One of the Chinese government’s most frequent protestations against accusations of wrongdoing is that it never interferes in the affairs of other nations. As an idea, this has a prima facie virtue: it is the mantra of “live and let live, and leave us alone – just like we leave you alone”.

Unfortunately, it is a lie. Every country has an effect on others, and the more important the country, the greater the consequence of its actions. Visas, trade agreements, recognition of quality standards, educational achievements and financial regulations: all of these have knock on effects across the globe. No nation is an island unto itself. And for China, which is the largest single source of imports for 58 countries – from North Korea to Burkina Faso –the effects its own domestic policies generate are increasingly significant.

Some effects are more deliberate than others. Hong Kong’s National Security Law was clearly designed not only for its impact on the special administrative region, but also the Chinese and Hong Konger diaspora. Article 38 of the law says: “This Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region”. In a sentence, the Chinese government has claimed extraterritorial power over anyone committing offences against its national security law anywhere in the world.

The world is now having to adjust to the enormous reach of the Chinese government. On Monday the University of Oxford announced new measure to shield students from Beijing’s prying eyes. Henceforth, students specialising in China must submit papers anonymously and that tutorials will be replaced by one-to-ones, to protect them from any retribution from the Chinese government. Students were also warned that taping classes or distributing them to external groups will be disciplinary offences.

Is this paranoia? Unfortunately not. The Chinese government has long shown an interest in its international students and closely monitors what they do and say. Students have had their families in China threatened in response to what they say in the classroom, while academics abroad have been warned by officials to not criticise the Chinese government in lectures. Such threats have helped to strangle academic freedom in the West.

At the same time, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association mobilises students to support the government: protesting against an invitation to the Dalai Lama to speak at the University of California, San Diego; objecting to a lecture on China’s mistreatment of the Falun Gong spiritual group at Columbia University; and lining the streets of Washington D.C. to welcome Xi Jinping on a state visit. In the US, university administrators have cancelled talks they believe the Chinese government would deem “sensitive”, while many academics have said they have had to modify their teaching because of fears of being denied access to China, or causing problems for students or scholars from China.

It is not difficult to detect the long hand of the Chinese Communist Party behind such actions. The Western concept of the state as a largely neutral actor, balancing out the competing claims of interest groups within it, does not apply to Xi Jinping’s strategy of increasing state power through every institution it can muster – whether domestic or international. There are no boundaries to which it pays heed. The interests of the party, the state, and the people, are the priority.

Given how quickly China has grown, it is perhaps not surprising that Western countries have been slow to adjust to this new reality. The year 2000 sometimes feels a long time ago, but just 20 years ago China was not even in the World Trade Organisation, had a smaller GDP than France, and feared that WTO membership might lead to a rapidly deteriorating balance of payments (rather than putting booster rockets on economic growth, which actually happened). The 2008 Beijing Olympics – that rare moment of unity and optimism – felt like China’s fully-fledged emergence on the world stage.

But the nature of that emergence cannot now be avoided. China did not intend to uphold the international order and promote the rule of law, which it sees as inherent aspects of US hegemony. The vision under Xi Jinping, with China claiming the entire South China Sea and ripping up international agreements on Hong Kong, appears to be one of untrammelled power – other nations be damned. In 2010 foreign minister Yang Jiechi told ASEAN that “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.”

There are no genuine partnerships or alliances with China, only client states, in a reversion to the tributary concept of foreign relations. Hegemony is the aim. And since international students are vulnerable to external voices and political concepts, they must be monitored and controlled. It does not matter how much that vision of power might impinge on ideas like academic freedom – the very thing, of course, which makes Western universities so highly regarded in comparison with their Chinese counterparts – or national sovereignty. China has risen, it says, and that must be accepted.

The impact of the expanding reach of the Chinese State on Western nations cannot be ignored. The very things that make the UK what it is are under threat. Now is the time to respond.

Ron Shine is a writer who has lived in several Chinese cities and three provinces over seven years, working in education and media. He writes under a pseudonym because he still has family in China and visits regularly.