Xi dreamed a dream of China’s rise…

By Ian Bremmer
March 20, 2013

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, gave his big inaugural address last week, talking at length about the “Chinese Dream.” He said: “We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

All that talk of ‘great this’ and ‘great that’ should sound familiar to Americans—it’s the same exceptionalism that their leaders espouse during any major national address. Both the American Dream and the Chinese Dream are patriotism without the isolationism—clarion calls for the nation as well as the individual. For America, it’s about holding on (or reasserting) its claim as the world’s foremost nation. For China, it’s about wresting that title away—or at least providing an alternative prototype that other nations can follow.

If China wants to become the world’s foremost country, it’ll mean jettisoning its more isolationist approach to foreign affairs. For 10 years we’ve heard Chinese officials say that they can’t intervene. We’re too poor; we’re still developing. In 2007, then-president Wen Jiabao described China’s economic growth as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” But now that the financial crisis has exposed cracks in the Western capitalist model and China appears destined to one day overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, China can’t stay on the sidelines anymore. It needs to secure its economic interests in every corner of the globe—and that will mean sometimes getting its hands dirty.

And so, I suspect in the near future you’ll see China’s formal renunciation of its policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries. That doesn’t mean it’s going to finally engage in all of the crises that the United States has been hoping it would. When I met with Chinese officials recently, I asked:  “So the British, the Soviets, and the Americans have had their turn in Afghanistan. Is it time for China’s?”  They were unenthusiastic, to put it mildly. Don’t expect more than an economic interest to arise in Beijing. And when China does choose to intervene, don’t expect it to do so in the way that the U.S. is hoping it will. China has its own thoughts on how things should be done.

The greatest hint of what’s to come appeared in China People’s Daily, the news outlet that doubles as a mouthpiece for the Communist Party. “Western universal values have suffocated diversity in the world in modern times,” it wrote before Xi’s speech. China sees its imminent ascension as a way to offer an alternative to Western hegemony: If market capitalism isn’t for you, that’s OK; there’s another way. 

The People’s Daily went on to make a sales pitch to the people it thinks most amenable to it: Europeans. “Insightful Europeans have realized that the Western civilization lacks momentum in dealing with an uncertain world, and is even unable to get rid of the debt crisis. They consider the Chinese civilization to be a good alternative to the Western civilization.”

As the mess in Cyprus is proving, the Europeans—insightful though they may be—are still in trouble. The Chinese are offering a helping hand, along with a quid pro quo—these countries must allow for Chinese investment, and they need to downplay their concerns over certain human rights issues that are particularly sensitive for the regime in Beijing. Germany has been better at this than most. After all, China and Germany have the two strongest trade balances, with symbiotic trade interdependencies—Germany exports higher quality machinery to China while importing textiles and electronics. By some estimates, Germany alone accounts for nearly half of China’s total trade with the 27 member nations of the EU. 

This is how China plans to create its own rules on how international relations should be conducted. China realizes that the current global order is forged on an economic basis. When it comes to the potential for a more interventionist foreign policy, Beijing understands that there are haves and there are have-nots, and allegiances are built through money, not liberation. With each investment, China is able to advertise what its state-capitalism model has brought: the kind of riches that let it prop up struggling countries, and with it the struggling global economy.

But as Americans can attest, it’s not easy to be an exceptionalist country that bends others to its will. The last two decades have seen American exceptionalism take a hit precisely because its own interventionist policies led it too far afield from domestic concerns. With breathtaking issues inside China—and given the smog in Beijing, I mean that literally—China’s new focus abroad could have the same effect. Just because Xi Jinping is chasing the Chinese Dream doesn’t mean Chinese citizens are living it. If he can make that dream a reality, it would be exceptional indeed.

This column is based on a transcribed interview with Bremmer.

PHOTO: Xi Jinping stands during a trade agreement ceremony between the two countries at Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland February 19, 2012. REUTERS/David Moir

19 comments

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1)”Both the American Dream and the Chinese Dream are patriotism without the isolationism—clarion calls for the nation as well as the individual. For America, it’s about holding on (or reasserting) its claim as the world’s foremost nation. For China, it’s about wresting that title away—or at least providing an alternative prototype that other nations can follow.”

