China in 2014: The three Rs
December 16th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

China in 2014: The three Rs

By Robert Daly, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own. This is the first in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Three stories dominate American coverage of China at the close of 2013: the recent plenum that outlined China’s direction for the next decade, China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s delayed issuance of visas to American journalists. The common thread in these stories is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s vision and political acumen are the driving force behind reform proposals that could reshape China. Xi would have had to sign off on an ADIZ that has deepened suspicion that China seeks regional hegemony. And Xi has spearheaded a year-long campaign against freedom of information that may culminate in the closing of the China offices of Bloomberg and the New York Times.

Xi’s program to date is Reform, Resurgence, and Repression.  What China becomes under his leadership in 2014 and beyond will depend on whether this modern strongman is truly modern and truly strong, or whether he is cultivating an image of strength in an attempt to rein in a dynamic but fragile nation which an anachronistic CCP can no longer control.

Reform. The policy goals Xi set at the plenum demonstrated that he shares the Chinese people’s concerns for social welfare, sustainable growth, a cleaner environment, and cleaner government. Xi’s self confidence and specificity gave plenum documents the feel of a new social contract. They were a populist’s promise to the masses.

To keep his promise, Xi must take on vested interests in state-owned enterprises, local governments, and the CCP itself, which connected families treat as a spoils system. This will be the test of Xi’s power and China’s progress in 2014: if he is able to eliminate the perquisites and rent-taking opportunities of entrenched elites – and we’re talking about tens of millions of people, not just a corrupt official now and then – we may see major and beneficial change in China. If Xi opts instead for creating the illusion of progress through token prosecutions, self-criticism sessions, and constricted free trade zones, the strongman pose will be revealed as a sham and we should expect more signs of fragility and stagnation in China.

Resurgence. Xi has made “The Chinese Dream” the rallying cry of his administration. On the international front, the China Dream entails creation of a zone of deference within the Western Pacific – a region in which Chinese primacy is understood to be natural, inevitable, and desirable: natural means China is blameless for seeking it, inevitable means there is no point in other nations’ resisting it, and desirable means it is self-evident that China is a benign power. China’s sense of destiny, and other nations’ concern that China may soon have the means to fulfill it, is the major cause of tension in East Asia. It is the reason that China ADIZ in the East China Sea and may declare zones in the Yellow and South China Seas in 2014.

The test of Xi’s international strength in 2014 will be his ability to reach out to Asian neighbors. In recent months, China has conducted regional diplomacy primarily through foot stomping. Neighboring countries are forming new coalitions and increasing military budgets to counter China’s hard power, while its soft power has plummeted so far beneath the X axis that it is a drag even on constructive Chinese policies. But Xi can turn things around if he has the inclination and the support of his party. If in 2014 he begins to work with neighboring countries to form new and equitable rules and institutions, he can recover China’s regional standing and set the Western Pacific on a more peaceful path. If, on the other hand, he continues to conduct diplomacy though carping and encroachment, we will know that Xi is either too weak or too steeped in the insular, revanchist traditions of his party to create a China Dream that the region can welcome.

Repression. China’s treatment of foreign journalists, while disturbing, pales in comparison to its denial of rights to its own citizens. Under Xi’s leadership, 2013 saw a nationwide attack on academic freedom, a crackdown on popular bloggers, continuation of strike-hard campaigns in Xinjiang and Tibet, arrests of lawyers and journalists, and coordinated pressure against citizens promoting China’s constitution. Xi’s rationale for repression is identical to that of his predecessors: (1) only the CCP can guarantee the stability required to achieve the China Dream, (2) free expression threatens the CCP, (3) therefore the CCP must limit freedom to ensure prosperity. Once the complete identification of national interests with party interests is accepted, all else follows. Tellingly, Xi has chosen to stifle China’s creative energies even as he calls for development of a modern knowledge economy and the reinvigoration of Chinese culture.

