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China’s Plan to Dominate the 21st Century

It remains to be seen how real lawmakers’ concerns about TikTok actually are, but make no mistake, China is coming, and it has a plan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his government

Ju Peng

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew spent five hours testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, evading most tough questions while also not doing his cause any favors by debating the semantics of the word “spying” and declining to directly answer whether TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is a “Chinese company.”

Some questions were painful to watch, like when Republican Rep. Richard Hudson (NC) asked Chew whether TikTok uses wifi, though, in Hudson’s defense, it seemed more like an amateurish attempt to set up his next question – about whether TikTok can then access other devices on the same wifi network – than anything dumb (and at least he didn’t reveal confidential information like his colleague/gremlin Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene).

Other committee members asked Chew solid questions before not really letting him answer, seemingly playing politicians’ favorite game of creating soundbite moments made specially for social media.

It also led to scores of TikTok fans taking to other social media platforms to denounce the lawmakers’ questions as nothing more than racism and xenophobia that ignores the U.S.’s own acts of imperialism. While it’s true that ulterior motives may be at play (more on that below) and the U.S. is certainly a pot calling the kettle black here, I don’t really have words for dumbassery that powerful, so let’s just move on (not to mention the fact that the U.S. is far from alone in its worries about TikTok, as the app is banned on government devices in at least a dozen other countries; sorry, I guess I did have some words).

Overall, it was a hell of a day that didn’t seem to do anything but improve TikTok’s chances of getting banned and reaffirm Gen Z-ers’ belief that old people don’t really understand tech.

I don’t want to spend time on the details of the government’s drama with TikTok since you can find that information in a number of other places (Vox published a great explainer), and also because I think the backdrop of it all is much more interesting, namely, China’s plan to dominate the 21st century.

So, let’s dive into that, what a Chinese global order could look like, and what, if anything, it has to do with TikTok.

China 2049:

Chinese President Xi Jinping


Chinese President Xi Jinping has already cemented his place as his country’s leader for at least the next decade, if not his entire life, and he has a pair of goals for the next two decades: making China a modern power by 2035 and ensuring it “leads the world in terms of composite national strength and international influence” by 2049 (the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic of China).

The 2035 goal includes noble social pursuits like boosting per capita income and prioritizing its technology industry, but the 2049 goal is where the meat’s really at.

According to Rush Doshi, founding director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative and author of The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order, the 2049 goal aims to displace the U.S. as the global leader by taking advantage of the disruptive changes to Western governmental structures since 2016, including the election of former President Donald Trump, Brexit, and the COVID pandemic (Doshi’s book was published before Russia invaded Ukraine, but we can obviously add that to the list considering Xi’s close relationship with Vladimir Putin).

What would that mean for us? Well, it would mean a new global order with China sitting at the top, one that Doshi argues would be distinctly less liberal than the one we have today.

What does he mean by “less liberal”? He means a world order in which China’s authoritarian approach could force the end of U.S. regional alliances in Asia, the removal of the U.S. Navy from the Western Pacific, and unification with Taiwan, among other things.

At the same time, others say China’s 2049 plan isn’t about actually replacing U.S. hegemony, but leveling the playing field, and forcing the world to accept China as a powerful force. According to Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore and the man known as the country’s “founding father,” China may be willing to “share this century” with the U.S. as “co-equals,” but no longer as subordinates.

Why it matters:

China’s already begun its plan to dominate this century through things like its Belt and Road Initiative, which the Council on Foreign Relations describes as “one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived,” with experts estimating Chinese spending on the initiative could reach as high as $8 trillion across 150 countries over its lifetime.

Chinese infrastructure in Africa

South China Morning Post

The Initiative has seen Chinese investments in infrastructure expand massively over the past decade, reaching Africa (where China is particularly dominant), Oceania, and Latin America, greatly expanding Beijing’s economic and political influence.

While a Chinese global order may not be a threat to our individual lives, it’d be a mistake to just ignore it.

China’s shown no qualms about stretching its authoritative arm beyond its borders, with an investigation by Spanish human rights organization Safeguard Defenders finding evidence that Beijing is operating over 100 “police stations” inside 53 countries across the world (some even included proxy courts to handle Chinese disputes and exert control over dissidents, including ones in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco).

What does that have to do with TikTok?

Most of the government’s issues with TikTok center around concerns about its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, which lawmakers say could be subject to a 2017 Chinese national security law that requires its domestic companies “support, assist, and cooperate” with Beijing’s national intelligence efforts, including espionage.

TikTok parent company ByteDance logo


Beneath the surface, it’s about global order, and how powerful of a change tool an app like TikTok can be. Several studies have come out in recent years showing how poorly TikTok handles misinformation, and with the 2024 election on the horizon, the onus should be on TikTok and the Chinese government to prove that they aren’t meddling in American political discourse in any way.

At the same time, banning TikTok would have detrimental effects on the political movements and social causes that are born, grown, and living on the app, and, as policy analyst Jessica Burbank argues, would be another instance of the wealthy controlling the media in the U.S.

It remains to be seen how real global governments’ concerns about TikTok are, and, as far as millionaire CEOs go, Chew seemed earnest about addressing the issues, like protecting user data and fighting misinformation.

What does that mean for you? Not much yet, other than to remember that while there may be ulterior motives at play and the U.S. is certainly being a bit hypocritical, lawmakers aren’t simply on some xenophobic fishing expedition against TikTok, there are real concerns that need to be addressed, including important ones ahead of the 2024 election.

Outside of that, it means there’s a very real chance that TikTok goes away sometime soon, so save those recipes you’re never actually going to make and DIY projects you’re never actually going to build (or just find those influencers on YouTube and Instagram, up to you).

Source: Read an excerpt from The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order

Read this post on Medium here.