While president-in-waiting Xi Jinping’s February trip to the United States may have burnished his image as a statesman ahead of his promotion next month, The Diplomat’s Anka Lee writes that foreign affairs may have to take a backseat to more pressing internal issues facing the regime:
In short, the China that Xi and the incoming leadership inherit is one in the midst of a delicate transition. The export-led system that China’s leaders had relied on for the past several decades benefited their country tremendously. In the process, however, the model also strained Chinese society in significant ways, for which the consequences are now only beginning to emerge. The build-up of internal pressure, coupled with the inability of developed economies to sustain China’s export-oriented economy, means that efforts to rebalance—internally and, in the process, externally—must take place.
The conversation on the significance of tackling these internal challenges is already taking place publicly in China. Professor Cui Liru, who directs the government-affiliated China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations, admitted in a recent essay that the coming task for Beijing is substantial, and will require the “strenuous efforts” (jianku nuli) of both the government and the people. The Chinese government’s shift to establish a social safety net and improve the people’s well-being, Cui argues, will be the concrete examples demonstrating that the promises of “social fairness, justice, prosperity, and harmony” are being kept. They also form, Cui goes on to say, the legal foundation for which the Chinese Communist Party’s long-term rule is based.
As I have argued in the past, it is imperative that U.S. policymakers realistically assess China’s internal challenges if they hope to understand Beijing’s intentions and insecurity, its policies’ impact on the globalized economy, its relations with Washington, and, ultimately, what type of power it will be within the existing international system. For what matters most is not so much Xi’s ability to present himself and his country abroad—which is, nevertheless, no doubt, important—but how successful he will be in guiding China through a decade of painful but necessary transitions. In this, perhaps all countries are not so different after all: that, as a legendary American politician once said, “all politics are local.”
Domestic concerns haven’t quelled China’s hawkish attitude toward the U.S., however, Elizabeth Economy writes that it’s just talk. From The Atlantic:
I tend to ignore all of the noise–in China and the United States–because it is just that–noise. During times of elections and transition, there is bound to be more than the usual political drama as candidates and commentators try to off-load complex domestic problems on convenient foreign scapegoats. Both sides would do well to bear in mind the cautionary note concerning heightened U.S. election rhetoric from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar Yuan Zheng: “No matter who is elected, he will find himself responsible for properly handling the US’ relations with China. To accommodate specific groups and win more votes, a candidate may need to pretend to be tough in moments that can determine the fate of his campaign. But if he continues to ignore the common interests of China and the US after being elected, he will only succeed in shooting himself in the foot.” Wise words not only for U.S. politicians and commentators but also for their Chinese brethren.