If in 2014 Xi continues to stifle innovation by curtailing freedom – and effectively booting out the Times and Bloomberg would be a sign that he will – we will know that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care where innovation comes from, or that he is not sure enough of his political support to unleash the creativity that China’s continued development requires. It is disingenuous to prescribe American-style freedoms to the CCP as a formula for its success; Xi is probably right in thinking that freeing the media, academia, and the judiciary would put the Party on deathwatch. But if Xi is as strong as his style indicates, and if he understands the global context of China’s rise, he can promote limited Chinese innovation even under the current system.

Simply doing nothing – halting crackdowns and reducing censorship – would pay dividends. But only a genuinely strong leader with a modern vision could pull that off.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • China • Human Rights • Media

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soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Jerry Falwell

    Now let the China bashing begin! Those idiots who rant the most against China are the same fools who know the very least about it! On this website, ignorance seems to be endemic!

    December 16, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Oh, good gracious, Joe. Take a chill pill.

      December 16, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        "China-bashing" existed long before China became the world's second largest economy. Many in the US blame the Chinese for their economic grievances – destroying their jobs with low currency rate to make Chinese products cheaper etc.

        December 17, 2013 at 10:45 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        The author seems to blame everything on Xi Jinping, making him look like a dictator. It's the CCP that holds the power. Xi is just its secretary general.

        December 17, 2013 at 10:47 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        No doubt the CCP's structure is dated. Political reform is needed to change the system. Yet it takes more than 10 years to do so. No president can finish the task within his tenure.

        December 17, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Bad Chinese

      Let's go to the madman China Hospital

      December 16, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, Jerry. Like you, I too get irritated with all these ignorant, anti-intellectual, anti-Chinese Tea Partying rants! These Tea Partying fools seem to hate anything that gets in the way of American hegemony anywhere!

      December 17, 2013 at 8:16 am | Reply
      • Nomoremaos

        Really!? You can honestly defend the crimes the Chinese regime is responsible for against their own population? I love these left wing fascists.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Nomoremaos

      What do you know about the murderous regime? Obviously nothing based on reality. That qualifies you as the Chinese apologist and idiot to boot.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  2. Jerry Falwell

    I am Chinese waste hopeless now which there is a mental disease since I was born

    December 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Please guys, do show some respect for the late Rev. Jerry Falwell above. Besides, I totally agree with him on this senseless China bashing. Do any of you know the history of China between 1837 and today? Those who don't are the same ones ranting against that country which only serves to prove their own ignorance!

      December 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
      • lpc1998

        Those who are curious about Chinese history may listen to the China History Podcasts by Laszlo Montgomery:

        http://chinahistorypodcast.com/

        December 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • Nomoremaos

        Let me ask you- do you know anything about the terrible history of the Chinese? How many millions of Chinese citizens slaughtered and sent to re-education camps, which is even happening today? You know nothing of what you speak. So instead of spreading additional pro-Chinese propaganda, open a non-censored publication on the topic.

        December 18, 2013 at 6:21 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @Nomoremaos:
        I agree with you. However, I think that we are considered rude if we mention the re-education camps in China, as anything revolutionary is often, by definition, held in great respect, as is redistribution of wealth by any chosen method.

        December 18, 2013 at 7:43 am |
  3. zhuubaajie

    Top the three R's with three S's – STRENGTH, STABILITY, and STEADY as she goes.

    The Western world respects strength. One Korean War wiped out 200 years of humiliation and the moniker "Sick Man of the East." It may very well be at the juncture that the world needs more proof.

    Beijing has been playing the 100 lb. weakling too long. It is time to adopt more advanced nations' practice. Isreal and U.S. practices and doctrines are good examples to follow:

    1. All defense must be offensive – preemptive strikes must become the norm, just the same way practiced by America and Israel.

    2. Defensive fronts must be pushed beyond borders, inlcuding offshore and into foreign territory. Take the battle to the opponents.

    3. Forget no first use. America has no such limitation, why should China?

    Not likely? Wait and see, if America pushes it.

