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China Has Blown Its Historic Opportunity

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, China could have become the development bank, central bank, and medical supplier to the world. By choosing unprovoked aggression over enlightened generosity, President Xi Jinping's regime has squandered that historic opportunity and possibly also revealed its true character.

NEW DELHI – Until recently, China was unmistakably trying to be a hegemon in the image of the United States, increasingly complementing its growing hard power with soft power. But China seems to have missed its opportunity to build a serious rival to, or even supplant, the existing world economic order fashioned by the US following World War II.

All the elements of success seemed to be falling into place for China. It launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a transnational infrastructure investment program intended to define a vision of a China-led, post-Bretton Woods world, much as the US Marshall Plan did for the post-1945 order. China also aggressively promoted the renminbi as an international currency, and persuaded the International Monetary Fund to include it in the basket of reserve currencies underpinning Special Drawing Rights (the IMF’s unit of account) far sooner than was justified.

China also sought to take over leadership of international institutions; it currently heads five. It pushed to increase its voice in existing bodies such as the World Bank and IMF. And where it felt stymied, it established its own, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank.

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