China Grows Bolder On The World Stage

Nov 23, 2017
Originally published on November 23, 2017 7:18 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

China is claiming a larger role for itself in world affairs. China's president, Xi Jinping, talked last month of making his country a powerful nation that could lead the world.

NOEL KING, HOST:

And now China seems to be trying, speaking out on crises in Myanmar and Zimbabwe. And that is different from past years when China focused more on growing its own economy and usually left world problems to the United States.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn has watched China's evolution from his post in Beijing and is on the line. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly does China's leader mean when he talks of a more powerful nation?

KUHN: He talks about a nation that is, you know, a powerful country and that is more proactive and assertive in its foreign policy and actually has something to teach other nations. Let's hear a clip of him speaking at a party congress last month in Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: OK, so what he's saying here is that China has something to offer nations that want to develop faster but at the same time stay independent and that it wants to contribute solutions to the world's problems.

INSKEEP: And when you say - I just want to interpret that language a little bit - contribute to - speed up development while preserving independence, does he really mean develop while avoiding the Western system like democracy and staying autocratic?

KUHN: You can interpret it that way. I mean, it could be interpreted as, you know, independent of, you know, foreign domination or Western domination. And if you look at what China is doing in Myanmar, in Cambodia and in Zimbabwe, it seems to be taking the sides of authoritarian regimes or authoritarian actors in all of these.

INSKEEP: Let's dig down on that Myanmar example of the three that you just mentioned. Of course, this is a situation where there's ethnic cleansing. Ethnic Rohingya Muslims have been driven out of the country by the many, many hundreds of thousands. And even those who remain are suffering. The United States has spoken out. China has spoken out, which sounds like it could be constructive. But what did China say?

KUHN: Well, last Saturday, China actually proposed brokering a deal to end this huge crisis. And it calls for negotiations and development aid for Myanmar. But what it does not talk about is this problem of ethnic cleansing or about the fact that the Rohingya Muslims are stateless and have no rights or citizenship in any country.

And so, you know, a lot of countries are going to say, basically, China is just exporting a sort of authoritarian, one-party rule and the fact that the U.S. now is threatening to sanction basically just drives Myanmar further into China's embrace, you could say.

INSKEEP: Is China undermining the United States then?

KUHN: Well, it doesn't see it this way. It says it wants good relations with the U.S. It's going to open its economy wider to the U.S. And it's pretty frank that it doesn't have the power to challenge the U.S. directly. It does say that it's going to be more defensive and more proactive in defending its legitimate interests. And that could bring it into more conflict with the U.S., I think.

INSKEEP: China did welcome, more or less, the departure of its longtime ally in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. But I'm now wondering listening to you if that wasn't a big deal for China because the same ruling party that's been friendly to China is still in power there.

KUHN: Well, it's true that China did support Mugabe for nearly four decades and then suddenly, it sort of abandoned him. But, you know, China has huge investments in Zimbabwe, and they weren't doing well under Mugabe. And then besides, the incoming leader of Zimbabwe also has ties to China. So they're not losing out there either.

INSKEEP: Anthony, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

KUHN: You too. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.