Buckle Up, China Is Building a New Confucian World Order
China intends to lead the world and it's only a matter of time
By using force and pretending to benevolence the hegemon will certainly have a large state. By using virtue and practicing benevolence the wise ruler will achieve humane authority. Mencius.
In the course of his study of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides, the fifth century BC Greek historian, claimed that interstate relations are based on might, not right, and that states’ strategic interactions follow a recurrent pattern: while a change in the hierarchy of weaker states does not ultimately affect a given system, disturbances in the order of stronger states upset its stability. He said that lesser states strive to gain power at the expense of others because stronger states, hegemons, ‘do as they please while the weak suffer what they must.’
Modern thinkers theorize that hegemony has three components: material power, an accepted image of world order and institutions that legitimize the use of military force, and observe that the United States used all three to institutionalize its hegemony after World War II, in what became known as the Washington Consensus.
The US insisted that Athenian democracy is the only legitimate form of government and enforced its claim through its military, the United Nations, the US dollar, the World Bank, the media and numerous political, technical and scientific bodies. It rewarded conforming states and punished or excluded those, like China, that judged government legitimacy on performance rather than ideology.
Lesser states could revise their native ideology–as Sweden did by abandoning pacifist socialism–or attempt to universalize their own cultural values and replace the hegemon’s norms–as China, based on its long history of world leadership, is currently doing.
An early Chinese thinker, Xunzi, proposed that, though hegemons know how to win wars, “The ruler who makes his own state act correctly will attain international primacy.” The domestic determines the international and since humane authority–based on morality rather than power–is superior to hegemony it is more important to win over people than territory. States wishing to exercise humane authority must be the first to respect the norms they advocate and leaders of high ethical reputation and great administrative ability will attract other states. “To be compassionate in great matters and overlook the small makes one fit to become lord of the covenants. Loving friends, being friendly with the great, rewarding your allies and punishing those who oppose you, the lord of the covenants has a definite duty and his moral standing should match it.” Presiding over the meetings of other states grants international recognition of humane authority. Two centuries later, Confucius expressed the principle thus, “Superiors and inferiors relate to each other like wind and grass: grass must bend when the wind blows over it”.
China’s bid to re-establish its leadership after a two century hiatus has been a national goal since Mao warned colleagues, “To overtake the United States is not only possible but absolutely necessary and obligatory. If we don’t, the Chinese nation will be letting the world down and we won’t be making much of a contribution to humanity. If we fail we will be wiped from the face of the earth.”
Fifty years after his warning China founded the world’s most powerful military and security partnership, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the SCO. With a regional anti-terrorism center in Uzbekistan, a business council in Moscow and a permanent secretariat in Beijing, four nuclear states among its members, three major economies, most of the world’s energy resources, half of the world’s population and one-fourth of global GDP, the SCO unites Russia, India, and Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey are in varying stages of participation).
Four years later President Hu asked the UN General Assembly for “new ways to solve conflicts in international society featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination–distinct from the law of the jungle and power politics–to create peaceful, mutual, win-win benefits and development across the world.”
In 2013 his successor, President Xi, proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, based on Hu’s principles. Focusing on policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and closer people-to-people ties, the BRI integrates four billion people in one-hundred thirty countries and thirty international organizations across Eurasia, Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific. The BRI is changing economies, trade, logistics, communications, international relations and even geography by building power plants in Pakistan, train lines in Hungary and ports from Africa to Greece. The new alliance is exporting China’s development model, replacing Western institutions and refashioning the global economic order by forging new ties, creating new markets, deepening economic connections and strengthening diplomatic ties with one trillion dollars in annual infrastructure spending. The European Union is considering joining the BRI.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained the model, “Throughout its five-thousand year history the Chinese nation has developed the humanistic-oriented concept of loving all creatures as if they were of our species and all people as if they were our brothers, the political philosophy of valuing virtue and balance, the peaceful approach of love, non-aggression and good-neighborliness, the idea of peace as of paramount importance and harmony without uniformity, as well as the personal conduct of treating others in a way that you would like to be treated, and helping others succeed in the same spirit as you would want to succeed yourself. These traditional values, with their unique oriental flavor, provide an endless source of invaluable cultural asset for China’s diplomacy.”