I don’t think this is the way to describe those countries’ respective “dream”. The American Dream was about the opportunity of a better life and the pursuit of happiness in a country with higher wages than in Europe (and the rest of the world) and with economic freedom and flexibility (though I must point out that prior to WWII the US had high import tariffs and strict regulations for foreign investors). The Chinese Dream is also mainly a vision of economic prosperity, although this might as well imply that the country will become more powerful.

2)”China appears destined to one day overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, China can’t stay on the sidelines anymore. It needs to secure its economic interests in every corner of the globe—and that will mean sometimes getting its hands dirty.”

First of all, I think this fatalistic approach is quite counterproductive. China is not destined to overtake the US; China could overtake the US if China keeps pursuing a successful mixed economic policy, in which the state sets the targets for the economy, imposes strategic regulations and import tariffs, subsidizes important sectors etc., while the US keeps pursuing its flawed neoliberal, corporation-friendly economic policy that assumes the market always knows better where to allocate the resources and in which words like import tariffs, regulation of the financial and banking sector or industrial policy are taboo. Secondly, China doesn’t need to follow the example of the US and become a world leader to enhance its economic prosperity. The US became a world leader because of what happened during and after the two world wars and the rise of Soviet Russia. China has neither the ideological background nor the practical interest to tread a similar geopolitical path as the US did.

3)”This is how China plans to create its own rules on how international relations should be conducted. China realizes that the current global order is forged on an economic basis. When it comes to the potential for a more interventionist foreign policy, Beijing understands that there are haves and there are have-nots, and allegiances are built through money, not liberation.”

True; that is why the West needs a better economic policy. Stopping trade disequilibrium, even with moderate import tariffs if necessary; creating an international system like the Bretton Woods, as it was proposed by Keynes, in order to keep trade balance and avoid currency speculation; using strategic measures in order to enhance the industrial sector and allow wages to rise according to productivity; restructuring the banking sector so that it will benefit enterprises that create jobs; stop outsourcing through various regulations; attracting industrial jobs through incentives and moderate tariffs. anyway, whatever it takes to create growth, jobs and high wages, we should try it, and stop being constantly refrained by neoliberal lobbies from acting according to what really works in practice, instead of following the same free market dogmas that have failed in the past forty years.

leo prades @my-new-life-in-asia.blogspot

Posted by leo-prades | Report as abusive

These guys in china are exceptional all right – exceptionally stupid. They run a country as if it were a car. They could care less about the engine or the gas that fuels it – the Chinese people. These very same people will eventually prevail now that the cat is out of the bag (capitalism). I say the leadership is stupid because they do not acknowledge the inherent needs and desires of their own people for a free society and believe they can still control things as dictators. What a bunch of ignorant as***; they want their cake and they want to eat it too.

Posted by keebo | Report as abusive

keebo:
Sorry but you can’t apply western standards onto China and its people. Slogans like ‘capitalism’ and ‘freedom’ are meaningless talking points because in their purest form, a chaotic and unstable society would be the only outcome. Simply combine the 1800′s wild west with few enforced laws and the early 1900′s monopolies dominated cronyism to see what it would be like. In reality, while many nations have adopted those concepts, they have also developed their own variations of it after accounting for the needs and preference of their population. Frankly, those end results are often times quite different from our version and China is no exception. The Chinese culture and society is developed from 3000 years of written history with many unique aspects and perspectives to it. As such, they are simply not going to go for a wholesale adoption of the U.S. system and suddenly accept Jesus Christ as their “savior”. For us, the new kids on the block in terms of human history, to suggest or dictate otherwise is pure arrogance and ignorance.

It is also a fallacy to claim that the PRC government doesn’t care about the Chinese citizens. They wouldn’t have been so obsessed with raising wages/living standard and developing inland rural areas if they truly didn’t care. Putting the rhetorical slogan of ‘freedom’ aside, a nation where people can live comfortably is less likely to openly rebel against the government. Thus if the CCP wants to ensure their continued existence, they have little choice but to tackle issues like wealth disparity, corruption, and pollution. These are all measures designed to keep the people content. Simply put, the instinct for self preservation is the key here.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

It’s easy to claim success when looking at an economic power rising such as China.

However, as anyone that has lived or worked in China can attest, China has total disregard for the environment (mind-boggling at the very least…), following rules (bribes/kick-backs as standard procedure…), proper fiscal management (world’s biggest stockpile of bad debt, etc.) or the consequences of it’s behaviors.

To me, China is the same as Enron…

Posted by 1WorldDone | Report as abusive

It’s easy to claim success when looking at an economic power rising such as China.

