issues around the region.4

In discussing China’s interests in the Arctic, the editors of the Journal of the Ocean University of China wrote, “Preparedness ensures success, while unpreparedness spells failure. Only with the development of forward-looking, in-depth research can [China] possess the right to speak up about future international affairs pertaining to the polar regions.” 5

President Xi Jinping’s push for China to establish an economic foothold in the Arctic has translated into a significant investment. This investment is considered part of China’s Polar Silk Road, and its Silk Road Fund. In fact, Chinese companies invested in 65 Swedish companies between 2002 and 2019, including companies with dual-use technology such as lasers and semiconductors.6 In response, Sweden announced plans in 2020 to tighten its FDI rules.

Denmark, too, balked at three high-profile Chinese economic initiatives: first, when a Chinese firm attempted to buy a defunct US base in Greenland, which would have provided Beijing with a significant new base for intelligence activities in the Arctic; 7 second when the Chinese ambassador made a trade deal with Denmark’s self-governing Faroe Islands contingent on an agreement to sign a 5G contract with Huawei;8 and, third when Beijing attempted to build two airports in Greenland. In its 2019 risk assessment, the Danish Defense Intelligence Service identified Chinese large-scale resource investments in Greenland as a risk given the potential for “political interference and pressure” when “investments in strategic resources” are involved.9

Xi Jinping’s conception of Chinese security also includes a dramatic transformation in the position and role of the US military on the global stage.

As pointed out before underpinning the dynamics of rising tensions, military assertiveness, negotiation, and confrontation in the South China Sea is the diplomatic and military presence of the United States.

For almost two decades since the signing of the Declaration on a Code of Conduct in 2002, ASEAN has attempted to negotiate a South China Sea Code of Conduct with China. In 2018, it developed a negotiating text for the code of conduct, but many of the critical issues, such as the geographical range, the nature of the dispute resolution process, bans on further land reclamation, and the right of outside actors such as the United States to hold military exercises, have not been resolved.10

Singapore’s ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan has accused China of only superficially engaging with ASEAN, saying that Beijing is negotiating in a “barely convincing way.” He notes that “progress has been glacial” and that Chinese diplomats often hold the negotiations hostage until ASEAN adopts positions with which it agrees.11

After the Philippines also Malaysia attempted to adopt a more active stance in pushing back against China’s expansive claims. In December 2019, it submitted its own claim to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to establish the outer limits of Malaysia’s shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit, overlapping with waters claimed by China.12

The Malaysian auditor general revealed the Chinese PLA Navy and coast guard ships had undertaken 89 incursions into Malaysia maritime waters between 2016 and 2019.13 And in the spring of 2020, Chinese and Malaysian vessels had an extended standoff in their disputed territory.14 China’s military assertiveness has further triggered rising arms expenditure throughout the region. Overall military spending by ASEAN increased 33 percent between 2009 and 2018.15

The United States historically has taken no sides in the South China Sea dispute, although it has stepped in at various times to support sovereignty rights under UNCLOS and freedom of navigation.

Among Chinese scholars, there is diminishing tolerance for what they believe to be US provocations in China’s backyard. CICIR researcher Lou Chunhao, for example, argues that “The South China Sea issue fundamentally is about China and other regional countries’ territorial and maritime claims…. China has an important role in the South China Sea because it is a regional power…. China and ASEAN countries are after all the owners of the South China Sea region.” 16 The message is clear: the United States should step back and accept China’s interests and new geopolitical realities. Or in common parlance: the United States should pack its bags and head back across the Pacific.

Similarly, on October 6, 2020, the German Ambassador to the United Nations read a statement on behalf of 39 countries stating that they were “gravely concerned” about China’s policies toward both Hong Kong and Xinjiang.17

In a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in October 2020, Xi referred to the “new practice” of one country, two systems, stressing the need for Shenzhen to lead in the development of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao to “strengthen their [young people from Hong Kong and Macao] sense of belonging to the motherland.”18 Commentators began discussing how Shenzhen’s “transformation from a backwater into a hi-tech metropolis” could “point the way forward for Hong Kong.”19 At the same time, Hong Kong authorities were busy sentencing the young democracy activists, such as Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, to jail. As the businesspeople had predicted, Hong Kong was well on its way to becoming just another mainland city.