    The world would benefit greatly if there is a true G2 of equals. But with responsibility comes privileges. China cannot be expected to just give and give and give. Fundamental interests of the nation have to be respected. It is denying reality to insist that while China may grow economically, it will not be respected militarily. Denying China's due – that is the surest way to start WW III with nukes.

    December 16, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Reply
    • lpc1998

      China is a developing country with about 600 million people stilling living in rural poverty. She needs the freedom to develop her economy and society, with solutions compatible with her national conditions. She has enormous domestic issues that require solutions, some of which urgently.

      Yes, China will defend her core national interests.

      The US is punching far, far below her weight. Instead of being the true leader of the world, she could not get over her Cold War role as a Godfather of a gang of nations. In the 21st century and beyond, it is quite clear, either the major countries share the planet or the world as we know it would end. As the sole superpower of the world, the only serious threat to US national well-being is her domestic dysfunction. Attempts at subversion of potential rivals (far into the future) is debilitating, distracts her from her domestic problems and transforming admirers into enemies. As threatened countries begin to arm themselves to the teeth with WMDs, this would diminish US dominance and security, not enhancing them.

      December 16, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Reply
      • Nomoremaos

        And I am sure you want the Chinese regime to lead the world! They can't even figure out how to climb out of the Middle Ages. So primitive and so 20th century dictatorship.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, zhuubaajie. Thank you.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:11 am | Reply
    • Chris

      Please tell me you are not serious. Just because you put some players in uniforms and do some practice... does not make a team ready for the World Cup.

      Seriously, what you propose is both insane and beyond the capabilities of China (at least for now)

      December 17, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  4. zhuubaajie

    America is playing with fire, selling weapons to China's neighbors. No good deed is going to be unanswered. Such irresponsible conduct is the surest way to make the world more dangerous, especially for the hegemon that has 7,000 overseas military posts.

    December 16, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply
    • lpc1998

      The US is selling some obsolete weapons to China's neighbors and others. She needs the extra exports. However, she would not sell her state-of-the art weapons to these countries as they are vulnerable to Chinese espionage. Some of these China's neighbours are having recurrent nightmares because they are in possession of Chinese territories looted by the former colonial masters.

      December 16, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  5. Phelix Unger

    China is on a long road, their maybe 30 years on before they become an equal to the US's raw fire power. China will definitely change in these coming decades, their central control system will be challenged, besides they have to watch the growth of over 2 billion other people surrounding them. China will strive to meet its own predictions, as every one knows they are a patient people. America just has to keep protecting its intellectual technical property, as there really are spies everywhere. They will take any and all the information they can to forward their own aspirations. The future is coming, don't get caught up with yesterday if we spend time looking in the mirror we won't see what's right in front of us.

    December 16, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  6. Jekie Joe

    China should stop information control and oppression of a race; should be become democratic and pretend to be a foreign people; and of a threat and the crime it prays for China same as a Mafia becoming normal to get in the swing too much because many human beings do not know the Chinese as much as want to do it

    December 17, 2013 at 2:29 am | Reply
    • Felix Unger

      What a stupid comment this is! No wonder Jerry Falwell above is so irritated! People say the most ignorant things here.

      December 17, 2013 at 11:12 am | Reply
  7. mdatc

    There is Maersk?

    December 17, 2013 at 3:05 am | Reply
    • mdatc

      *Where

      December 17, 2013 at 3:05 am | Reply
      • Maersk

        He has eejackulated on your phucking eyes instead of your kwok zucking mouth and that is exactly why you are blinded.

        December 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
      • mdatc

        Thank you for your insightful comment!

        December 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
      • mdatc

        But hell, I can't complain. China landed a rover on the moon but our space program cannot do such now.

        December 18, 2013 at 12:32 am |
      • Nomoremaos

        Maersk- what Chinese unit do you belong to? Just curious... For if you are representative of the average Chinese uneducated citizen, it's a little wonder why China has yet to advance to the 20th century, let alone the 21st...

        December 18, 2013 at 6:00 am |
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    December 17, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply
  9. Really?