Thousands of miles of roads, rail lines, pipelines and fiberoptic cables have slashed communications costs across Eurasia and put the region at the forefront of 5G deployment: oil and gas pipelines from Pakistan’s new port of Gwadar, on the Persian Gulf, to Kunming, China bypass the Malacca Straits; the Pan-Asia Railway Network is linking Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia and North Korea–proposed as the development hub for Northeast Asia. Meanwhile, work continues on six rail lines and inland rail terminals, thirty cross-border transmission and communications projects and four deep ocean ports that will create Africa’s first transcontinental railway. BRI trade has grown seventeen percent annually since 2013 and preparations for the official BRI launch in 2021 include scholarships for thousands of students from BRI countries.
In 2018, Xi signed another one-hundred billion dollar trade and economic agreement, this time with the Euarasian Economic Union, EEU–Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Russia has begun work on the Western end of a high speed rail line designed to run from Moscow to Beijing and, in 2019, added a new dimension: the Polar Sea Route, ‘connecting northeastern, eastern and southeastern Asia with Europe.’ Russia’s President Putin proposes to create a single, integrated market from the Pacific to the Atlantic with the EEEU, the BRI, the SCO and ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam).
Then there’s the massive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP, a free trade agreement between ASEAN and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand: 3.4 billion people with a total GDP of fifty trillion dollars, forty percent of world GDP. The RCEP is the world’s largest economic bloc, covering nearly half of the global economy and accounting firm PwC estimates its GDP will reach $250 trillion, half of global GDP, in 2050 and increase global real incomes by $286 billion per year. By 2045 the entire Eurasian continent will be bound by treaties, roads, railways, ports, fiberoptic cables, electrical grids and pipelines: a new world order under China’s humane authority.
To knit these alliances more permanently, in 2016 Beijing launched the Global Electric Interconnect, GEIDCO, a grid of ultra-high voltage lines transmitting clean energy around the globe continually, with the sun. By 2019 GEIDCO had seven regional offices, forty global offices, six-hundred regional and national members and invested $1.6 trillion invested in eighty generation and transmission projects across Latin America, Africa, Europe and North America.
To finance this massive development China funded the Silk Road International Bank to mobilize local savings and is developing a new reserve currency. After the Global Financial Crisis Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the Bank of China announced, “The world needs an international reserve currency that is disconnected from individual nations and able to remain stable in the long run, removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies.” He proposed Special Drawing Rights, SDRs, that derive their value from a basket of world currencies. Nobelists C. Fred Bergsten, Robert Mundell and Joseph Stieglitz, were supportive, “The creation of a global currency would restore a needed coherence to the international monetary system, give the IMF a function that would help it to promote stability and be a catalyst for international harmony.” To demonstrate the scheme’s stability China began valuing its own currency, the RMB, against a basket of dollars, euros, yen and pounds sterling and, almost immediately complaints about RMB valuation ceased. The IMF made its first SDR loan in 2014, the World Bank issued the first SDR bond in 2016, Standard Chartered Bank issued the first commercial SDR notes in 2017 and the world’s central banks began stating reserves in SDRs in 2019.
While few noticed the advent of SDRs, the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, in 2015 was a sensation. Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers called it, “The moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system. I can think of no event since Bretton Woods comparable to the combination of China’s effort to establish a major new institution–and the failure of the US to persuade dozens of its traditional allies, starting with Britain–to stay out of it.” The AIIB guarantees a trillion dollars annually in long term, low interest loans for regional infrastructure, poverty reduction, growth and climate change mitigation and allows Eurasia’s four billion savers to mobilize local savings that previously had few safe or creative outlets.
China–which contributes a full brigade of eight thousand soldiers to UN peacekeeping–is integrating the United Nations into its plans. The UN unanimously adopted Xi’s Resolution to settle disputes through dialogue and resolve differences through discussion by coordinating responses to traditional and non-traditional threats and opposing all forms of terrorism. A UN Committee is considering his proposal to include two new rights, to food and shelter, in its Declaration of Universal Human Rights.
Humane authority seems closer every day.
If the people and the nobility are not devoted then even a Sage King could not guarantee victory. The man who is skilled at obtaining the support of the people is the man who is skilled in using military force. Skillfully gaining the support of the people is essence of military undertaking-that is all.—Xunzi
At their present rates of increase, Chinese and American military budgets will reach parity in 2028 and, given that Chinese missiles in every weight class already outrange their American counterparts, the world security scene will change irrevocably.
In 1949 Mao warned that the country would remain ‘insecure, unconsolidated and delegitimized’ until it transformed both the old imperial world order and the old China. The following year the US bombed coastal Dandong and strafed civilians in several cities, its warplanes buzzed coastal Shantou and Winston Churchill told the world, “I believe in the ultimate partition of China–and I mean ultimate.” The insults continued for decades.