The notion of sovereignty and the unification of China is at the heart of Xi’s ambition to realize the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Even before assuming leadership of the CCP and the country, Xi stressed the importance of China’s sovereignty claims and core interests. During his visit to the United States as vice president of China in February 2012, he noted that if the United States could not respect China’s “major interests and core concerns,” particularly around Taiwan, the relationship would “be in trouble.”20

And in a January 2019 speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” he made his intentions clear:

The historical and legal fact that Taiwan is part of China and the two sides across Taiwan Straits belong to same China can never be altered by anyone or any force…. We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means…. This does not target compatriots in Taiwan, but the interference of external forces and the minimal number of “Taiwan independence” separatists and their activities…. Taiwan independence goes against the trend of history and will lead to a dead end. Taiwan must be unified, will be unified with China.21 Unification, Xi asserted, was “a historical conclusion drawn over the 70 years of the development of cross-Strait relations, and a must for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era.”22

President Tsai has responded to Beijing’s deployment of both sharp and hard power by reducing Taiwan’s reliance on China and expanding its ties with outside actors.

Beijing, for its part, has not relented but only increased the stridency of its rhetoric and threatening actions. In September 2020, Chinese warplanes crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait forty times in two days. And on October 10, the PLA undertook a large-scale, multi-force exercise that simulated a successful invasion of Taiwan. CCTV and the nationalist Global Times also aired a video version with stirring music.23

China claims the legal rights around sovereignty stipulated in UNCLOS, such as the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf, as well as historical rights within its nine-dash line.24 To bolster its assertions of historical rights, Beijing cites Chinese references to the Spratlys dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Based on a collection of maps from the Qing Dynasty, China’s Foreign Ministry also claims that China held administrative jurisdiction over the Spratlys during the Qing and has produced an 1868 “Guide to the South China Sea” that reports on Chinese fishermen in the Nansha (Spratly) islands: “The footmarks of fishermen could be found in every isle of the Nansha Islands and some of the fishermen would even live there for a long period of time.”25

Every claimant, however, has its own South China Sea sovereignty story. For example, Tran Duc Anh Son, a well-known Vietnamese historian, asserts that the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945) exerted clear sovereignty over the Paracels – even planting trees to warn against shipwrecks. And there is evidence in history books around the world that a Nguyen-era Vietnamese explorer placed the country’s flag on the Paracels in the 1850s.26 Son also discovered a set of maps from the 1700s at the Harvard-Yenching Library that demonstrates that the Qing Dynasty laid no claim to either of the island chains and considered Hainan Island the southernmost part of the country.27 In addition to historical ties, Vietnam rests its claims on a 1933 legal annexation document issued by France, which represented a lawful method of territorial acquisition at the time. When Vietnam achieved independence from France, the latter’s territorial rights in the Paracels devolved first to South Vietnam and later to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.28

Once its first Djibouti base was in operation, some experts at the PLA Naval Command College stated that the construction of overseas bases would likely provide the “most effective strategic assistance” to China’s armed forces in “going out.” And they further noted that it was “an inevitable choice to realize the dream of a great power and the dream of building a powerful military.”29

Beijing is indeed on a port-buying spree. China owns or has a stake in nearly two-thirds of the world’s 50 largest ports.30 Asia security scholar Mohan Malik has detailed Beijing’s moves to acquire long-term leases on strategic ports, including Pakistan’s Gwadar port for 40 years, Greece’s Piraeus port for 35 years, Djibouti’s port for ten years, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port for 99 years, 20 percent of Cambodia’s total coastline for 99 years, and the Maldivian island of Feydhoo Finolhu for 50 years.31 In addition, Beijing is pressuring Myanmar to raise China’s stake in the Kyaukpyu port on the Bay of Bengal from 50 percent to 75–85 percent and to lease it for 99 years, as well in exchange for Myanmar avoiding a $3 billion penalty for reneging on the Myitsone dam deal.