    So what's the corporate ownership of the press in the West? Subtle Repression? Western medias like CNN don't bother to be objective about China, shooing them out unsurprising. Might I remind you that China is one of the main places where international students comes from? The Western press don't have a good reputation concerning Chinese issues period. Attempt to copy Hong Kong or Taiwan or something, at least you won't sound bitter or ignorant!

    December 17, 2013 at 11:49 am | Reply
    • Felix Unger

      Well said, Really? How true that is!

      December 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Reply
    • Nomoremaos

      Perhaps you can provide a lesson on objectivity concerning the Chinese regime, given you must have something of value to contribute regarding the virtuous Chinese dictators oppressive ways.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
      • Maersk

        Could you please explain how the Chinese are dictators and oppressive? Did they dictate that you have to zuck their kwoks? Did they force you to bend over? If they did dictate that you have to zuck their kwoks, did you zuck their kwoks and swallow their kum? And by the way, you should have changed your name "Nomoremaos" to "More Oba Maos" since you seem to like to have a black dudo stuck up your azz.

        December 18, 2013 at 12:04 am |
      • Nomoremaos

        Marek- you are an obvious dupe. The reason why the Chinese dictators are allowed to exist today is because of pathetic little communist girls such as you. Word of advice- before the government propaganda department turns their propagandists, such as you, loose to the free world, learn to speak English in a way that is understandable you moron.

        December 18, 2013 at 5:47 am |
      • Really?

        And you ignore the mass spying, "affuanza" pandemic, degradation of infrastructure, education among all other problems in the US. Only pointing fingers at others, what a sad mentality.

        December 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • Nomoremaos

        @Really?
        I am sure you have been to china- in fact, you probably are from there- so you know there is simply zero comparison between the US and china. China is third world in every respect- culture, technology and individual rights. You could not pay me enough to live there again. It's literally a crap hole.

        December 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  10. Name*john

    http://ThePayBird.com/?id=weflytatted

    December 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  11. Nomoremaos

    These posters are absolute idiots! Anyone on this board who can honestly defend the Chinese dictators are either working for the Chinese propaganda machine (of which I am certain there are a few of you) or are devoid of any objective grey matter. My money is on both...

    December 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  12. venze

    I would want to add a fourth R, Revival. Verily, President Xi aims to revive Mao's spirit of hard-work and anti-corruption, re- instilling in people the virtue of good morality. (btt1943)

    December 17, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  13. Nomoremaos

    Let me add a fourth R as well - re-indoctrination of Maos little red verses of hate, unadulterated blind allegiance and the overthrow of the educated class.

    December 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Reply
    • Jerry Falwell

      Please Nomoremaos, do spare us more of your anti-Chinese fairy tales. You just keep on parroting the same anti-Chinese BS over and over again. How about parroting the abuse that those creeps at Gitmo continue heaping on the political prisoners there which is truly a national disgrace? Better yet, you can bellyache about those monster drones that both the British and we use against the people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan! You won't, will you?

      December 18, 2013 at 8:44 am | Reply
  14. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    One writer present obviously has not received the collective wisdom of being PC: he actually requested understandable English.
    Clearly, this writer is too educated and needs re-education.

    December 18, 2013 at 7:59 am | Reply
  15. Peter

    I fail to see repression on minorities and political views = repression of all creative energies of China. People can be creative in many positive areas besides these two bad ones.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  16. Nomoremaos

    @jerryfalwell- why don't you tell everyone who you really are. China bashing?! Who in the world would not bash china- a family run and corrupt dictatorship? You won't because you are Chinese and the only reason you can comment on this board is because you obviously don't reside behind the Great Wall of poverty and third world ignorance known as china. If you've never been to china- it's a crap hole. But since I am sure you are from there, you know exactly what I am referring to.

    December 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Reply
    • thmak

      you just moaning nad whinig

      January 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  17. thmak

    Robert Daly 's artilce is completely nonsense My rebuke was not allowed to be published

    January 6, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Reply

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