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Beijing’s New Slogan

China’s president has a dream.

Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By DEAN CHENG
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Nonetheless, the prospects for domestic political reform are next to nil. There is little evidence that any of the senior leaders, from Xi on down, will use their limited political capital to push for democratization. A useful index is the latest budget, which allocates more for domestic security than national defense. Other problems that Hu bequeathed to Xi include a degraded natural environment and rising ethnic tensions, with increasing numbers of Tibetan self-immolations and Uighur riots in Xinjiang. 

On the regional front, Xi’s references to the country’s glorious past and aspirations to return to it will likely set the neighbors’ teeth on edge, no matter how much he tries to round the hard edges of Chinese nationalism. Throughout the history of imperial China, surrounding states, all of whose ways were believed to be inferior to those of the Middle Kingdom, were expected to pay tribute. The recent report claiming that Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands were traditionally Chinese vassals is an unpleasant echo of this past​—​while it also indirectly challenges the United States, which has military bases on Okinawa. China has also pushed Malaysia, the Philippines, and India on territorial issues. 

Internationally, China has defended authoritarian regimes, exercising its veto in the U.N. on behalf of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, opposing further sanctions on Iran, and cooperating with the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s Omar Bashir. This approach is emblematic of the “Beijing consensus,” where economic progress is separate from political liberalization. For Xi, obtaining American acceptance of this approach, as the basis of the new pattern in major-power relations between Beijing and Washington, is also part of the China dream. 

Napoleon allegedly said, “Let China sleep, for when the Dragon awakes, she will shake the world.” As Obama may have learned last week, how the dragon wakes might well be presaged in Xi’s China dream.

Dean Cheng is a research fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation. 

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