Understanding China’s Long-Term Strategic Vision

By – Neeraj Singh MANHAS;

Prior to the 20th Party Congress (PC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) due later this year, the public domain preparatory materials provide a very clear image of future drives, motivations, and strategic perceptions. At least four key documents come to mind in this context. These include:

The Historical Resolution introduced on 11/11/2021. According to the official description of the meeting’s resolution, China has “made historic achievements and undergone a historic transformation” under Xi’s leadership. It lauded Xi, Mao, and Deng for guiding the country through “the momentous shift from standing up and becoming affluent to becoming strong.”
The Communiqué of the 6th Plenum of the 19th CPC Central Committee in 11/11/2021. The Central Committee heard and discussed the report on the work of the Political Bureau, which was presented by Xi Jinping on behalf of the Political Bureau. It also considered and adopted the Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century and the Resolution on the Convocation of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
The Joint Statement on ‘International Relations Entering a New Era and Global Sustainable Development’ of 04/02/2022 between Russia and China. At the invitation of President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir V. Putin visited China. The Heads of State held talks in Beijing and took part in the opening ceremony of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games.
The article published by Politburo Member Yang Jiezhi in the People’s Daily on 16/05/22. The article elaborated on how China, under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, made progress this year by hosting major events such as the Winter Olympic Games, making strides in high-quality development and bolstering interactions with the rest of the world.
Under President Xi Jinping [XJP], while mechanisms have changed, the overall strategy and objectives of China’s foreign and security policy on safeguarding national independence, state sovereignty, creating an international environment favourable to its reform, opening and modernisation efforts, as well as maintaining world peace and promoting common development have remained consistent. This is the most important point to emphasise. The fundamental reasons for this include the ongoing successful layer-by-layer implementation of Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernisations introduced in 1978; which facilitate opening to the world, with the West in particular providing positive enablement; the successful manipulation of international political, financial, and trade institutions; and China’s ability to leverage virtually unhindered technology transfers.

Clearly, CPC’s primary objective is the maintenance of its monopoly on power in China, the maintenance of domestic political stability, and the restoration of China to its self-assessed historical grandeur as the most important state and nation in the world. Similar to the “centre of the world” perspective.

Fulfilment of the targets set for 2020-2035 are an essential requirement to achieve these objectives, which once achieved would mean that by 2049, China expects to become a global leader in terms of comprehensive national strength and international influence, and to stand taller and prouder among the nations of the world.

The XJP era is also termed as “the New Era“, with each of the six phases, Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era; outlined in the Historical Resolution and the Sixth Plenum Communiqué adding a ‘new’ dimension to the development of the “new” China founded in October 1949.

The CPC already asserts that the Chinese nation stands tall and resolute in the East, wields a profound influence on the course of world history, and has become a significant force pushing human progress and development. China argues that its paradigm of growth (political, economic, and social) has developed a new model for human progress and widened the avenues for developing nations to achieve modernization.

China’s leadership is well aware that its continued rise would not be unchallenged for a variety of reasons. Consequently, the CPC’s assessment of problems is equally sharp, and seven characteristics stand out in particular:

First, as corruption is recognised as the greatest threat to the Party’s long-term control, the CPC cannot afford to lose this crucial political battle.

Second, the traditional growth model cannot be sustained as quality and innovation-driven growth is required, which necessitates globalisation. However, it also permits the outside world to impose hurdles.

Third, the necessity for self-reliance in science and technology as a strategic pillar for China’s development, while ensuring open access to technology and international markets in the interim.

Fourth, to secure the security of food, energy, and resources. [The emphasis on food security and rural revitalization is particularly pertinent, since it shows a potentially exploitable weakness in a crucial area.]

Fifth, can China continue to capitalise on its enormous market? Conditions must be established for this to occur.

