During the past two years, and particularly since China’s quick and strong recovery from the global recession, the long-discussed topic of China’s rise has come to be dominated by a new theme among both Chinese and foreign observers: The image of the supposedly cautious, low-profile, responsibility-shirking, free-riding Beijing of the past giving way to one of a more confident, assertive (some say arrogant), anti–status quo power that is pushing back against the West, promoting its own alternative (i.e., restrictive or exclusionary) norms and policies in many areas, and generally seeking to test the leadership capacity of the United States. This essay examines the features of the discussion in the West, and among many Chinese, regarding the notion of a more assertive China. It attempts to answer several questions: How is assertiveness defined or understood among Western and Chinese observers? What are the main manifestations or expressions of Chinese assertiveness? What is driving such assertiveness, in the views of both Western and Chinese observers? What are the lines of debate over this issue in China and the West, if any? What are the perceived implications of Chinese assertiveness for the future of the international system and Sino-Western relations?
Following the brouhaha over Taiwan arms sales and President Obama’s White House meeting with the Dalai Lama, Beijing and Washington worked their way back toward “normalcy” in what was clearly a carefully orchestrated set of moves. Meanwhile, the transpacific controversy seemed to have no impact on cross-Strait relations, and, although not all was smooth sailing, Taipei and Beijing began to close in on signing an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) by May or June.
The annual National People’s Congress meetings offer a useful snapshot of party-military relations for outside observers. Senior civilian and military speeches summarize the current policy “lines” in defense affairs, PLA delegates discuss issues of concern among the rank and file, the defense budget figures are announced, and laws and regulations that might affect the party-military relationship are openly debated and voted upon. This article identifies the highlights from the 2010 NPC, and assesses their implications.
Although the 18th Party Congress remains two years away, competition among officials for seats on the all-important Politburo Standing Committee appears to be heating up. Over the past nine months, Bo Xilai, Party secretary of Chongqing, has been carrying out a high-profile campaign against organized crime that has catapulted him into the limelight. Because his predecessor in that position was Wang Yang, currently Party secretary of Guangdong Province and seemingly a valued protégé of General Secretary Hu Jintao, there has been much speculation over the possible rivalry between these two contenders for power. This speculation has been fueled in part because Bo Xilai, son of senior political leader Bo Yibo, is a “princeling” while Wang Yang, with no special family background but with a long history in the Communist Youth League, appears to be favored by Hu Jintao. Although one must be cautious about drawing conclusions, it is a situation that bears watching as preparations for the congress continue.
The National People’s Congress meeting reveals that the Chinese leadership, despite the successes of 2009, feel hemmed in by the economic challenges and dilemmas that face them. Economic policy-makers see themselves as having very little room for maneuver. While monetary policy must reduce excess liquidity in the system, it cannot shift to a sharply contractionary stance. Given the difficulties policy-makers are encountering, they are increasingly stressing administrative measures to achieve their objectives.
The consolidation in power as China’s top leader of Jiang Zemin in the 1990s and of Hu Jintao since the mid-2000s brought with it the rise to national prominence of leaders linked to them at earlier points in their careers. The leaders associated with Jiang were known as the “Shanghai gang.” Those associated with Hu Jintao are today referred to as the “Youth League clique.” This article assays the group of leaders who have worked with Xi Jinping over his career of 25 years as a provincial leader. If Xi succeeds Hu Jintao as China’s top leader, some of these leaders may figure strongly in his efforts to consolidate power.
The 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 will select a new Politburo and Standing Committee. The members of these two supreme leadership bodies will concurrently occupy the top positions of all other important Party, government, and military organizations. The most important of these institutions is the State Council, China’s cabinet. What are the demographic backgrounds, career paths, educational credentials, and factional affiliations of the 35 members of the State Council on the eve of its reshuffling? As Premier Wen and a few other senior government leaders will retire in two or three years, what will the post-Wen State Council look like? Who will be out, in, or up? What are the Chinese public’s main concerns regarding this upcoming governmental change of the guard? What are the most daunting challenges that the new leadership team will confront? This essay aims to shed light on these timely questions.