In 1992, after the US Defense Department announced its mission to prevent a rival superpower emerging in Asia the Navy held a Chinese cargo ship, the Yinhe, at gunpoint in international waters for three weeks, claiming she was carrying contraband (she wasn’t). Two years later President Clinton sent the most powerful fleet ever assembled through the Taiwan Strait. In 1998 the US dropped five precision bombs on China’s embassy in Belgrade, killing three diplomats and seriously wounding twenty and CIA director George Tenet told Congress, “It was the only target we nominated.” In 2014 a US Navy article proposed laying offensive underwater mines along China’s coast and destroying her maritime lines of communication while sending special forces to arm minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet. In 2017 the Air Force reaffirmed its willingness to launch a nuclear attack on China and in 2018 the Navy practiced blocking China’s access to oil through the Malacca Strait though, says defense analyst Michael Thim, “The PLAN, China’s Navy, had sufficient capabilities in place in 1996 such that sending Carrier Strike Groups into the Taiwan Strait would be suicidal. The situation has only become more challenging for the Navy in recent years, not because the PLAN has acquired an aircraft carrier of its own, but because China has greatly enhanced and modernized its existing anti-access/area-denial capabilities.”
It has indeed. Strategically, China applies Mao’s ‘peoples war’ strategies in the South China Sea and Western navies are struggling to respond. When the Japanese or KMT armies arrived, the local guerillas would retreat but the invading forces couldn’t stay forever and, when they left, the PLA was still there. When British or American fleets arrive the coast guard and naval militia disappear and when the fleets go, the boats reappear. The goal is to push the Philippines and Vietnam to the negotiating table, at which point it has won the conflict. In such a situation conventional weapons become symbolic: whoever shoots first loses. Since an F-35 can’t actually shoot anything the PLAN can neutralize it with a fishing boat. The US cannot raise its incursions to a political level that could freeze strategy while China can coordinate military, legal, diplomatic, and economic aspects simultaneously. “The power of the nation-state by no means consists only in its armed forces, but also in its economic and technological resources; in the dexterity, foresight and resolution with which its foreign policy is conducted; in the efficiency of its social and political organization. It consists most of all in the nation itself, the people, their skills, energy, ambition, discipline, initiative, beliefs, myths and illusions. And it consists, further, in the way all these factors are related to one another.”
By 2015, said the Rand Corporation, China could endanger the US Navy’s surface fleet a thousand miles from its coast and the Chief of its Indo-Pacific Command told the Senate, “There is no guarantee that the United States would win a future conflict with China.” By 2019 the Navy’s Seventh Fleet of seventy ships, charged with projecting US power to the Indo-Pacific, faced three hundred PLAN warships, two hundred missile- and gun-boats defending its coast and the Navy expects the PLAN to deploy 342 warships by 2021. The PLAN’s mastery of naval logistics is unparalleled: in 2018 alone it launched fifteen new warships and began simultaneous construction of four nuclear submarines. Even the US Navy, shopping for a floating dock, visited its shipyards.
The first line of China’s naval defense, the Maritime Militia, has 180,000 ocean-going fishing boats and four thousand merchant marine freighters–some towing sonar detectors–crewed by a million sailors transmitting detailed information about every warship on the world’s oceans twenty-four hours a day. Shore bases fuse their reports with automated transmissions from Beidou positioning, navigation and timing satellites and provide real time data to reporting specialists, xinxiyuan, trained in target information collection and identification, operating ‘vessel management platforms’ that collate, format and forward actionable information up the PLAN command chain. Shoreside, eight million coastal reservists train constantly in seamanship, emergency ship repairs, anti-air missile defense, light weapons and naval sabotage.
Commander Yang Yi, a woman and the youngest Chief Designer in naval history, created the PLAN’s front line defense fleet of three-hundred Type 022 Houbei Class fast attack missile boats. They carry eight C-802 anti-ship missiles with 500lb warheads that travel at 650 mph, fifteen feet above the surface to targets a hundred miles away (a single C-802 disabled an Israeli warship in 2006). Four of her boats, she says, are sufficient to cover the Taiwan Strait while sheltering behind China’s coastal islands. Thirty Type 056 frigates with a range of 2,500 miles armed with YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, eight SAM launchers and six torpedo tubes back up the patrol boats.
