Much like a hundred years ago, the world at large is looking for alternatives. A prevailing sense exists that the Liberal World Order has failed to deliver its promises of endless opportunities, guaranteed individual autonomy, and abundant freedom to most of the world. This has led much of the world to begin a search once more for a new shining city on the hill. At the beginning of the 21st century, the future seemed bright for democracy and the free market structure. The West was still riding the high of the fall of the Soviet Union and the democratic revolutions of the late 20th century that had occurred all over the world, in countries such as Chile, to Greece, to South Korea. As of 2023 things look less and less certain; many democracies across the world, including our own, appear to be fragile. Moreover, in the last few decades, the leaders of the free world have demonstrated arrogance, hubris, and unreliability. We state one thing, and do the opposite. From blatant hypocrisy regarding migrant internment camps to inaction in Syria after redlines were crossed, many states view our actions as hypocritical and built on broken promises. In other words, our actions have led much of the world to search for an alternative. Our actions have led much of the world to search for an alternative. Lo and behold, an alternative has arrived. A rising China has demonstrated to the world that it can offer something different. In reality, the Chinese system is marred with corruption and cruelty; but, much like the American system before it, China’s power lies in the fantasy of endless possibilities.
China today seems to still be struggling with its identity. It has adapted some of the values of open markets, yet has retained echoes of Maoist communism; the nation still seems to lack a cohesive identity. The PRC is a victim to conflicting identities that come from a past that does not easily mesh with its present or future. However, in a world where all encompassing dogmas have been replaced by self-generated meaning, leaders can look at the Chinese system and see what they want to see.
This is the danger that China poses to the West. Rather than espousing a cohesive ideology and encouraging the world to follow, China holds up a mirror to world leaders looking for alternatives to the American Value system and offers them the financial means to try and make their dreams come true.
The allure of endless possibilities is extremely enticing to the downtrodden, the underprivileged, and those who otherwise feel left behind. Leaders and policy makers around the world, whether they be leftist bureaucracies or right leaning strong men, are able to pick and choose from China’s contradictions. The left can hang on to the echoes of “communist” ideals while the right can point to the calculating economics of a growing controlled market. In this way China can appeal not only to the Lula Da Silvas, but also to the Ayatollah Khameneis of the world.
To much of the world, the United States is no longer a beacon of hope, but a reminder of forgotten promises and lost opportunities. Overcoming these assumptions and proving that China’s allure is only a facade will be the greatest ideological challenge of the current era. In the face of an, at best, obtuse ideological threat the United States must prove to the world not only in speech but more importantly in action that it is still willing to ensure and promote the ideals of representative democracy and liberalism.