One of the most overt statements of PRC intentions is voiced by three analysts at the PLA’s Institute of Military Transportation, who penned an essay in which they argued: “To protect our ever-growing overseas interests, we will progressively establish in Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Kenya, and other countries.

a logistical network based on various means, buying, renting, cooperating, to construct our overseas bases or overseas protection hubs.”32 Chinese objectives are a mix of political, economic, and military, including war, diplomatic signaling, political change, building relationships, and providing facilities for training.33 This logistical network will be supported by and, in turn, support the PLA’s ability to launch and sustain overseas missions.34 Cambodia is also rumored to be the site of a new Chinese base. Reporting has suggested that China may already be constructing a naval base under a secret agreement.35

China is developing advanced weapons, leading U.S. officials to push for the first nuclear talks between the two countries. Biden administration officials say the issue has taken on more urgency than has been publicly acknowledged.

Beijing’s recent moves, such as building new missile silo fields and testing new types of advanced weapons, suggest China may now be interested in developing a nuclear first-strike capability, not just the minimum deterrent. Biden raised the possibility of “strategic stability talks” with Xi Jinping, China’s leader, during a virtual summit this month.


The objective of China’s soft, sharp, and even hard power efforts is to shape the political and economic choices of foreign actors in support of Beijing’s values and interests. China wants to prevent companies from identifying Taiwan as a separate entity, universities from inviting the Dalai Lama, and film studios from portraying China in a negative light. As Singapore’s former Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Bilahari Kausikan cleverly notes, “China doesn’t just want you to comply with its wishes, it wants you to think in such a way that you will, of your own volition, do what it wants without being told.”36

At the same time, the strong hand of the state often undermines Beijing’s soft power initiatives or transforms them into sharp power equivalents. China’s use of personal protective equipment as a cudgel to pressure countries to express gratitude to China during the pandemic resulted in significant negative coverage by international media and falling levels of international public approval. In the case of TikTok, the CCP mandate that companies turn over any information the government requests diminishes the founder’s ability to operate in major markets and advance China’s soft power ambitions. Similarly, the CCP’s use of CIs to promote political views and activities on issues such as Taiwan and Tibet has dimmed their prospects in many countries, turning them into objects of suspicion as opposed to celebrations of Chinese language and culture.

President Xi’s determination to use China’s provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the rest of the world to control the narrative around the pandemic, coerce thanks, and bolster CCP legitimacy, for example, caused Beijing’s international standing to plummet and countries to begin considering how to move their supply chains out of China. What began as a diplomatic triumph transformed into a diplomatic debacle.

Importantly, China’s use of soft, sharp, and hard power resonates differently in different contexts. Efforts to “tell a positive story” about China through Chinese media or to deploy CIs are better received in countries where access to a broader range of media and other outlets is more limited. Similarly, with regard to sharp power, most countries withstand Chinese pressure to compromise on issues of core national security or principle, whereas individual private actors are more vulnerable to Chinese coercion and more likely to seek compromise. Beijing’s displays of hard power in Asia have also undermined its soft power potential, contributing to high levels of popular distrust in China. For African and Latin American countries, however, military concerns are far less significant. Surprisingly, perhaps, Chinese trade and even investment do not correlate strongly with overall trust and favorability. A broader set of foreign policy and human rights concerns play a more dominant role. Despite Xi Jinping’s stated desire to improve China’s image, he demonstrates little inclination to modify Chinese behavior. It is a choice that Chinese public opinion polls appear to support.  in June 2021, Xi called for the creation of a more credible and “loveable” Chinese image, suggesting a rhetorical shift may be underway.37

Chinese leaders have historically placed a high priority on sovereignty. The narrative of loss and humiliation dating back to the Qing Dynasty is deeply embedded in the country’s political culture, as is the desire to realize long-held territorial claims, whether legally justified or not. While all Chinese leaders since Mao have called for China to realize its sovereignty claims, Xi Jinping has made unification a central condition of his vision of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation; and his statements display a strong sense of inevitability and urgency around the realization of Chinese claims, particularly with regard to Taiwan. An important subtext to Xi’s reunification campaign is his effort to promote a China model that other countries might emulate. The specter of millions of Hong Kong citizens protesting for democracy and the clear commitment by Taiwan’s citizens to their democratic process cast doubt on the credibility of a China model. Moreover, the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates in both Hong Kong and Taiwan’s elections represents a very public repudiation of Xi’s narrative within territories that Beijing claims as its own. Xi’s claim that there is something uniquely Chinese about the path he has set out for mainland China is also undermined by Hong Kong, prior to the National Security Act, and Taiwan.

