The single most dominant theme in Sino-U.S. relations of the past year or more has been the emergence of a more “assertive China.” This article assesses whether, to what extent, and in what manner Beijing is becoming more assertive in several major areas of relevance to the United States. These are: first, in defining and promoting the concept of “core interests”; second, with regard to U.S. political and military behavior along China’s maritime periphery; third, concerning a variety of economic, trade, and finance issues, from so-called indigenous innovation to global standards regarding reserve currencies; and fourth, with regard to several issues related to international security, from counter-proliferation to climate change.
Various developments throughout the latter half of 2010 and the early weeks of 2011 have begun to set the stage for changes in both Taiwan and on the Mainland leading up to 2012. Despite the remarkable improvement in cross-Strait relations over the past 32 months, potentially clashing policy trends will test the durability of what has been achieved. This essay addresses the political situation in Taiwan in recent months, including the jockeying for position in terms of Mainland policy, in the context of the PRC’s own efforts to nudge things toward more explicit acceptance of “one China” while seeking to win hearts and minds on the island. It also touches on emerging issues that will likely grow in importance for cross-Strait relations over the next year.
In the runup to the 18th Party Congress, speculation has been rife about the promotion schedule for purported heir apparent Xi Jinping. After he was not promoted to the vice-chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the Fourth Plenum of the 17th Party Congress in fall 2009, some analysts opined that Xi’s ascension was in jeopardy, since it was not following the exact pattern of his predecessor. But Xi’s appointment to the post at the Fifth Plenum has refocused attention on Hu Jintao’s intentions to give up the CMC chairmanship at the 18th Congress. This article examines Xi Jinping’s leadership run, and assesses the implications of the current situation for party-military relations.
In August 2010 Premier Wen Jiabao went to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which was approaching the celebration of its 30th anniversary, and gave a speech that, among other things, called for political reform. What exactly Wen meant by his remarks, and whether he differed significantly from General Secretary Hu Jintao, who gave an official and less enthusiastic address in Shenzhen two weeks later, have become topics of intense media speculation. Whatever distance may or may not lie between the general secretary and his premier, it is safe to assume that Wen was not crossing swords with Hu and that significant political reform—meaning reform that would challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on power—was never on the agenda. There is, on the contrary, good evidence that the CCP is continuing on a trajectory of limited, inner-party “democracy” that it set on some time ago.
The Fifth Plenum of the 17th Party Congress in October 2010 sent a strong message of continuity. In economic policy, continuity was proclaimed with the official Communist Party “Suggestions” on the forthcoming 12th Five-Year Plan (2011–2015), which basically restated the principles enunciated in the ending 11th Five-Year Plan (2005–2010). However, this ideal of continuity is challenged by two questions: First, what changes would be needed in order to implement those parts of the 11th Five-Year Plan’s “rebalancing” program that still have not been realized? Second, how likely is it that growing inflationary pressures will blow China’s economic policy off its supposedly steady course? By the end of December 2010, China was barely beginning to face some of the difficult choices that were deferred at the Fifth Plenum.
Several events in recent months—remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao on political reform, foreign travels of party security chief Zhou Yongkang, and the elevation of Xi Jinping to a key military policy-making post—have prompted conjectures about splits among China’s top leadership. This article assesses the evidence for these speculations.
As the Chinese flagship state-owned companies become increasingly assertive in both the domestic and international economy, so too are the chief executive officers (CEOs) of these firms becoming more aggressive in their jockeying for power in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Compared with the three elite groups (provincial chiefs, cabinet ministers, and military leaders) that have long constituted the principal components of the CCP Central Committee and its Politburo, the proportion of CEOs of China’s large enterprises in the national leadership is still relatively small. But it is evident that younger, business-savvy, politically connected, and globally minded Chinese CEOs have recently become a new source of the CCP leadership.