However, as anyone that has lived or worked in China can attest, China has total disregard for the environment (mind-boggling at the very least…), following rules (bribes/kick-backs as standard procedure…), proper fiscal management (world’s biggest stockpile of bad debt, etc.) or the consequences of it’s behaviors.

To me, China is the same as Enron…

Posted by 1WorldDone | Report as abusive

“We must… continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics,..” vs. “China is able to advertise what its state-capitalism model has brought…” so, I am a little lost here as to what China is – socialism with Chinese characteristics or state-capitalism model?

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

“To me, China is the same as Enron…”

The U.S. as a nation had to deal with the same issues earlier in its history, as did most other developed nations. Heck, we are *still* dealing with it today. In any case, we were not always a society of law, despite the existence of the Constitution.

What you mentioned is a normal part of a nation’s development cycle and even today, China hardly stands alone in that regard. Other developing nations such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and more all have such problems to deal with, some being far worse than China. This is not a step one can just… skip.

In conclusion, why don’t we avoid the double standard trapping for a change. If the U.S. can overcome such obstacles, so can China. Just like us, time will make the biggest difference.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

blah77…

You’ve either…

Never lived in or been to China, or…

Don’t understand the difference between an officially atheist country devoid of any moral judgement vs. the USA, or…

You’re a standard Chinese propagandist that shows up on Reuters commentary from time to time…

Posted by 1WorldDone | Report as abusive

> 1WorldDone
Thank you very much for your comments. You’ve completely confirmed my views on China.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

1WorldDone:
Your comment is so hilariously filled with falsehood yet you have the gulls to accuse me of being a propagandist? I have been to China, twice a year for the past decade as a matter of fact. I also own property there (yes foreigners can own). I’m also an financial analyst by trade so sorry, my knowledge of China (and much the globe) is possibly far more than yours I’m afraid.

Official atheism means absolutely nothing because that only indicates that the CCP does not have endorse any religion. In reality, only 10-15% of Chinese is officially atheist. As for the other 85-90% of population, 250-300 million are Buddhists, 400-500 million are Taoists, Shenists, folk religion followers or a mixture of all three. As for western religions, there are also 50 million Christians, 30 million Muslim, etc. Just because they aren’t a “Christian nation” doesn’t mean that they are devoid of morality. If anything, the history of Taoism and Buddhism has clearly proven that they are far more moral and benign than Christianity in practice. Your American Exceptionalist biase is clearly affecting your comprehension level.

Lastly, I never denied that those issues you mentioned do exist in China. Rather, my point is that when it comes to the modern China, we (the U.S.) has been guilty of practicing a double standard in order to maintain the current world order which clearly benefits us. This type of interaction between an existing hegemon and a potential challenger is nothing new.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

blah77:

You started this so I will continue:

Your poor grammar indicates a “Chinglish” style. So, when you say something benefits “us”, be sure you really mean “them” (as in the USA).

I have actually LIVED in China for many, many years. I started there 14 years ago.

Let’s see…

Morality:

Hookers everywhere (illegal but police are bought off)

Men fathering children with more other women secretly

Husbands and wives that live in different cities because they only value making as much money as they can vs. family togetherness

In not living together, huge numbers have lovers other than their spouse.

On financial issues:

A stock market that has no confidence from 90% of the population because it’s not secure

Virtually ALL companies that have 2 or 3 sets of books

Banks are owned by the CCP and universally not trusted, so much so, that even the Chinese government officials park their money overseas, much of it in US banks.

On environmental issues:

Aside from the readily available news stream everyday from sources worldwide documenting environmental devastation, I challenge you to take a drink or even a swim in ANY waterway in Guangdong province.

90% of Chinese groundwater published as unsafe even by the Chinese government due to industrial and illegal pesticide runoff.

Chinese air quality that is so heavily polluted that it is causing health problems in S. Korea and Japan.

Trash dumped EVERYWHERE in most areas.

Kids that pea and take a crap ANYWHERE on sidewalks.

Where are the falsehoods?

I have FACTS, you have the same universal denial of most Chinese people that believe if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.

As in most Chinese still believe that Mao Zedong was one of the greatest men in history! Never mind that he is the biggest mass murderer in the history of mankind either directly or through his chosen policies. Can we say at least 70 MILLION dead?…

Posted by 1WorldDone | Report as abusive

> 1WorldDone
Now I even have to thank Mr. Bremmer for his article that captured your attention, so that I can read your comments here…
As someone who has a firsthand experience with so-called socialism (not in China), I can read a lot more in between your lines than you actually wrote. “The only source of knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein
Thanks again!

