Birth of a Pacific World Order: America's First Pacific President and Sino-US Relations

By Mendis, Patrick | Harvard International Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Birth of a Pacific World Order: America's First Pacific President and Sino-US Relations


Mendis, Patrick, Harvard International Review


"For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."

President John F. Kennedy

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Two Visions, One World

In his re-election night speech in November 2012, President Barack Obama said, "Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions ... These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter--the chance to cast their ballots like we did today." Soon after the US election, one such distant nation experienced a very different transfer of political power, as current Chinese President Xi Jinping replaced former President Hu Jintao in an orderly, stable, and Confucian manner.

It was here that Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping each proved the ancient Confucian motto: "It takes but one word, it takes but one man to settle the fate of an empire." Reformer Deng single-handedly broke away from the era of Chairman Mao, who had led the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In the late 1970s, reformed trade liberalization policies initiated by Deng brought China into rapid economic prosperity within a generation. To grapple with the growing feelings of injustice and uncertainty among restless middle-class Chinese, especially educated youth looking for financial and social mobility, new Chinese President Xi, in turn, must take the "one word" of Deng's "reform" and expand the meaning to include political restructuring for grassroots democracy.

Realizing the unfinished agenda of Deng's reform policies, outgoing President flu reminded 2,268 almost uniformly-dressed delegates in the Great Hall of the People that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is "creating a beautiful China." He then added that the CPC "must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out reforms of the political structure and make people's democracy more extensive, fuller in scope, and sounder in practice." Hu also noted, "We will never copy a Western political system." Instead, "We should attach greater importance to improving the system of democracy and diversifying the forms of democracy to ensure that the people conduct democratic elections, decision-making, administration and oversight in accordance with the law." Hu added that Beijing is "firmly marching on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics" to preserve a millennia-old Confucian union within a democratic system. Essentially, the departing leader's remarks emphasize the legitimacy of the Communist Party and its authority to govern people's affairs to preserve the collective order.

Under die new leadership, however, affable Xi warned against "excessive formalism and bureaucratism" among Communist Party cadres. Introducing his fellow Standing Committee members of the Politburo (the party's seven-member supreme authority) as "my colleagues," Xi signaled a departure from Hu, who had used the old revolutionary word "comrades" when he took the top position in 2002. The congenial leader's refreshing tone is a sharp contrast to his wooden predecessor, who monotonously read a lengthy and ideological statement. The newly-minted president's first official trip to the southern city of Shenzhen--the birthplace of policy reform and an economic laboratory--is strikingly different from Hu's visit to the historic village of Xibaipo, the revolutionary command center of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1948-49. Furthermore, an easygoing Xi told President Obama that he returned to see his "old friends" in Iowa during his visit to the United States in February 2012. At a reunion with his Iowan friends, Xi said: "My impression of the country came from you. For me, you are America."

Unlike Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who visited Iowa in 1959, the Chinese leader has sent a message of unprecedented amity from Beijing to Washington.

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