The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has abandoned its previous restraint and is now actively shaping the global order of the 21st century. For years, party and state leaders followed “part one” of Deng Xiaoping’s counsel for the field of foreign policy: “Hide your strength, bide your time”. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, it would appear that the time has come. China has shifted the logic underlying its foreign and security policy with a view to its increased political and economic power, thereby reprioritising a variety of strategic interests.
Now, instead of selectively adjusting to international norms and rules, the PRC aims to incrementally bring the world into line with Chinese ideas. The intent is not to completely supplant the previous structures upon which the international order was founded. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to shape world politics so they will accommodate the CCP-led PRC. Its interests are being articulated increasingly clearly and consistently, lending momentum to the discourse surrounding an intensifying competition between systems, with the Chinese model of authoritarian state capitalism squaring off against the Western model of a democratic constitutional state and social market economy. In this context, the CCP increasingly emphasises that its model is more efficient and better suited for developing countries than the Western one and that modernisation does not have to equal Westernisation.
Accordingly, this analysis provides a comprehensive overview of China’s international development cooperation, illustrating how China has become one of the largest contributors to development assistance and how the importance of development finance as a foreign policy tool has increased significantly since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. The study’s author, Dr Marina Rudyak, describes how Beijing is increasingly proactive in promoting its authoritarian development model as an attractive example and alternative for developing countries. To this end, she outlines China’s highly complex aid and development financing bureaucracy and highlights the differences in the understanding of development between China and the West.
Rudyak shows that China is by no means a new actor and has used development cooperation as a strategic tool since the 1950s. She presents the development history of Chinese development financing to the African continent and illustrates how Beijing is no longer simply building roads but also offering solutions for digital and telecommunication infrastructures or smart cities. In many places, China has stepped into gaps left by the West or not addressed at all in the first place. Through three sector-specific case studies, she addresses China’s cooperation with Africa in the areas of health, labour conditions and trade unionism in Chinese-financed infrastructure projects and smart city projects in select countries on the continent. In addition to her in-depth analysis, Rudyak succeeds in laying the foundations for strategic empathy — not to be confused with sympathy — i.e., understanding the history, geography, and motives behind China’s actions. For her, strategic empathy is the foundation of effective foreign policy in times of Zeitenwende. Rudyak also provides both sector-specific and overarching recommendations on how the EU and Germany should respond to China’s growing footprint in Africa.
This report is part of a FES publication series, which examines Beijing’s strategy in a range of different global policy fields. The overarching theme of the series is the future of multilateralism in light of China’s rise to world power and the growing competition over the establishment of values and norms. It seeks to address questions such as: How can we go about initiating a constructive process of political negotiation between Europe and China on the regulatory framework for global governance? In which areas is there potential for more coordination and cooperation with China? And, in contrast, where should Europe be taking countermeasures and conducting its own groundwork, for example to ensure that newly industrialized and developing countries see it as a reliable partner?
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