The Chinese Communist Party’s Pursuit for Global Power
As China faces global scrutiny for its culpability in the propagation of COVID-19, Beijing finds itself scrambling to preserve its ambitions to be a global leader engaged in a “peaceful rise.” First articulated in 2003 and asserted under the Hu Jintao regime, the policy advocates China’s economic emergence and commitment to peaceful development. Designed to assuage the international community about its political and economic strength, China’s “peaceful rise” has been the engine behind Beijing’s growing influence in resolving border disputes, forming economic relationships, and being a regional leader with an eye toward the global stage.
Unsurprisingly, China has since increased its footprint across the globe, focusing on developing nations. Such economic, cultural, and diplomatic investment is important in reinforcing China’s commitment to be a global force without needing military influence to achieve the same objectives. China has been a stalwart African partner, investing in the continent since approximately 2018, when the Forum on China-African Cooperation announced it would be providing Africa approximately USD 60 billion. Fast forward to today, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a “transcontinental long-term policy and investment program” focused on developing infrastructure and economic integration for countries along the “historic Silk Road,” committed USD 1 billion to fund infrastructure development for Africa. In exchange for development, Beijing has gained access to much needed raw materials while providing China, already a dominant influence in Asia, the opportunity to expand its global presence one continent over.
But desiring to be an international power means China cannot be satisfied with regional superiority. It also requires it to be able to extend its influence as a responsible global partner. Latin America is another prime development target for Beijing, mainly due to its location and proximity to the United States. Since 2005, China has invested approximately USD 140 billion in the commodity-rich Latin America and Caribbean region, with Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela receiving the lion’s share. Additionally, Beijing is trying to bring the BRI to Latin America, particularly as trade between China and the region has increased substantially over the past decade with deals made on energy, transport, and other infrastructure projects.
China’s involvement in deploying 5G networks throughout the world via telecommunications companies like Huawei is a vital part of China’s BRI plans and geopolitical ambitions. China can offer cutting-edge network upgrades to these countries at substantially reduced costs, which is an apparent attractive option for any developing nation.
During 2019, Huawei expanded its presence in Latin America, operating in 20 countries, offering mobile devices, cloud data services, and contracts for 5G development. Despite protestations to the contrary, Huawei is suspected of engaging in questionable business practices and spying on behalf of the Chinese government.
These countries must weigh the consequences of having a modern telecommunications infrastructure that can immediately help their economies over potential security risks that come with a government that surveils activities and has been accused of spying by foreign governments.
Helping set up such a network facilitates access to communications for surreptitious monitoring, tracking, surveilling, and spying. If allowed to be the primary installer and implementor of the 5G network in Latin America, China could access the “documents, communications, archives, and other sensitive documents of the more than 600 million inhabitants in the region.”
While Latin American governments may not care about such tactics in favor of telecommunication modernization, such potential activities certainly would worry other governments engaged in private political, economic, and cultural engagements with these Latin American countries.
Because it is in the United States’ backyard, embedding itself into Latin American countries allows China to take root and grow regionally. With Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico expected to initiate 5G deployment, it’s no surprise that the adoption of the Chinese 5G network by these three influential regional powers would give Washington cause for concern.
So, what does China want?
While reducing Beijing’s motivations to “dominating the world” may seem simplistic on the surface, there may be more truth rooted in this sentiment. “Dominating” may appear like the wrong word, but closer inspection tells a different story.
Countries trying to influence other countries is a geopolitical reality that has existed as long as the nation-state concept itself.
It’s how that influence manifests itself which bears closer inspection. China has several ambitious plans that it is aggressively pursuing – economic power, global influence, Arctic rights, South Sea supremacy, telecommunications mastery – a multi-pronged strategy akin to having a “several irons in the fire” approach so as to preserve the Communist Party leadership by keeping friendly governments in power. While all the prongs may not achieve success, one or more of the irons are bound to get hot.
The United States needs to counter similarly by adopting an overall strategy that can be executed in tactical geographic engagements across the political, economic, military spectrums. From the 5G perspective, the United States has been trying to aggressively campaign for its friends and allies to reject Huawei, which has garnered little success, suggesting that a different approach is required. The United States could curb China’s involvement in Latin America by offering viable alternatives to Huawei’s offerings in the form of infrastructure development via telecom partnerships with domestic companies. Additionally, engaging in its multi-prong strategy that provides security initiatives rooted in democratic principles rather than just providing governments authoritarian-style internal security technologies will help governments demonstrate worth to their citizenries.