Sixth, to ensure that China’s armed forces continue to protect the CPC’s power monopoly and China’s security and development interests. Significant progress has been achieved in modernising the PLA and revising its doctrines to meet the demands of technology-based warfare in the twenty-first century. This stems from the demand that the CPC’s primary priority be national security. Likewise, self-defined territorial integrity is essential. This correlates to China’s demand for universal, comprehensive, and indivisible security, especially in the current difficult context. This should be “fair” in the Asia-Pacific setting as well. This loaded language is used to resist the development of the Indo-Pacific architecture and the QUAD in order to defend China’s interests in the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean.

And seventh, despite its immense achievements, China is still, in its own estimation, the largest developing country in the world, with the greatest dilemma facing its society being between unplanned and inadequate development and the people’s ever-increasing desire for a better living. [In effect, a degree of accountability to the Chinese people is acknowledged.]

Clearly, security and development are China’s top two concerns. Yang Jiezhi, the high-ranking Chinese politician and diplomat, believes China has retained its initiative and advantageous position in the broader strategic framework, and China is confident in its ability to protect its sovereignty, security, and development interests.

In spite of Yang’s assurance, China assumes that substantial measures are currently underway to destroy security and stability in China’s periphery as well as to undermine China’s core and major interests. In response, XJP launched his new Global Security Initiative (GSI) on April 21, 2022 at the Boao Forum. This establishes security as the prerequisite for progress. Prior to September 2021, XJP presented his Global Development Initiative (GDI) at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The GDI and GSI are a “new” endeavour to meet and overcome the issues China faces in the significantly altered regional and worldwide environment of the present day. Several of these modifications were initiated by China.

The combined effects of the GDI and GSI require additional research. Other than CPC rule, Yang argues that China possesses five strategic factors that favour its future, including a firm foundation established by China’s persistent and rapid development, long-term and enduring stability, and a tremendous drive that gives China confidence and strength. (It is notable that US Secretary of State Blinken’s May 26, 2022 address on the US Administration’s approach to the China problem follows a similar line of thought.)

China will continue to prioritise coordinating development and security, protecting its territorial integrity as it defines it, preventing regime change and containment, and expanding its regional and international network of alliances. The GSI will be utilised here. China will lead the reform and development of the global governance system in order to achieve a status quo plus position and strengthen trade, investment liberalisation, and facilitation processes by utilising the GDI framework correctly. Given its external dependence in the economic, energy, and scientific fields, the latter is crucial. China’s efforts to combat climate change and exploit cyberspace, outer space, the Polar regions, and the Deep Seas will not falter or waver. Neither will the absolute concentration on strengthening, modernising, and technologically advancing the PLA under Party rule.

China has become a powerful entity over the course of the last four decades or more, with an unmistakable desire to be at the centre of a newly minted “community of common destiny” (with China at the centre), to which end it has announced and is implementing a series of initiatives, including the BRI processes, trading arrangements, the GDI, and now the GSI. This is supported by the PLA, the world’s third-most powerful military force.

The current superpowers and those who are unimpressed by China’s protestations, enticements, and rhetoric of principles that it does not adhere to have been steadily pushing back against Chinese actions and ambitions. In addition to the COVID-19 experience of countries with China, its ongoing predatory actions in its neighbourhood and its strengthened alliance with Russia just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 have given the pushback more momentum.

China now fears technological and commercial denial along with containment. Its responses to the growing Indo-Pacific framework, the QUAD, and now the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework [IPEF] reveal a degree of anxiety. China is plainly frightened, but when will it yield? The result of the Ukraine-Russia conflict may provide some insight. But can and will Xi Jinping make course adjustments prior to the 20th Party Congress? It is prudent not to bank on it; course adjustments, if they occur, are more likely to be gradual than abrupt.

Neeraj Singh MANHAS is a Director of Research, Indo-Pacific Consortium, at Raisina House, New Delhi. He has authored four books under his name and has various research interests covering India-China in the Indian Ocean, India’s maritime securities, and Indo-Pacific studies. His writings have appeared in The Daily Guardian, The Hindu Business Line, China-India brief (National University of Singapore), The Diplomatist, Chanakya Forum, and The Rise, among other online platforms.


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