Boyd: Chinese president’s power grabs threaten U.S. interests

Ryan Boyd, Columnist

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The unveiling of the new Politburo Standing Committee on Oct. 25 marked the end of the Communist Party of China’s 19th Party Congress. The Standing Committee is a seven-member body led by President Xi Jinping that sits atop the Chinese government; it is akin to a U.S. president’s cabinet, only more powerful. Significantly, no clear successor to Xi was named to the Standing Committee, indicating that he might be planning to extend his tenure beyond the 10 years his recent predecessors served. Xi also had his political philosophy enshrined into the Communist Party’s constitution. These moves have unquestionably made Xi Jinping the strongest Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

These developments will have profound implications: Xi will effectively have free rein to pursue his domestic agenda unfettered. Over the past five years, this agenda has consisted of power consolidation, government crackdowns and very limited economic reforms. Like in his first term, Xi will likely continue to make China more autocratic and less economically stable and transparent than the international community desires.

More problematically, Xi is also free to pursue his foreign agenda, which is, with respect to American interests, even bleaker than his domestic priorities. He is proposing policies that directly challenge America’s global influence. Part of Xi’s Chinese Dream — which aims to put China on the path to superpower status — is the Belt and Road initiative. This is an ambitious Chinese international development project consisting of over $1 trillion in infrastructure spending throughout more than 60 countries. The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s 21st-century Marshall Plan. Where the Marshall Plan created a system of transatlantic commerce underpinned by American ideals, the Belt and Road Initiative seeks to establish a global economic network guided by Chinese principles. Complementing this initiative is the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which seeks to undermine U.S.-led international institutions like the World Bank, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — China’s answer to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Xi’s Chinese Dream is an American nightmare. It seeks to challenge U.S. leadership and values at every turn. If left uncontested, it would put China one step closer to overtaking the U.S. as the world’s leading power. The implications of an autocratic country leading the world are severe. While the U.S. has made costly, disastrous and callous mistakes in the past, American foreign policy has consistently been guided by the promotion of democracy and national interests.

This has historically resulted in a better standard of living for Americans as well as for the many people living in countries positively affected by U.S. policies. Just within the past 10 years, the U.S. has had significant foreign policy accomplishments. It was integral in negotiating the Paris Agreement, as well as creating international support for its provisions. The American government has saved millions of lives in Africa through its AIDS relief program, PEPFAR. And national response to the Ebola crisis rallied the international community, stopping the disease from spreading further.

Chinese foreign policy, on the other hand, is not guided by the principles of democracy and will likely consist of bullying and an utter disregard for human rights. For example, the Chinese manipulated “and undercut key United Nations human rights mechanisms, both to shield itself from rights criticism and to protect its friends and allies,” according to Foreign Policy. It is clear from its past actions that the Chinese government will walk back hard-fought U.S. gains.

In response to these potentially epochal developments, the Trump administration has faltered — consistently. Trump pulled out of the TPP, clearing a path for China to control trade in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. also left the Paris Climate Accord, and is now the only country not signed onto the agreement. This puts China, not the U.S., at the forefront of negotiations determining the future of our planet. And while China is stepping up its engagement with countries around the world, Trump is practically destroying his own State Department. America’s top diplomats are quitting at a rapid pace, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s hiring freeze means that many of the next generation’s would-be diplomats aren’t entering the Foreign Service.

Trump’s incompetence has been on full display as he tours Asia this week. It is safe to say his visit to China on Wednesday was an utter embarrassment. Rather than criticize the Chinese government’s human rights abuses and Xi’s autocratic tendencies, Trump lavished the Chinese president with praise after learning how much power he accumulated at the Party Congress. It is shocking that a U.S. president would praise an autocrat for consolidating power — but unfortunately, for Trump, it is not surprising. Several observers also noted the unprecedented obsequiousness that Trump demonstrated. The message this sends to world is clear: China is in control now.

Ryan Boyd is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.