On Sunday, China’s official news agency called for the world to consider “de-Americanizing”: “As US politicians of both political parties (fail to find a) viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about, it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.” In the last couple weeks alone, Xi Jinping’s endeavors seem to have contributed to building such a vision.
President Barack Obama’s absence from the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting at the start of last week suggests that perhaps Xinhua’s – a Chinese state-run newspaper – idyll is increasingly imminent. Obama’s absence gave Xi the limelight as the meeting’s keynote speaker, which he utilized to defend the future of China’s economic growth. Xi underscored its “strong endogenous power”, stemming from rising urbanization, the new generation of workers with increasingly “modern and advanced professional talents”, a newfound focus on innovation-driven development, the expansion of domestic needs and the consumer market, as well as enabling more people in broader regions to share the benefits of this development. Most interestingly, Xi emphasized the adherence to the Chinese principle of putting its people first.
Such a shift in China’s economic policy has certainly been felt worldwide. The World Bank’s recently released a report stating that the economic expansion of emerging economies has certainly slowed as a result of China’s new focus on domestic demand. However, this new focus may be disingenuous: China has been creating new global dependencies on its economy.
Last Friday, China and the European Central Bank signed a $57 billion currency swap deal, the twenty-second deal of its kind, suggesting that China is now looking to build a more international role for the yuan. This deal allows parties to avoid fluctuations in exchange rates and settle trade in local currencies rather than US dollars. Such a reduced reliance on the US dollar for bilateral trade and other business deals does indeed suggest the emergence of a de-Americanized world.
China has also begun other initiatives regionally. For example, Mr. Xi’s visit to Indonesia last week saw the announcement of a new $50 billion infrastructure bank to service that region. According to Mr. Kurtz, an American who lives in Jakarta, Indonesian businessmen feel that “China’s effective economic support was unmatched by the United States… There is a feeling that soft power loses to hard currency most of the time.”
Considering China’s economic support in Indonesia, isn’t it ironic that China’s move towards a de-Americanized world comes from (perhaps nominal) economic liberalization? Nevertheless, these economic changes seem to have come at an opportune time.
Currently, China’s biggest threat is the rising urbanite class, the emergent generation of better-educated workers, and those starved for the benefits of developments such as healthcare. Many of the same people that China flaunts as comprising its new economic motor are precisely the ones who can undermine the existing Chinese system. Some have already turned outwardly for new ideas and influences and are starting to voice dissent about conditions in their country. Xi’s dissemination of China’s economic influence is commendable, but if a de-Americanized world is to become a reality, China must champion a viable alternative model that goes beyond material provisions and economic prowess. The international community should not let political domestic issues be cast in the shadow of economic success.