Xi Jinping’s Idea of World Order

The real battle for international supremacy today is not between democracies and autocracies, but between different models of global order, with China and the West each offering its own distinct account of “democracy.” The sooner that Western leaders recognize this, the better chance they will have of attracting new partners.

BERLIN – By all accounts, Chinese President Xi Jinping has had a successful few weeks. Hot on the heels of the Chinese-brokered restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, he used his recent visit to Moscow not only to shore up relations with his close (junior) partner, Vladimir Putin, but also to present a “peace plan” for the war in Ukraine. As The Economist put it, these events have opened a window onto the “world according to Xi.” Meanwhile, Xi’s travels have incited much Sturm und Drang across the West, which itself may be heading toward a strategic dead end.

After all, the emerging consensus among Western policymakers follows from several assumptions that may lead them to act in counterproductive ways. Specifically, Western leaders believe that they are defending the rules-based order from revisionist powers such as Russia and China; that the world is polarizing between rule-bound democracies and aggressive autocracies, with swing states in the middle; and that we need better narratives to convince others that Russia’s attack on Ukraine has significant implications for them. But each of these claims is problematic and speaks to a misunderstanding of the challenge China represents.

First, the idea that Western governments are preserving the rules-based order is not persuasive to many around the world, considering that Western governments themselves have already abandoned it on many fronts. While Russia and China obviously have been challenging the post-1945 international order, many across the so-called Global South would say that Westerners, too, have routinely revised international rules and institutions to suit their own interests.