China’s strategy for realizing its sovereignty claims displays elements of soft, sharp, and hard power. With regard to Hong Kong and Taiwan, it demonstrates a high degree of tolerance for the separation of systems and international space for Taiwan as long as it feels confident that its diplomacy is resulting in greater integration. When, however, it perceives that a preponderance of political voices is advocating greater separation from the mainland and that forces within Hong Kong and Taiwan that supported reunification are weakening, it quickly adopts sharp and hard power tactics. This is particularly evident in the case of Taiwan, where Beijing immediately rolled back the diplomatic and economic wins it had permitted Taiwan under the Ma government as soon as President Tsai Ing-wen indicated that she would not support the ’92 Consensus. And it introduced a range of sharp power tactics, including reducing the number of Chinese tourists and students and meddling in the mid-term elections. It also has used military action with increasing frequency to discourage Taiwan from taking further action to enhance its independent status.

Similarly, in the South China Sea, although it maintains a process of ongoing diplomatic negotiation, China has expanded both its capability and its willingness to deploy military power. And when other claimants challenge its sovereignty claims, it will respond with coercive economic tools. Only when the claimants accede to Chinese terms will Beijing ease its economic coercion. For example, when the Philippines temporarily dropped its efforts to enforce the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Beijing ended its ban on the import of Philippine bananas and indicated a willingness to increase its imports of a wide range of additional goods. Nonetheless, the Philippine efforts to placate Beijing yielded no accommodation on the actual issue of sovereignty claims.

China also frames its sovereignty quest in the context of US-China relations. The United States is the primary guarantor of regional security and freedom of navigation. It has strong military allies and partners in the region and maintains a legal commitment to support Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities. Xi, however, has called explicitly for Asia to be managed by Asians and for the US system of alliances to be dismantled. In this context, China has attempted to use the negotiations over the South China Sea Code of Conduct to prevent the United States from conducting military exercises there. Moreover, Beijing’s frequent references to “external forces” as a significant source of unrest and protest in Hong Kong and Taiwan seek to undermine the credibility of domestically derived democracy activism by blaming other countries, in particular the United States, for creating trouble.

China promotes itself as a supporter of the current rules-based order but routinely ignores international law in pursuit of its sovereignty claims. Even before the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, it declared that it would not observe the ruling or participate in the arbitral process. In the case of Hong Kong, China asserted that the Joint Declaration was a historical document with no practical significance, invalidating its legal standing. Beijing ignores widespread international criticism over its disregard for international norms, while successfully rallying countries from Africa and the Middle East to its defense. As Chinese military capabilities continue to grow, it will likely move beyond its focus on Taiwan and the South China Sea to more consistently press its non-core sovereignty claims, such as those against India and Japan.

The BRI is an exquisite manifestation of Xi Jinping’s dream of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” It positions China at the center of the international system, with physical, financial, cultural, technological, and political influence flowing out to the rest of the world. It redraws the fine details of the world’s map with new railways and bridges, fiber optic cables and 5G, and ports with the potential for military bases. And it is a platform for sharing political values through capacity building on internet governance, safe cities, and media content. China has tried to portray the BRI as a multilateral arrangement and global initiative. Yet the reality is something quite different. It is a collection of often opaque bilateral agreements signed under a Chinese framework notion. The Belt and Road Forums further enhance the impression of Chinese centrality: heads of state travel to China to seek deals as supplicants to China. Even groups such as the 17+1 encourage small and middle-sized countries to compete with each other for Chinese favor rather than to unite around a common negotiating position.

