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Politics

China isn't America's rival -- pinkie swear

Catherine Rampell on

BEIJING -- The Chinese government would like Americans to know that China has no ambitions to replace the United States as the world's biggest superpower.

Really! They pinkie-swear!

Sure, maybe the United States has turned its back on globalization. Maybe the U.S. government has said it will withdraw from a 195-country pact on climate change. Maybe it has hollowed out its diplomatic corps and retreated from the international promotion of democracy, human rights and other American values.

Likewise maybe, days before President Trump took office, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a major speech portraying China as the world's new champion of free trade. Maybe China has also been flexing its geopolitical muscle by developing major infrastructure projects across multiple continents.

Xi may have said, at his party's recent national congress, that China has taken a "driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change" and that China was now "moving closer to center stage."

And perhaps public opinion elsewhere views this sashay to "center stage" positively. China and the United States are now tied in favorability ratings around the world, with the typical country expressing more confidence in Xi than in Trump to do the right thing, per a recent Pew Research Center survey.

 

But none of that means China intends to fill the power void created by the United States' retrenchment. Oh, no.

Some people merely "misinterpret" such recent developments as China's attempts to dislodge the United States from its unipolar power perch. "That is a misunderstanding," a senior Chinese government official told a group of American journalists here on a trip sponsored by the Asia Society. China just wants all countries to be equal.

"We do not believe that any country should assume leadership in the world, least of all China," he said. "China has neither the intention nor the capability to act as a world leader."

He stated near-identical versions of that last, emphatic sentence three times during an hour-long discussion.

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