When compared to Western forms of diplomatic conversation and strategic discussion, phrases emanating from Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can appear peculiar, platitudinous, and so ambiguous as to be devoid of practical content. China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping speaks frequently about a ‘community of shared future,’ a ‘common destiny for mankind’ as part of his ‘China dream,’ or of his country’s ‘rejuvenation.’ He promises to pursue and achieve a ‘new type of great-power relations’ with the United States that will ‘expand the converging interests of all and build a big global family of harmony and cooperation.’
Yielding to the temptation to dismiss these phrases as glib and meaningless or as empty promises to the world would be a serious mistake. Emerging as the victorious side after the world was reshaped in the aftermath of the Second World War, and, more recently, the formal end of the Cold War, the United States and its allies have generally enjoyed dominance in all forms of power. The challenge and threat of China is largely understood in the context of its increase in material power, which is relatively easy to understand and quantify. In contrast, far less attention is being paid to non-material power, which is, admittedly, more nebulous and difficult to assess.