Friday, May 17, 2013


Traditionally, each Chinese leader likes to embrace some form of "slogan" which sets him apart from his predecessor(s).  Xi Jinping has come up with "The Chinese Dream" after the rather dour and opaque pulpit utterances of his immediate predecessors: "Harmonious Society" and "The Three Represents." In doing so he appeals to the ever-present nationalistic undercurrent in Chinese society.  Equally, he sends a signal to the PLA which has lately become a major player internally and externally, projecting a mix of hard and soft (?) power. 
One wishes that the Chinese could build a model society wherein rule of law is paired with economic and political projection. There remain many stumbling blocks in the longer term:  an aging population, a demographic pyramid turned upside down, social unrest, sluggish growth (all things being relative), current and future tensions in Xinjiang, Gansu and Tibet.

When looking at China many observers too often are blinded by the myriad of lights which make the coastal corridor glamorous. It has to be recognized that the Chinese leadership has made major inroads to alleviate the asymmetric economic development and to take control of the ecological disaster it has unleashed as a consequence of capitalism with Chinese characteristics.
A fundamental question remains unanswered.  To what extend is the leadership in control of the trends?  In other words, do we observe a top to bottom policy or is there a bottom-up dynamic which "obliges" the Party to adhere to an economic and social acceleration which is, so to speak,  almost a wild card in the game? The Chines leadership has always been a cynical appropriator (Deng Xiaoping ).  It could as well be a mix of two energies which collude rather than collide. 

The former Governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, might be the optimal representative of this more syncretic third way, navigating sound monetary policies with the consent of the Standing Committee which does not intend to lose the monopoly of Imprimatur of last resort on all aspects of governance.  Still, there can be a window ajar.  The Party fears, above all, that opening it too wide might lead to some Perestroika, which is taboo.

Meanwhile, "The Chinese Dream" is still in its starting blocks.  Xi Jinping appears to be very cautious in global world affairs.  The "near abroad" is something else all together.  China will not allow intruders in what it considers its zone of influence, be it on land or on sea. Washington's shift to Asia is taken seriously, but the Chinese remark about the American Giant, which is often considered in academic circles as more "dispensable" than not.  The drama played over the Diaoyutais, the posturing over the Paracels, possible developments in Taiwan or a post-Dalai Lama Tibet, should be taken seriously.  America's firewall leaves the Chinese more amused than worried, given the US Administration's reluctance lately to get over-involved. 

Nevertheless, Beijing has to tackle more structural problems internally if it wants to continue rising.  Besides, contrary to the American Dream, the Chinese one is for internal consumption only.  China has more clients than allies. The United States lately has more allies than clients. The two superpowers are more complementary than they like to admit.  The "pivot" might end up being more a rapprochement cordial than a strategic move in defiance of China's rights. 

The future is hard to predict. The slow demise of the United State and the continuous rise of China are unsustainable assertions.  The world has become a plural and major players will have to stear it with due respect for existing legitimate priorities and a willingness to manage flash points (climate change, poverty, terrorism) together rather than continuing to play the lonely cowboy when the public has long left the cinema.

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