Behind them are twenty Type 052-class destroyers. With sixty-four missile tubes, their arsenals includes unique Yu-8s anti-submarine missiles that fly for twenty miles then release their torpedoes into the sea: naval analysts claim they are virtually undetectable until they plunge into the water near the target. Six Type 055 heavy missile cruisers, the world’s most powerful surface combatants, each with one-hundred twenty-eight tubes, carry surface-to-air, anti-ship, land-attack and anti-submarine missiles while, below the surface, seventy nuclear and conventional submarines carry YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles and wake-homing torpedoes that deliver five hundred pound warheads at sixty mph from fifteen miles away.
The greatest threat, however, was born when the Navy invited a Chinese admiral on a courtesy visit to the USS Nimitz. Upon his return the officer told colleagues, “I’ve just seen the world’s biggest target. If we can’t hit an aircraft carrier we can’t hit anything.” Thrifty engineers attached a new guidance system to an existing land based missile and created a new class of weapon, the million-dollar DF-21D anti-ship ballistic carrier killer. It carries a half-ton warhead one thousand miles then drops it vertically, at 7,500 mph, onto $12 billion aircraft carriers. The USNI says it can destroy a carrier in one strike and that there is currently no defense against it. (Its sibling, the DF-26D, has a range of two thousand miles.) In 2019 Robert Haddick warned, “China’s anti-ship missile capability exceeds that of the United States in terms of range, speed and sensor performance.” Captain James Fanell, a senior naval intelligence officer added, “We know that China has the most advanced ballistic missile force in the world. They have the capacity to overwhelm the defensive systems we are pursuing.”
On the ballistic front line, the CM-401, is a high supersonic ballistic missile designed for rapid precision strikes against medium-size ships, naval task forces and offshore facilities within two hundred miles but to destroy military bases in the region the PLAN relies on the larger CJ-10, a subsonic missile with a two-thousand mile range and a half ton payload that uses inertial and satellite navigation, Terrain Contour Matching and digital scene-mapping area correlation for terminal guidance, with a CEP of forty feet. A longer-ranged anti-ship version, the YJ-100, can be air-launched or fired from Type 055 vertical launch tubes.
For conflicts close to the mainland or Taiwan, says The Rand Corporation, China achieved full parity in 2017 and, by 2021, will deploy more fifth generation fighters in the area than the US. J-20 fighter-bombers have an operational range of a thousand miles, carry bigger payloads faster, higher and further than America’s F-22 Raptor and release YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles that travel two hundred miles then deliver a thousand pound warhead in a corkscrew trajectory at supersonic speed. The Navy says that even against alerted warships, thirty-two percent of missiles score hits and a single strike will render any vessel inoperable.
The J-20 also carries the specialized PLA-15. Propelled by novel dual pulse rocket motors on a semi-ballistic trajectory, they home on AWACS and airborne tankers loitering behind battle lines. In 2015 USAF General Herbert Carlisle told Congress that he can field two hundred F-22 Raptors carrying six missiles while China’s more numerous fighters each carry twelve longer ranged weapons, “Look at the PLA-15, at the range of that weapon. How do we counter that?” Following his testimony the Air Force canceled its E-8C AWACS recapitalization, explaining that they would be easy prey for the PLA-15. The PLA-15’s smaller sibling, PLA-10, is no less deadly, says ISIS airpower specialist Douglas Barrie, “For the notional Western combat aircraft pilot, there is no obvious respite to be found in attempting to avoid within visual range threat of the PLA-10 by keeping beyond visual range. In this environment also the PLAAF will be able to mount an increasingly credible challenge and at engagement ranges against some targets that would previously have been considered safe. As one former US Air Force tanker pilot drily noted to this author, ‘“That’s aimed right at me.’”
From space, hyperspectral detection satellites peer at submerged submarines while the enormous Divine Eagle High Altitude Stealth-Hunting Drone reads aircraft electronic signals long before they approach their targets. Below them AWACS, whose solid-state detectors have twice the range of USAF’s rotating domes, track hundreds of targets and integrate information from the West Pacific Surveillance and Targeting satellite and twelve positioning satellites with ten centimeter accuracy. On the ground, passive and quantum radars emit no detectable signals while tracking objects for Russia’s S-400 antiaircraft/antimissile batteries.
