The headlines are flush with China’s moves on the global chessboard. China brokered an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in which the Middle East rivals restored diplomatic relations after a seven-year rift, causing observers to suggest that China is weaving the region into its geopolitical orbit and leaving Washington on the sidelines. In March, China and Brazil announced that they will conduct financial transactions in their own currencies, effectively ditching the U.S. dollar. China and Malaysia discussed setting up an “Asian Monetary Fund” to enable Asian economies to distance themselves from “U.S. dollar hegemony.” Russia, Brazil, India, China and South Africa (“BRICS”) are reportedly working on their own currency, which portends the emergence of a “new world order” where “economic powerhouses increase their efforts to distance themselves” from the U.S. dollar. China’s yuan, Bloomberg News noted a few days ago, “has replaced the US dollar as the most traded currency in Russia.”
A few days ago, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Beijing to seek President Xi’s help in finding a “path to peace” in the Ukraine war. This trip comes on the heels of Xi’s visit to Moscow where China and Russia affirmed their strategic partnership. Eurasian geopolitics is being shaped by Beijing, not Washington.
But Beijing’s growing influence is not limited to Eurasia. A piece in Foreign Affairs noted in January that “China’s footprint in Latin America is large and growing.” China expert Gordon Chang in Newsweek opined that “Latin America is now China’s ‘backyard.’” A headline in February in Foreign Policy claimed that “Biden Wants to Compete With China in Latin America.” Apparently the Monroe Doctrine has lapsed.
Meanwhile, a series of articles on the Africa Center for Strategic Studies website shows China’s deepening economic and geopolitical ties to African nations. China has used the Belt and Road Initiative, defense sales, and military bases to grow its African footprint. Some scholars have opined that China has a “soft-power” advantage over the U.S. in Africa.
All roads, it appears, lead to Beijing, not Washington. What does this all mean for future global geopolitics?
These and other global developments — including China’s growing naval power and the growth and modernization of its nuclear weapons force — are “signs and portents” of a shift in the global balance of power. The great James Burnham sensed this many years ago in a column in National Review in March 1957 titled “Signs and Portents.”
The event that prodded Burnham to write the column was Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to Hungary and Poland, which Burnham characterized as China’s “actively intervening in the public affairs of Europe.” The visit was symbolic, Burnham wrote, because for centuries “Europe has intervened in Asia [but] now Asia intervenes in Europe.”
Burnham noted that Asian statesmen “ordinarily think in longer time cycles than are natural to Western minds.” China’s communist leaders, Burnham explained, “believe that the great fact of the twentieth century is the reawakening of Asia.” They believe, he wrote, in “the coming Asian world order” and the only question at that time was whether this Asian order would be led by “India, China, Japan [or] Islam.”
China in the third decade of the 21st century under Xi Jinping clearly envisions an Asian world order — a world order where all roads lead to Beijing. Judging by the headlines of recent days, that world order is fast approaching.