The BRI has the potential to raise incomes globally and to bring much-needed investment to countries that otherwise have found it difficult to modernize their infrastructure. Some countries, such as Pakistan, are being transformed by the BRI, with new energy projects, roads, railways, a massive upgrading of both its Gwadar port and its digital infrastructure. The Port of Piraeus has become one of the top ports in Europe and ranked within the top 50 in the world. Greek officials are understandably bullish on their BRI investments. Officials in Brazil likewise view the BRI as an opportunity to partner with China on a wide range of initiatives, such as infrastructure, innovation, and sustainability. They express an enthusiasm, as well, for China’s willingness to “listen” to what countries want and need.

At the same time, BRI host countries often reflect doubts over the externalities that accompany BRI funding: opaque deal-making, rising environmental degradation and pollution, and limited attention to social impact concerns. The lack of transparency in lending ensures that Beijing retains the advantage in negotiations and facilitates corruption. Popular protests have proliferated, particularly around hard infrastructure projects, and new leaders, including those in Malaysia, Pakistan, and Tanzania, have sought to overturn or renegotiate unfavorable deal terms. At the same time, the BRI has left other countries, such as Pakistan, saddled with projects whose returns will likely never equal the initial investment and seeking additional debt relief from other international lenders. Many Chinese companies and officials themselves are concerned that a lack of understanding of host countries’ domestic political and economic situation results in suboptimal outcomes for BRI projects. Despite Beijing’s pledges to address these concerns, opinion polls indicate that few countries find China’s efforts to change course compelling.

Finally, the BRI has become a significant source of global competition. It has energized other advanced economies in Europe and Asia, as well as the United States, to develop their own infrastructure and connectivity projects to compete with Belt and Road. Australia, India, and the larger European economies have become more attentive to infrastructure needs in their own backyards. Japan, in particular, provides alternatives to Chinese BRI investment in Africa and Southeast Asia, where it has surpassed China as the largest source of infrastructure investment. The United States views the BRI through the lens of geostrategic competition and has been a vocal critic of Chinese BRI governance practices and has sought to persuade other countries not to accept BRI funding. Increasingly, Washington has focused its energy on the Digital Silk Road, where, China is poised to play a truly transformative role in creating the infrastructure for the 21st century.

China’s emergence as a world-class technology power capable of setting global standards is a top priority for Xi Jinping and the rest of the Chinese leadership. They have put in place a suite of policies designed to advance this objective, including a demand-driven model for R&D; significant financial support for individual firms and universities as well as startups; the protection of Chinese firms from foreign competition through programs such as MIC 2025; the acquisition of foreign talent and technology through both licit and illicit means; alignment between Chinese government priorities and those of Chinese firms; and pushing Chinese standards through the BRI and international standard-setting bodies. This highly centralized and controlled approach has significant benefits in its ability to link core technology priorities identified in strategic plans such as MIC 2025 with funding initiatives, talent acquisition, and efforts at international standard-setting. It has paid off in areas such as 5G, where a Chinese company such as Huawei has driven technological advances and been recognized as a world leader. Chinese government policy provided financing and protected the Chinese market from foreign competition, but the technological advances emerged from an actor that both innovated and acquired technological know-how and possessed an intuitive understanding of the market. At the same time, the Chinese playbook has created problems for Chinese companies as they seek to expand globally, particularly in advanced market democracies, where there are broader concerns over national security and Chinese government access to countries’ information. Xi Jinping’s push to deepen the CCP’s control over nominally private firms such as Huawei has contributed to their exclusion from some markets.

