he State Council of People’s Republic of China (PRC) released yet another White Paper in September 2019 titled, China and the World in the New Era. This White Paper, unlike previous papers, was published just before China’s seventieth anniversary, which showcased China’s military strength. Although the White Paper’s focus was on development and economic success, its contents, along with the military parade, exemplify how the PRC aims to project its power globally.

China’s Differing Economic Development Policy

The first message is that China has pursued a different development path from other industrialized countries and will continue this Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led policy. The first section provides statistical data showcasing how Chinese citizens have been lifted out of poverty, provided with strong social welfare systems and improved life expectancy through state-controlled development. China indeed has embraced the global economy in a cautious manner since Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world in the mid-1970s. China’s per capita GDP, foreign direct investment, and fiscal revenue has improved remarkably since the 1990s as opposed to other similar countries. China’s moderated economic planning has been praised by economists like Joseph Stiglitz in countering the effects of economic crises and ensuring sustainable growth. This section however, fails to mention the closed-door economy between 1949 and 1976, which resulted in minimal economic growth and poor human development. It paints an absolute positive picture of the state-controlled economy, infrastructure, research, and development without ever touching on any of the negative effects of the one-party rule. The section completely ignores any external criticism. The message is clear: the CCP will most definitely continue state-controlled development and will not accept any criticism of this approach.

China’s Contribution to Global Development: An Alternative Version

The second message from the White Paper is that China will continue to be a development donor, espousing its development policies, contrary to those of developed countries. The second and fourth sections argues that all countries, especially developing countries, should follow China’s development agenda. It notes that China’s global development path presents a viable approach for developing countries, which have not grown under Western assistance. It argues that China’s state-led approach would help countries prosper the way China did. China’s aid would come without conditions (like those from western donors or multilateral development banks). It also states that China continues to provide global public goods such as infrastructure. China has indeed provided development assistance with little strings attached, unlike the conditions or the free market policies from most western donors.

Nevertheless, its development policies are not as transparent and it has provided aid to authoritarian countries like Cambodia without any prior concern for the recipient’s type of governance or economic conditions. Despite the White Paper’s claim of respecting sovereignty, its development policy is a tool to draw recipients closer to China’s sphere of influence. The Belt Road Initiative (BRI), while aiming to improve global infrastructure, is a means for China to increase its dominance over countries with Chinese currencies and Chinese manufactured buildings. China’s global development efforts will undoubtedly continue under the pretense of improving development, in order to exert its position in the new world order.

China as an Alternative Contributor to the Global Order

The third takeaways from this White Paper is that China plans to be an active global player, albeit not one upholding the established international order. The third section paints a rosy-red picture on how China will uphold international law and enhance international relations. It recognizes that the current global climate is volatile but that a China-led world order would stabilize and provide benefits for all countries. Such an order would be based on Chinese culture, Chinese economic development, and advancement. To that end China is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy that circumvents the long-standing free international ruled-based order. Its militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea continues despite The Hague ruling it has no legal claims to those islands. Although the paper asserts China will promote inclusive global governance and ‘will never seek hegemony’ it still aims to control the global community. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) does present an alternative means to aid from traditional multilateral development banks. Yet, China controls a substantial portion of its voting power and like the BRI, the AIIB is also a tool for the CCP to gain leverage over Asian nations. China does have a lead in technology such as 5G through Huawei. Yet, Huawei’s 5G is extremely controversial since the company is linked to CCP and its 5G technology is known to violate personal privacy and national security. Although the paper preaches exchanges amongst cultures, China’s internal rule paints an opposite picture with the clamping down on media rights and ethnic minorities like the Uighurs. The underlying message is clear: China aims draw the world under a China-led controlled hegemony, away from the long-standing liberal U.S.-led order.

The World According to China

The world recently witnessed how strong the PLA has become since 1949. This White Paper backs up this military strength, showcasing how China has improved itself and will shape the world through its economic, cultural, and technological power. It dismisses the dark moments in Chinese economic history, casts doubt on Western economic development assistance, and the established rule-based international order. While the paper details China’s achievements since the CCP gained control, it also subtly presents the message that China wishes to aggressively to rule the world. President Xi Jinping has been actively consolidating power within the CCP and the PRC. After seventy years of communist control, this White Paper presents a warning message to the world how the CCP views it and how it aims to shape it in the future.

Jie Sheng Li
Jie Sheng Li is a freelance research analyst with interests in Southeast Asia, global political economy, multilateral organizations, and international development. He has a PhD in International Political Economy from the University of Birmingham.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.