Much has been made of the return of great power competition. In truth, it never went away, although the great game was so one-sided for a time that almost everyone in the West tuned out, assuming the match was over in perpetuity. It was too boring to contemplate and so attention drifted to other concerns and second- and third-order problems. China’s attention did not deviate, and once again it is a great power.
Like cholesterol, great powers can be good, in that they accept the present international order, or bad, in that they do not. China does not, and seeks to overturn the contemporary order the West created. This is the source of what is already the great conflict of 21st century.
China is not a status quo great power. A partial review of the evidence is its territorial expansion in the South China Sea, the pressure against India along their common border, the use of ‘debt trap diplomacy’ to exploit less developed states, support for the suppression of protesters in Hong Kong, who call attention to the PRC’s violation of the 1984 agreement with the UK and the gross human rights abuses against its Muslim minority in Xinjiang. All of which rightfully receive attention.
But as important as these developments are, there is a greater concern. This is the intellectual framework that China is creating under the guise of ‘a community with a shared future for mankind,’ most recently expressed in the July 2019 defense white paper. Precisely what the Chinese Communist party (CCP) means by this concept is deliberately vague and nebulous. But it is clear enough from the more tangible comments defining peace, stability, and prosperity in China with the collective good of the world, as is the equation of a strong Chinese military as a force for world peace, stability and the building of a shared future for mankind.