China’s Power Isn’t Its Military

Zack Beauchamp believes that China will never replace America as a global hegemon:

Chinese foreign policy, to date, has been characterized by a sort of realist incrementalism. China has displayed no interest in taking over America’s role as protector of the global commons; that’s altogether too altruistic a task. Instead, China is content to let the United States and its allies keep the sea lanes open and free ride off of their efforts. A powerful China, in other words, would most likely to be happy to pursue its own interests inside the existing global order rather than supplanting it.

Charles Kenny notes how China is economically constrained:

If trade was severely disrupted by war today, China’s economy would grind to a halt because a lot of what it does isn’t the complete manufacturing process, it’s some bit of a larger supply chain. That makes the disruption of trade much more damaging to an economy. So, for that reason and because China is just much more integrated into the global trade system, I think that China would have to think a lot harder about declaring war on somebody than the United States did in 1914. (And by the way, the United States was busy invading lots of places in 1914.)

But Elizabeth Economy, co-author of By All Means Necessarylooks at how China’s desire for natural resources is reshaping the world:

Chinese companies are not very strong in undertaking environmental impact assessments back at home, and you can see throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa — they often don’t undertake environmental impact assessments abroad, either. Similarly, in their labor practices, Chinese miners are often poorly paid, and the conditions are challenging, to say the least in terms of labor safety. And we found across the board, in countries like Papua New Guinea to Peru, when miners are asked to compare the practices at Chinese mines with those at others, they uniformly rated the Chinese mines much lower.

And you can also see it in corruption: The way that the Chinese do deals at home for land, through the back door between officials and businesses to appropriate land. Well, when companies go to Brazil, they think that’s the way business can be done there as well. And China does have something akin to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but they don’t have any monitoring or enforcement mechanisms.

So China has a different way of going out of securing resources than we typically see, and it’s impacts can be pretty substantial when you’re looking at a set of governance issues.