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

@blah77: & 1WorldDone,

Both of you have failed to consider the deep rooted distrust of western influence that persists today across all Chinese economic classes, primarily as a result of the Opium Wars.
Today’s economic predicament of both the USA and Europe has farther enforced their distrust. In fact, now days the talk within the Chinese public is a comical reference to the western economic stagnation and decline, while theirs is rising.
As every Chinese citizen is aware, China is still a developing nation, doing a much better job at it than all previous societies in history, and they are very proud of it.
This alone is, and will be keeping the present Chinese government in power, a government also in considerable development.

Another huge misconception is Chinese atheism. 95% of the Chinese practice one form or another of Eastern religions, primarily Buddhism, and unlike us they keep it out of politics.

The Chinese social and cultural elements that you criticize so arrogantly are the same if not worse elements that western societies went through during their development.
New York City and many other US cities were far more polluted up to the 1960′s than today’s Chinese cities.

(Five year old or younger children been helped by heir parents to relieve themselves of nature’s call in public is a healthy practice, or would you rather have them carry their load in their stinking diapers for hours and develop rash ?)

In reference to Chinese corporate & government corruption, it is pretentious for westerners to ignore the ongoing criminal activities and practices of today’s western governments, corporate and financial institutions, which by the way are widely known in China.

Expect the Chinese to accomplice much, much more in the future.

Regards,
from a US & EU citizen working and living in Beijing since 2003.

Posted by EthicsIntl | Report as abusive

1WorldDone:

“Hookers everywhere (illegal but police are bought off)”

I suppose you haven’t been any of the *inner cities* here in the good ol’ US of A. Wait a minute, isn’t that suppose to be illegal here too? Please enlighten me as to just how sex trade and human trafficking is a problem that is exclusive to China. You might want to look at some NGO or even the State Department’s human trafficking reports from time to time as opposed to exaggerating the issue. Allow me to summarize it for you. China will not be found anywhere near the top of the offender list.

As for your criticism regarding “family values” in China, can you find a society that has actually solved issues such as divorce, birth out of wedlock, or infidelity. How come you didn’t mention other facts such as how China is well-known for having generations of family living under the same roof and the children often feel that taking care of their elderly parents is part of their innate obligation. Nice try in cherry picking only facts that are convenient to your point of view. Selective reasoning doesn’t give you much credibility, especially when it is so transparent that you have an axe to grind.

“Banks are owned by the CCP and universally not trusted, so much so, that even the Chinese government officials park their money overseas, much of it in US banks.”

False. The wealthy in China park their money in overseas accounts for the same reason the wealthy in the U.S. does. Avoid tax and regulatory changes. CCP can change its taxation policies very quickly so parking money overseas is a way to safeguard against that. The same logic applies to real estate investments which is why many of the newly rich in China are snatching up properties in HK, Macau, Singapore, Canada, Australia or even America. Further more, their logic in this case is somewhat justified given how the CCP has recently implemented property taxation in several first and second tier cities.

Secondly, you speak as if any mega-bank is entirely *trustworthy*. Where were you during the 2008-09 financial crisis? Did you sleep through it? Just how did you miss all of those regulatory actions and lawsuits taken against financial institutions during the past 3 years since? Heck, I work for one of those mega-banks and I don’t even trust it fully. Delusional drivel on your part which has no basis on reality.

Regarding the environmental/pollution issue, yes, it is a major problem and it needs to be addressed. With that said, there is a reason why China has been the largest investor in green energy technology since 2011. They have even set an ambitious goal to meet 15% of their domestic energy demand with renewable sources by 2020, a mandate that is widely recognized as one of the most stringent in the world. Now, show me a developed nation that did not have environmental issues during the course of its modernization. Can you?

Energy policy aside, CCP officials have been more candid and open when it comes to those issues, even bowing to public pressure in many cases. In fact, 88% of Chinese citizens are concerned about climate change while 97% thinks the government should do more to tackle global warming. Those are far higher than U.S. poll numbers, with only 67% respondents agreeing that climate change is occuring (Pew). Your alarmist attitude simply does not take into account that they are actually making an effort to get the problem under control.

