Jonathan Holslag On world order and disorder

The smart revisionist

China’s new leadership has entered the scene with yet another security concept. President Xi Jinping called his ”common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable”. It reiterates the idea that China is a constructive power, willing to strike a compromise and to advance cooperation. This essay sets off by arguing that there is nothing new in the security concept advanced by President Xi and that there is no consensus either in the renewed debate about grand strategy among Chinese scholars. It proceeds by arguing that the praise for China’s forward-looking leadership and its ability to pursue a grand strategy is misplaced. Onwards, this paper shows that in its adjustments, China managed to be flexible without having to compromise on four great aspirations that it has been pursuing since 1949. China did cultivate the image of an increasingly flexible power, willing to adjust, but it was often the security environment that changed before China did. This strategy has been remarkably successful. China has strengthened its capabilities much more than its neighbours, but resistance against its rise remained limited. Yet, it now moves to point that the true bearing of its great aspirations becomes increasingly clear: fulfilling them inevitably implies that it has to become, by far, the most powerful country in Asia and to have the capabilities also to deter the other protagonists by force. The chance that its peaceful rise will continue is therefore small. Either its rise gets into trouble or it will become harder to maintain the peace. (PDF or go to website)