Traveling in Japan and Korea this week, one development overshadowed all: the rise of Xi Jinping as the undisputed leader of a new China ready to march to its own tune. "Chinese international standing has risen as never before," Xi exclaimed during his mammoth, three-and-a-half hour speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress. A new era has emerged, Xi said, one that “sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.” The bold, at times swaggering speech marked the end of the Deng Xiaoping era and the start of the Xi era.
Indeed, China has already taken important steps in recent months toward a more central role in global affairs. For the first time, Beijing is making bids for leadership positions at the United Nations, the World Bank, Interpol, and other international organizations. All of this comes at the same time the United States is stepping back from its longstanding global leadership role, exiting international agreements, reducing its presence in international institutions and foreign venues, and weakening the security alliances that have stood at the core of its global standing. Nature and international relations both abhor a vacuum. Xi’s China stands ready to fill it.
In a sense, none of this should come as a surprise. Since the George W. Bush administration, Washington has called on Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder” in the global system. But to many I spoke with in Japan and Korea, China’s moves are neither upholding the international status quo nor reforming it constructively. Instead, Beijing is assertively reshaping the global order to its own advantage. The result is a further erosion of the postwar liberal order the United States has led both to its advantage and to the advantage of many other nations — including China.
Nor is that all. In addition to growing its influence within existing institutions, China is developing new, parallel institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. All have sought to sideline the United States and allow China to wield more economic influence over smaller nations. China’s military footprint is expanding, too, with new island building in the South China Sea, its first foreign base in Africa, and new funding for a strategic deep-sea port in Pakistan.
This, decidedly, isn’t Deng’s China. In order to give China the chance to grow, Deng sought out and achieved better relations with Europe, Japan, the United States, South Korea, and the Soviet Union. Deng thought there was strength in acting with caution abroad, as the Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel notes at the end of his monumental biography of the Chinese leader:
“there is no question what Deng would say if he were still alive. He would say that China should never behave like a hegemon that interferes in the internal affairs of another nation. Rather, it should maintain harmonious relations with other countries and concentrate on peaceful development at home.”
Sage advice, at a time when China was weak and facing strong competitors. But that’s not Xi’s China, which has emerged as a true global force on the world stage. And it isn’t just a new era for China; it’s a new era for the entire world.
For more on the changes in China, and what they might mean for the United States, watch our recent program with Graham T. Allison and our short video on the 19th National Congress leadership transition. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic or anything else we’re working on at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Editorial Board/The Washington Post
President Xi Jinping’s speech should concern the democratic nations of the world, the editorial board of the Washington Post concludes. While Western countries called for China to be a “responsible stakeholder” for the last decade, Xi looks to be an unwilling participant in the gradual liberalization that many had hoped for. Instead, Xi is consolidating his and the Communist Party’s power at home, and seeking a more hostile position beyond its shores, not least in the South China Sea.
Graham T. Allison/Wall Street Journal
President Xi Jinping is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, writes Graham T. Allison in the Wall Street Journal. This is the first of his five key points to understand about the Chinese leader. The op-ed is a clear and concise overview of how Xi has become such an unlikely and influential figure in the world today — and how he might very well become the “new emperor of China.”
Charles Clover/Financial Times
The 19th National Congress is “the closest thing China has to a three-ring political circus,” Charles Clover writes in the Financial Times. The ceremonies and speeches set off a rash of interpreting slight shifts in political strategy. Most notable from Xi’s marathon speech was the apparent abandonment of Deng Xiaoping’s more reserved, "bide and hide" focus in foreign affairs. Clover provides a smart and detailed overview of the CCP’s National Congress and what it means going forward.
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Anne Gearan and John Wagner/The Washington Post
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George P. Shultz and Pedro Aspe/The New York Times
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Julian E. Barnes/Wall Street Journal
The pride of the Soviet navy was its submarine force, which deteriorated as the Cold War ended. In recent years, however, Russia has embarked on a major overhaul of its submarine program to reclaim its underwater glory. Moscow has recently unveiled new technologies that threaten to allow nuclear-armed ships to slip past US detection all too easily. This smart essay in the Wall Street Journal on the Russian Krasnodar submarine is a detailed, frightening look at how Moscow has wielded this new threat in the murky deep.
Jason Zengerle/The New York Times Magazine
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Clifford Krauss/The New York Times
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