Daring to Struggle: China's Global Ambitions Under Xi Jinping

On September 23, 2022, CSCC welcomed distinguished professor and expert on China, Professor Bates Gill, Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University and Executive Director for the Center of China Analysis at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

Having written Daring to Struggle: China's Global Ambitions Under Xi Jinping published in June 2022, Professor Gill offers a timely analysis of the underlying motivations that direct Chinese behavior, and provides a framework, focusing on six key aspects of China’s regime, that help organize our thinking on China’s ambitions in the coming decades. Professor Gill breaks down China’s core interests into five spheres of analysis, sovereignty, wealth, power, leadership, and ideas, that culminate to bolster what Gill views as the ultimate concern of Xi and the CCP: legitimacy. Sovereignty, which China views as critical to many of its territorial and maritime interests, particularly in the case of Taiwan, is the mechanism with which China can deter interference from international actors. Contentious issues, such as human rights abuses in Xinjiang, reunification of Taiwan, and crackdowns in Hong Kong, attract international attention, which China defends by arguing that they are domestic affairs, and that states should respect their sovereignty as principled in the Westphalian agreements.

The second area Gill emphasizes is wealth, which China seeks to build through international development projects and global linkages dependent on Chinese institutions and businesses, such as the BRI. Accumulating national wealth inevitably creates more leverage whether through mechanisms such as loan financing to developing countries, or through humanitarian contributions and grants to bolster a nation’s image. The third area is power, which Gill defines strictly as hard power. Part of bolstering hard power means maintaining a world-class military, which China has sought through sweeping PLA modernization reforms and technological emphasis on new military-technological domains. The fourth is leadership on the global stage. Gill argues that China’s aggressiveness in setting standards, exercising membership powers, and establishment of its own developmental bank, represents Xi’s larger intent to reshape global norms. In conjunction with norms is the fifth sector: ideas. Gill emphasizes that these ideas are critical to the world accepting China as a great power. Xi has propagated Chinese ideas through 中国梦, and through narratives that emphasize a Chinese solution to problems that are counter to typical Western solutions.

All in all, these five spheres of analysis uphold Chinese legitimacy both in the eyes of the international actors as well as China’s own people. At the heart of the CCP concern is its own survival, which depends on its legitimacy to rule. The organization of these five spheres of analysis help us frame how Xi’s growing ambitions abroad might impact its legitimacy at home. After the talk and presentation, Professor Gill engaged in a deep conversation with members in the audience. One question asked about American perception of Chinese intentions in the global order, and why, despite repeatedly evidenced Chinese communications that it intends to take its place as one of the great powers that shapes norms and rules in the global order, do United States policymakers interpret China as desiring upend the global order? Gill argued that it may be due to the bias, and perhaps paranoia, from the United State’s position as the global hegemon for decades. US leaders understand the advantages of being the world’s number one power, and thus, have reason to be afraid if those advantages fall to another power, particularly a rival. Thus, Gill implies that future US-China cooperation will be challenging. Nevertheless, in any scenario, understanding China’s ambitions, and what drives its decision-making, will be crucial. Thankfully, Gill offers a compelling framework to do so.

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