October has been a busy month for China. The month began with Chinese authorities working overtime to tighten censorship ahead of the 19th national congress of the Chinese communist party, which began on 17 October. Text messages, voice calls and video calls on social media were heavily policed, a usual sign of government surveillance ahead of major events in China.
However, the highlight of the month was the 19th plenum of the Chinese communist party, an event that established President Xi Jinping as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. Having solidified his power, President Xi then proclaimed a new era of Chinese preeminence in all spheres of global politics including economics, military and diplomacy.
The new ‘Chinese era’ proclaimed by President Xi Jinping is seen as a sign of China turning outward, breaking away from its centuries-old tradition of focusing inward. China’s new confidence in its foreign policy is evidenced by its increased global initiatives including the multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), its aggressive posturing in the South and East China Seas, a sharp surge in trade deals with African countries and a determined focus to attract the world’s cutting-edge scientists and innovators to China. So much so that today, practically no corners of the world have remained unfazed by China’s towering ambitions.
In contrast, the reluctance of the traditional global super powers such as the United States and Europe to take an active lead in persistent global issues such as climate change and green energy have made the timing opportune for China. Moreover, growth in nationalistic fervor in these countries has led the west to turn decisively inward.
Hence, as the New York Times recently pointed out, all these developments position China to become, in President Xi’s words, “a new choice for other countries” and the principal arbiter, something long associated with the United States in the international order.
But, if China wants to enjoy the status of the new global leader in the twenty-first century, it will have to prove itself ready to accept the responsibilities of leadership.
Global leadership begins with genuine, internal leadership in one’s own country. China’s own domestic governance system doesn’t show any signs of improvement from the days of the Cultural Revolution and needs to be improved in many areas including transparency and fairness. Ordinary Chinese citizens continue to face human rights violations and denial of fundamental rights.
China is also one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t observe international law in many areas. To be the preeminent leader of the world, China should abide by the over 25 international treaties that it is signatory to and be a responsible global player, and actively contribute toward maintaining global peace and stability.
While President Xi Jinping’s ambitions to see China become the new global leader is a welcome step, it has become evidently clear that the way China treat its own citizens particularly those ‘ethnic minorities’ like Tibet and Xinjiang will be the blueprint of how China will fare as the aspiring leader of the new international order. Therefore, China’s new era of global leadership should begin with Tibet as a reference point.
(Disclaimer: Views expressed here are that of the individual and does not necessarily reflect those of the Central Tibetan Administration)
*Jamphel Shonu is the editor of Tibetan Bulletin, the bi-monthly english magazine of the Central Tibetan Administration. The article first appeared in the July-August issue of the magazine.*