How China Sees The World

President Xi Jinping has shown himself to be a decisive leader determined to transform an already-economically and militarily powerful nation. So it is important to understand not only how he views his own country, but the world.

Brookings Institution scholar Jeffrey Bader has a new report that examines the decades that preceded Xi’s assumption to power and how the transformational changes that occurred have shaped China today and the vision of what Xi wants China to become.

The China that Xi Jinping inherited was vastly different from the China that his three predecessors encountered when they assumed office in terms of military and economic strength. But, he also is trying to manage a China that has enormous domestic concerns and challenges posed by rapid but unbalanced growth.

For example, Bader notes that China is struggling to “provide employment, housing, transportation, and medical services for 10 to 12 million new migrants moving to cities each year; developing energy sources to fuel the world’s fastest growing large economy; coping with a demographic challenge that is dramatically reducing the number of able-bodied workers; growing inequality and corruption” and to adjusting to an unfortunate demographic crisis – and increasingly aging population that cannot support younger generations.

And while China may have progressed forward in terms of its strength and influence globally, it remains a closed society governed by an increasingly dictatorial regime.

“To deal with the massive disruptions that the economic reform program will bring, on top of the array of existing problems, Xi has strengthened the role of the Communist Party as a tool of governance in an authoritarian but market-dominated system. This has entailed a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign against senior and lower level Party cadres, drafts and new laws on national security, combatting terrorism, and limiting the role of foreign non-government organizations, all of which have strengthened the hand of security agencies. Controls on the media have been tightened. Ideological education has stressed the central role of the Party, the unacceptability of Western constitutional and political systems and theory, and threats to China’s stability posed by pluralism and outside agitators,” Bader writes.

For Western analysts and government officials trying to predict Xi’s next move would be making a mistake to think that China’s recent aggression in the South China Sea or its ongoing eye-poking of the United States is just a consequence of one leader’s style. Rather, he concludes, it is an attitude which is rooted in China’s history.

“Most of the actions and trends that worry observers have been present for some time: the military build-up, the assertive behavior in the South and East China Sea, the growing gravitational pull of China’s economy, and the political repression and denial of basic rights to its citizens. There are questions that deserve attention about how Xi is steering China. But the larger questions about China’s direction both pre-date and will post-date Xi’s tenure,” he concludes.

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