Finally, the falsehood I mentioned is your blatantly ignorant attempt in trying to connect atheism with the supposed lack of moral codes in China (your opinion only). Are you one of those people who actually believes that fundamental morality concepts regarding stealing, killing and adultery was invented by the Bible or Christianity? Just where did you find this ‘moral high ground’ pedestal that you are obviously quite fond of pontificating from?

Frankly, your endless stream of straw man arguments is rather irritating at this point. Once again I will ask you to show me just where did I deny that those problems do exist in China? Quote me, I dare you. Getting back to the reality, my problem is with how you are obviously placing a double standard on China and using that as a platform to launch your unrealistic criticisms. Worse yet, you are using current western/developed nation standards to judge China, a nation which obviously has not reached that level yet. Essentially what you are doing is getting on China’s case for not solving issues (at the minimum getting it under control) which took the U.S. and Europe the better part of a century to resolve. Do you even realize that the current development progress in China was only started a mere 30 years ago? As I have already said, double standard and logical fallacy if not outright sinophobia.

PS: Not to stoop to the same juvenile level as you but I do find it rather amusing for you to criticise my so-called “chinglish” and grammatical errors when you can’t even spell “pee” correctly as well as missing the all important *period* behind many sentences. Being a grammar Nazi is bad enough but you have also committed the sin of overestimating your own intellect and abilities. Good grief and good riddance.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

1WorldDone:

One more thing regarding your accusation of me being a China shill as opposed to an actual American. My 8 years of service in the U.S. Air Force disagrees with you. If anything, I am quite possibly more ‘American’ than you. Just because you were born here and inherited the citizenship doesn’t mean you actually deserve it.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

EthicsIntl:

Well, I do know about root behind the distrust issue you brought up but since my argument with 1worlddone has thus far been about economic, environmental and social issues in China, I didn’t really feel the need to bring that up. With that said, there is one distinction I would like to point out. Chinese citizen do not necessarily distrust the west, per se. It is the economic, political and military antics of certain western nations that they distrust. That is the legacy left behind by the spheres of influence and Opium war. By the large the Chinese urban dwellers are actually quite fond of western cultural elements such as food, fashion, entertainment, and even the U.S. car culture to a lesser extent. Generally speaking, their distrust towards Japan is 10 times that of their distrust towards the West. You have undoubtedly seen all of that first hand so I will just stop here.

In any case, the disdain and animosity towards China that I’m seeing from many Americans is decidedly one-sided in this case, bordering on irrational xenophobia. That behavior is outright shameful because for the most part, the Chinese citizens aren’t returning the favor. They have bigger fishes to fry at this moment such as securing their financial future after decades of poverty and trying to adapt to their ever more complex modernizing nation. It would be nice if these Americans can refrain from searching for enemies in this misguided ‘good vs evil’ struggle. First it was the Soviets. Then came Cuba and various other ‘unfriendly’ Latin American regimes. After that came Iraq, Iran and Muslims, etc. Now it’s China’s turn.

As for the rest of your post, I agree with it wholeheartedly.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

> EthicsIntl
“As every Chinese citizen is aware, China is still a developing nation, doing a much better job at it than all previous societies in history, and they are very proud of it” – you know, I wasn’t inclined to comment, but this piece of yours urged me to. Why? Because if you substitute ‘China’ and ‘Chinese citizen’ with the ‘USSR’ and ‘Soviet citizen’, you will get a perfect sample of Stalin’s propaganda of the 1930th…

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

blah77:

Hard to believe you were in the US Air Force.

Your clear allegiance to China makes you unsuitable for that job…

You can keep your one-party Communist country where this kind of discussion is not tolerated. Just try it on QQ, Weibo, etc. and see how long it takes for the police to come knocking on your door for correction and reeducation in proper Chinese thinking.

I stand by my American patriotism any day of the week!

And, everything I said is STILL FACTUALLY CORRECT!

Good day and good riddance to you!

Go back to China and stay there. America doesn’t need people like you…

Posted by 1WorldDone | Report as abusive

i think a simple comment may say everything else about the topic. what is chinese dream, and what is differences between it and american dream? the simple thing is that american dream is for everyone who is able to work hard, no matter where they are from, and the fundamental elements are clearly said in the rules law, in the Constitution. what is the chinese dream for? what is it? and so on shall be answered. that may complicate anyone who is trying to know about it. and that is also an issue to me.

Posted by justice9 | Report as abusive