Academic journal article Independent Review

China's Next Ten Years

Academic journal article Independent Review

China's Next Ten Years

Article excerpt

On October 24, 2017, at the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Nineteenth Party Congress, President Xi Jinping was elected to a second five-year term, the Central Committee was packed with his supporters, and the party's constitution was amended to include Xi's "thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era" as part of its essential doctrine. These actions, together with an additional honorific, "core leader," demonstrated his near total consolidation of power within the party. Of five new appointments to the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, none is young enough to succeed Xi if the party's current retirement age (sixty-eight) is maintained. In a three-hour speech, Xi outlined his thoughts about a "two-stage development plan" that will make China "a great modern socialist country" in the "new era" between now and 2050 (China Daily 2017). Xi's term will expire in 2022, but on March 5, 2018, after the successful party congress, the CCP voted to amend its constitution to eliminate term limits on the presidency, thereby clearing the way for Xi to remain in office indefinitely.

The next ten years, however, will be crucial in determining whether China will emerge as the permanent great power in Asia and as a global superpower able to contest the United States in a bipolar world. Whether this happens or not will depend more heavily on economic and financial factors than on political ones, though of course the two are closely tied.

Much of the Western geopolitical commentariat appears to have already bought into the China-as-superpower vision--much has been written about a coming war between China and the United States and of a global power shift to the East as China asserts its broad maritime territorial interests, expands its military capacity, and benefits from a perceived weakening in power and influence of its principal rivals in Asia, the United States, and Japan. (1)

Most of these opinions recognize that China's growing assertiveness is based on its economic success, but some also observe that the influence of the United States has decreased because of its crisis-induced sluggish economy, weariness with foreign wars and trade disputes, and refocusing of priorities on national issues at the expense of fulfilling its role as superpower. Others have observed that, in addition, Russia and India have potential to become global or regional powers, but China is the most potent of today's challengers to U.S. hegemony.

But superpowers cannot be transient things--to be one requires being able to sustain the position indefinitely, despite economic fluctuations, political missteps, and the rise of rivals. The United States has been a superpower for nearly eighty years, largely because its economy and its politics have adapted to challenges. Its economy is among the world's most open to market forces and new ideas, one of the least affected by government intervention, and therefore one of the most self-renewing. Its democracy is robust and capable of leadership changes through elections and therefore one of die most self-correcting. Its rivals may be capable of achieving a superpower designation for a time, but their ability to sustain the position for lengthy periods may ultimately depend on how self-renewing their economies are and how self-correcting their political systems are.

The Chinese commentariat does agree on one thing, however: the next ten years will demand high levels of political skill and patient diplomacy to avoid serious conflicts between a rising China eager to establish its new hegemony and a United States perhaps wearied by its superpower burdens but not at all ready to give up the role. The election of an "America First" president with little knowledge of or patience with complex and often inscrutable Asian political dynamics renders the current situation more uncertain.

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