Moreover, Beijing’s political repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong has created a context in which Chinese technology companies are understood as part of a broader Chinese challenge to democratic norms. To the extent that Chinese technology companies underpin this political repression by providing surveillance and censorship technologies, it also impinges on their ability to be treated as separate from the Chinese state and to expand their global market share. Chinese strategic technology plans, such as MIC 2025 and Dual Circulation, also seek to decouple Chinese technology innovation and manufacturing from the international economy in order to develop and protect an indigenous Chinese technology ecosystem before eventually recoupling. Critical to this process, however, is the continued acquiescence of foreign actors to Chinese terms, such as accessing the foreign talent and foreign technology. The decision of the United States to break the pattern by investigating IP theft or other abuses by the Thousand Talents Plan and by placing firms such as Huawei on the Entity List created unforeseen and challenging disruptions to Beijing’s strategic plans. Even as firms in each country want access to the other’s market, the degree of technology decoupling underway will be difficult to arrest given political concerns and the imperatives of economic and security competition. Moreover, as the following chapter explores, China is advancing an even broader process of political and ideological decoupling. It is working to transform the global governance system, and in particular norms and values around human rights, internet governance, and economic development, to reflect Chinese values and priorities. Its vision is one in which China’s state-centered model of political and economic development is both protected and promulgated.

Xi Jinping’s ambition for China to lead in reforming the global governance system is reflected across multiple policy arenas. By shaping the system of international institutions and arrangements that govern states’ interactions, China ensures that it has the greatest opportunity to advance its domestic political, economic, and security interests, to protect itself from international criticism of its domestic policies around issues such as human rights, and to prevent Taiwan from expanding its independence and international space through membership in international organizations. Its global governance playbook combines both deft diplomacy and brute force. Xi frequently delivers keynote addresses at major global governance gatherings that elevate China’s image as a global leader. China also mobilizes significant resources to advance its interests. It places its officials in leadership positions within the UN system and other international governmental organizations and deploys large numbers of experts into the technical bodies of these organizations to advance Chinese standards and norms.

The sheer number of Chinese participants and proposals they present shapes the debate in significant ways. China also uses its financial wherewithal to advance its interests: for example, by investing in scientific research and research stations in the Arctic or by providing support to organizations such as UN DESA. In addition, China has sought to gain support for its positions by trading votes and offering financial incentives to – or in some cases threatening economic consequences against – other countries. China’s participation and efforts to reform international institutions are also often designed to serve its narrower interests. Beijing requires that Chinese officials and other Chinese actors in international institutions support domestic priorities as opposed to fulfilling the mandates of the agencies they serve. Wu Hongbo, for example, prevented Uyghur World Congress, President Dolkun Isa, from testifying at the United Nations; Lenovo was pressured to support the standard put forward by Huawei in the ITU, and Cai Jinyong favored lending to Chinese companies that would not normally fall within the portfolio of IFC lending. China has also integrated the BRI into over two dozen international organizations. When the United States and other countries prevented the BRI from being written into the reauthorization bill for the UN Mission to Afghanistan, China threatened to veto the mission. China has made significant strides toward enhancing its position in global institutions and in reforming norms and values in those institutions in ways that align them more closely with its own. Increasingly, however, it faces pushback in its efforts to enhance its economic stakes in the Arctic, to advance the BRI in the United Nations, and to place its officials in leadership positions. The greater China’s success in using the global governance system to advance its own domestic policy preferences, the greater the resistance from other actors and the more difficult future progress becomes.

In May, we posted an article from old to new Great Divergence; more recently, China’s property-led economic slowdown shows no Signs of ending.

1. “The evolution of CNARC: 2013–2018,” China–Nordic Arctic Research Center, December 2018.

2. “China,” Arctic Institute,

3. Laura Zhou, “China’s new icebreaker Snow Dragon II ready for Antarctica voyage later this year,” South China Morning Post, July 12, 2019.

4. Linda Jakobson and Jingchao Peng, “China’s Arctic aspirations,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012.

5. David Curtis Wright, “The dragon eyes the top of the world,” Naval War College China Maritime Institute, August 2011. 

6. Simon Johnson, “Sweden to tighten foreign takeover rules amid security worries,” Reuters, May 8, 2020.

7.Auerswald, “China’s multifaceted Arctic strategy.” 

8. “China denies threatening to pull plug on Faroe Islands’ salmon trade deal over Huawei 5G contract,” Salmon Business, December 11, 2019. 

