Two prominent China analysts debated on Tuesday whether Beijing is attempting to supplant Washington as the foremost global power.
Speaking during a South China Morning Post webinar about the state of multilateralism under US President Donald Trump, Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, countered an assertion by David Firestein, CEO of the George HW Bush Foundation for US-China Relations, that Beijing was primarily seeking “a place at the table that is commensurate with its heft”.
The prevailing assumption “both in the executive and legislative branches that China seeks to displace the United States and supplant the United States as the world’s only superpower … is a misreading of China’s strategic intentions”, said Firestein, who spent 18 years as a foreign service officer in the US Department of State.
“I think China wants to do a lot of things, and I think a lot of the things that China wants to do are very problematic for the United States, but I don’t think that China aspires to be the United States 2.2, the so-called world’s policeman, [with] boots on the ground in 100 countries,” he said.
Economy pointed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a series of rail, road and sea infrastructure projects connecting more than 70 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa – as evidence of President Xi Jinping’s “breathtaking” ambition for his country, the world’s most populous.
The Chinese government is “looking for the rights without the responsibilities of global leadership”, said Economy, who is also a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and author of the 2018 book The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State.
“Xi Jinping has 2,000 pages worth of his speeches collected in three volumes, and if you read through those speeches, the ambition is breathtaking.