China’s heavyweight ICBM, the road-mobile DF-41, is a three-stage, solid-fueled device with a twelve thousand mile range and a top speed of twenty-thousand mph that carries ten independently targetable nuclear warheads and launches on four minutes’ warning. While the DF-41 is approaching the limits of ICBM potential, the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, the DF-ZF (which Russian Defense Minister Dmitry Rogozin compared to the first atom bombs in strategic significance) is just beginning its life cycle. Launched sixty miles above the earth from missiles traveling sixteen-thousand mph, HGVs surf the stratosphere on their supersonic shockwaves and glide to their targets. RAND says,
“Maneuverability can potentially provide HGVs the ability to use in-flight updates to attack a different target than originally planned..With the ability to fly at unpredictable trajectories, these missiles will hold extremely large areas at risk throughout much of their flights” and Congressional report concluded, “The very high speeds of these weapons combined with their maneuverability and ability to travel at lower, radar-evading altitudes would make them far less vulnerable to current missile defenses than existing missiles.” (After the PLAN’s successful HGV tests Xiamen University’s engineering department, launched and recovered its own HGV in northwest China’s desert.)
In real wars, boots on the ground determine final outcomes and the People’s Liberation Army is as unconventional as its weapons. Combat forces elect their NCOs and PLAN soldiers receive more political education than the rest of the world’s armies combined. Xiaoming Zhang explained the thinking behind this, “Under the influence of Confucian philosophy the concept of the just or righteous war was prevalent throughout Chinese society so, unlike Western militaries which depend on professional ethics and training to ensure that soldiers’ perform their duties in war, the PLA opted for political indoctrination and attempted to make troops understand why a war must be fought and how it would matter to them.” Historian William Hinton says, “From its inception the Army has been led by the Party and has never played a purely military role. On the contrary, Army cadres have always played a leading political role. In 1927 Mao wrote, ‘The Red Army fights not merely for the sake of fighting but in order to conduct xuānchuán among the people, organize, arm and help them establish revolutionary political power. Without these objectives, fighting loses its meaning and the Red Army loses its reason for existence.’”
No matter how well armed or valorous an army is, to win wars it needs the support of the citizens who pay for it–and here China has an advantage. China’s leaders often invoke the feelings of the Chinese people in international disputes and surveys reveal that their attitudes are more hawkish than dovish and younger Chinese much more inclined to call on the government to invest in and have recourse to military strength. In 2015, Gallup posed the question, “If there were a war involving [your country], would you be willing to fight for [your country]?”
 Hegemonic Stability Theory: An Empirical Assessment. Michael C. Webb and Stephen D. Krasner. Review of International Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Issue on the Balance of Power (Apr., 1989), pp. 183-198. Cambridge University Press
 Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power. By Yan Xuetong
 “Strengthen Party Unity and Carry Forward Party Traditions” (1956) China’s economy overtook America’s fifty-eight years later.
 Build a Harmonious World of Lasting Peace and Common Prosperity. Speech by Hu Jintao at the UN Summit, New York, September 15, 2005
 Wang Yi, ‘Exploring the Path of Major-Country Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics’, Foreign Affairs Journal, No. 10 (2013), p. 14.
 China launches $11 billion fund for Central, Eastern Europe. Reuters, November 6, 2016
 Behind China’s $1 Trillion Plan to Shake Up the Economic Order.By Jane Perlez and Yufan Huang. New York Times, May 13, 2017
 ‘Work Together to Build a Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ . January 2017. Later incorporated in a UN resolution by the 55th UN Commission for Social Development
 Zhai, Qiang (2005-10-20T22:58:59). China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (The New Cold War History) (Kindle Locations 227-231). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition.
 U.S. STRATEGY PLAN CALLS FOR INSURING NO RIVALS DEVELOP. By PATRICK E. TYLER. The New York Times, March, 1992.
 US Naval Institute Proceedings, Deterring the Dragon
 Power in International Politics. Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall. International Organization, Vol. 59, No. 1
 Chinese Naval Expansion Hits High Gear: China’s Navy Acquires 15 Warships in 7 Months
 China’s Maritime Militia, by ndrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy
 New missile gap leaves U.S. scrambling to counter China. Reuters. April 25, 2019
 New missile gap leaves U.S. scrambling to counter China. Reuters. Apr 25, 2019
 CEP, circular error probable is defined as the radius of a circle, centered on the mean, whose boundary is expected to include the landing points of 50% of a missile’s rounds.
 The PLA-10, an air-to-air missile, has a more advanced guidance system and twice the range, speed and payload of the USAF AIM-9.
 Zhang, Xiaoming. Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991 (The New Cold War History). The University of North Carolina Press.
 How Hawkish Is the Chinese Public? Another Look at “Rising Nationalism” and Chinese Foreign Policy Jessica Chen Weiss To cite this article: Jessica Chen Weiss (2019): How Hawkish Is the Chinese Public? Another Look at “Rising Nationalism” and Chinese Foreign Policy, Journal of Contemporary China, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2019.1580427