A controversial formulation about China's emerging global role and responsibilities appears to have been set aside, in part as a result of leadership disagreements. The idea of China's "peaceful rise" (heping jueqi) as a responsible and benign global power was introduced into China's foreign policy discourse by Party General Secretary Hu Jintao associate Zheng Bijian in November 2003. It caught the interest of many Chinese foreign affairs specialists, becoming the subject of intense and surprisingly open debate. Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao both used the formulation in speeches in December 2003, suggesting that the idea had become an authoritative component of Chinese foreign policy statements. But Jiang Zemin and some members of the Politburo Standing Committee are rumored to have raised objections, and the leadership is said to have decided in April 2004 to drop the formulation in public statements. The concept itself has not been anathematized, however, and it remains the subject of academic debate in China. Still, it has lost much of its policy salience and some of its intellectual luster, a casualty of China's more open scholarly environment, the omnipresent Taiwan issue, and leadership jealousies.
People's Republic of China (PRC) statements asserting the "inevitability" of war in the Taiwan Strait and imposing a deadline for resolution of the Taiwan question loom larger as facets of debate over potential conflict between the PRC and Taiwan, particularly with Taipei's proposed constitutional revision in 2006 and Beijing's hosting of the Olympics in 2008 on the horizon. On the one hand, Beijing may believe that asserting deadlines for resolution of the Taiwan question through nonauthoritative channels is useful psychologically to undermine morale in Taiwan and deter U.S. military intervention. On the other hand, PRC media commentary to the contrary continues to underscore the difficult trade-offs between specificity and flexibility in Beijing's policymaking toward Taiwan. On balance, the evidence suggests that Beijing's position toward Taiwan (and, by extension, toward the role of the United States in a future conflict) has hardened since President Chen Shui-bian's reelection in spring 2004, elevating prospects of a military crisis in the next four years.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has faced numerous pressures in recent years to reform its governing practices, particularly at the local level where these practices directly affect the lives of citizens. Despite years of campaigning against it, corruption continues to get worse at local levels, where abuse of power by officials has inflamed relations with the citizenry, and where there seems to be a palpable need to enhance the legitimacy of local officials. Village-level elections were introduced in China in the late 1980s to respond to these needs, but they also created new problems. Local party secretaries clashed regularly with village heads, and township cadres resented newly assertive village leaders. Moreover, the electoral process stalled as efforts to promote it at the township level met resistance. In recent months, however, there have been new and expanded experiments with local democracy that enhance the importance of local people's congresses, open up the electoral process, and use elections for the selection of local cadres. Importantly, these experiments are not limited to the village level, but are taking place at the township and sometimes county levels. These innovations may not augur looming democratization, but they do reflect a response to increased pressures to cope with the problems of local governance.
The intensification of China's effort since April 2004 to reassert macroeconomic control has triggered a scramble for money and resources, as businesses and local governments faced an abrupt and unanticipated change in the overall economic climate. The scramble for resources has contributed to strains among regions and within the top leadership. It has also touched off conflicts among different business sectors—including state and private—as they maneuver to avoid the worst effects of reasserted macroeconomic control. The ultimate impact of the current imposition of macroeconomic control is still highly uncertain, and new consequences continue to ripple outward from this policy choice. The Fourth Plenum of the 16th Central Committee, scheduled for mid-September 2004, will bring these issues to a head, as the economic and political implications of macroeconomic recontrol become apparent and are worked through.
The Hu Jintao leadership took advantage of the recent centenary of Deng Xiaoping's birth to lend authority to controversial proposals for reform of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that it seeks to ratify at the forthcoming Fourth Plenum of the party Central Committee. Preparations for the party plenum have stimulated more than the usual volume of rumors among Chinese of intensified leadership conflict, accompanied by a wave of related speculations in the Hong Kong and Western press. But available evidence from China's media provides little support for these speculations. Instead, the central leadership has sustained the public façade of unanimity and collective discipline that it has managed over the past several years, despite the disputes and debates over personnel and policy that may divide its members.
It is often said that politics is about who gets what, when, and how. Since early 2004, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have adopted a macroeconomic control policy to limit bank lending, land use, and fixed-asset investment. They have acknowledged explicitly that this policy does not treat all sectors and provinces in the same way. While allocating resources to support the agriculture, energy, transportation, and social welfare sectors, especially in the less-developed western and northeastern regions, Hu and Wen have strived to cool off the decade-long construction fever in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta. The fact that the central government can say "no" to Jiang Zemin's turf suggests that Hu and Wen have begun to take the offensive. Through macroeconomic adjustments and geopolitical coalition-building, Hu and Wen have consolidated their power. However, given China's daunting challenges, only time will tell whether the Hu-Wen administration can achieve a soft landing politically as well as economically.