The Diplomacy of China’s Rise

October 12, 2018 – CSPS Student Fellow Zachary Marks discusses the Diplomacy of China’s rise and how Xi Jinping and American leaders will handle this development in the coming years.

By Zachary Marks,  October 10th 2018

(Source: Payman Yazdani “US-China trade war? Not likely”)

Diplomacy is dynamic, no one leader wields this tool of statecraft in quite the same way as another. The way American and democratic leaders use diplomacy vastly differs from other countries and regimes. China’s diplomacy has been rapidly changing as its role on the grand stage is shifting. The Century of Humiliation has given way to the Asian Century and China is using its soft power as a key component of their grand strategy. China seeks to establish regional hegemony in Asia, and it does not intend to put boots on the ground to do it. China’s dynamic diplomacy is challenging the role of the U.S. in foreign affairs, where once countries turned to Washington for help they now turn to Beijing. The relationship between Chinese and American diplomacy will be instrumental in managing China’s rise and determining how the 21st century will play out.

In the recent decades, China is no longer hiding its strength and biding its time. It has been steadily increasing its international diplomatic presence since 2003 while the United States continues to scale back. In 2018, China’s foreign affairs expenditures were 60 billion, in comparison the U.S. spent 35 billion on State in FY 2018[1]. In the past developing countries would look towards the U.S. for aid and guidance for determining policies and general navigation towards liberal-democratic values. Now China is stepping up in the realm of diplomatic outreach; they are trying to take over our role as the leading influencer of world affairs with soft power.

Chinese influence is harmful to U.S. objectives abroad due to the conflicting natures of the two countries’ goals. China wants the U.S. out of the Asia-Pacific and to be the sole decider in what it deems to be its sphere of influence. China is also fighting back against the Bretton Woods institutions. The creation of the BRICS Development Bank (made up of the BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, Indian, China, and South Africa) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are in direct competition with the current U.S. led global monetary institutions. China is ditching their low profile and is now striving for achievement. They are aiming to build up their strategic credibility by “providing security protection and economic benefits to other nations, especially its neighbors.[2]” They aim to supplant the United States in this regard, their biggest wins would be to get South Korea and Japan to abandon their bilateral defense treaties with Washington and instead rely on China in a show of regionalism.

The current state of Sino-American relations is deteriorating. The Trump trade war has been having a negative effect on the American economy and our relationship with China. China has withdrawn from many high-level meetings it had planned to have with the United States. They no longer wish to continue the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (USCDSD), and our military to military (mil-mil) relations have degraded over Chinese purchases of Russian military technology coupled with further U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Hudson Institute on October 4th highlighted these divisions further. Pence believes that the U.S. played a pivotal role in allowing China to rise (advocating for it to be a member of the UN permanent Security Council), that China is now betraying the United States by harming our national interests and interfering in our politics and domestic policy. Pence continued to outline that in the National Security Strategy (NSS) the Trump White House has described a new era of great power competition. This has led some to believe that there is a new Cold War between China and the United States. Pence brought up many valid points about China’s grand strategy, however his tone was adversarial and left more room for competition than cooperation.

China’s “debt diplomacy” is heavily investing in infrastructure throughout the developing world, from its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific to the reaches of Latin America. These infrastructure projects heavily favor Beijing and allow China to leverage their economic blessings with political repercussions. The CCP has convinced three Latin American countries (El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic) to sever ties with Taiwan in return for Chinese economic assistance. The Trump White House and future American leaders will have their hands full in dealing with a rising China and Xi Jinping thought. The Chinese have the advantage of continuity of government due to the removal of term limits from their constitution, and the ability to have free trade with a domestic policy that suppresses dissent. Dealing with a rising China will be the main foreign policy challenge for leaders in Washington for the foreseeable future and deft diplomacy will be necessary for ensuring the rise will be peaceful and compatible with American interests.

Zachary Marks is a CSPS Student Fellow who studied Political Science, Economics and Diplomacy at the University of Central Florida. He is currently pursuing his Master’s in International Security at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

[1] “China Races to Catch Up on Foreign Affairs Spending” Markus Herrmann and Sabine Mokry, The Diplomat 8-9-18 Accessed 9-29-18

[2] “From Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement”  The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Volume 7, Issue 2, 1 June 2014, Pages 153–184.