9. Danish Defence Intelligence Service, Intelligence Risk Assessment 2020, December 2020, 21.

10. Felix K. Chang, “Uncertain prospects: South China Sea Code of Conduct negotiations,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, October 6, 2020. 

11. “Bilahari Kausikan’s speech on ASEAN & US–China Competition in Southeast Asia,” Today, March 31, 2016.

12. Laura Zhou, “Asean members up the ante on South China Sea.” 

13. Dzirhan Mahadzir, “China pushes back against US statement on South China Sea claim, ASEAN stays silent,” USNI News, July 14, 2019.

14. Jason Loh, “South China Sea: time to display firm resolve,” The ASEAN Post, July 25, 2020.

15. Tony Walker, “Naval exercises in South China Sea add to growing fractiousness between US and China,” The Conversation, July 8, 2020.

16. Chunhao Lou, “为何美日澳总是搅局南海问题? [Why do the United States, Japan, and Australia always disrupt the South China Sea Issue?]” opinion., 2017.

17. “Joint Statement on the Human Rights Situation in Xinjiang and the Recent Developments in Hong Kong, delivered by Germany on behalf of 39 countries,” United States Mission to the United Nations, October 6, 2020.

18. “Xi Focus: China celebrates 40th anniversary of Shenzhen SEZ, embarking on new journey toward socialist modernization,” Xinhua, October 14, 2019.

19. Ken Chu, “Hong Kong still has a place in Beijing’s grand reforms after Shenzhen,” South China Morning Post, October 17, 2020.

20. Xi Jinping, “Vice President Xi Jinping policy speech, February 15, 2012,” filmed at the National Committee on US–China Relations, New York.

21. “Highlights of Xi’s speech at Taiwan message anniversary event,” State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, January 2, 2019.

22. “Xinhua Headlines: Xi says ‘China must be, will be reunified’ as key anniversary marked,” Xinhua, January 2, 2019.

23. “Joint multidimensional landing drill conducted in sea areas of East and South China Seas,” YouTube, October 11, 2020,

24. Mingjiang Li, “Reconciling assertiveness and cooperation? China’s changing approach to the South China Sea dispute,” Security Challenges Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter 2010).

25. “Historical evidence to support China’s sovereignty over Nansha Islands,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, November 17, 2000.

26. Mike Ives, “A defiant map-hunter stakes Vietnam’s claims in the South China Sea,” New York Times, November 25, 2017.

27. “Maps question China’s claims over Vietnamese islands,” Tuoi Tre News, May 30, 2016.

28. Raul Pedrozo, “China versus Vietnam: an analysis of

29.Masayuki Masuda, “China as regional actor,” in China Goes to Eurasia, National Institute for Defense Studies, Japan, November 2019, 19.

30. James Kynge et al. “How China rules the waves,” Financial Times, January 12, 2017. 

31. Mohan Malik, “Countering China’s maritime ambitions,” Indo-Pacific Defense Forum, March 23, 2020.

32. Tianze Wang, Wenzhe Qi, and Jun Hai, “海外军事基地运输投送保障探讨 [Discussion of transportation and delivery guarantees for military bases],” 国防交通工程与技术 [National Defense Transportation, Engineering, and Technology], No. 1 (2018).

33. Mathieu Duchâtel, “China Trends #2 – Naval bases: from Djibouti to a global network?” Institut Montaigne, June 26, 2019. 

34. Cassandra Garrison, “China’s military-run space station in Argentina is a ‘black box’,” Reuters, January 31, 2019. 

35. Jeremy Page, Gordon Lubold, and Rob Taylor, “Deal for naval outpost in Cambodia furthers China’s quest for military network,” Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2019.

36. Charissa Yong, “Singaporeans should be aware of China’s ‘influence operations’ to manipulate them, says retired diplomat Bilahari,” Straits Times, June 27, 2018. 

Qi Wang, “Over 70% respondents believe China’s global image has improved, wolf warrior diplomacy a necessary gesture: GT poll,” Global Times, December 25, 2020. 

37. Stephen McDonnell, “Xi Jinping calls for more ‘loveable’ image for China in bid to make new friends,” BBC, June 2, 2021.

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