It’s now a cliche to say we are in a new era of great power competition, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The new U.S. national security strategy, the recently released national defense strategy, and the imposition of draconian export controls on advanced computer chips and related technologies make it abundantly clear that the Biden administration sees China as a long-term strategic rival. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his associates appear to have a similar view. Fasten your seat belts: It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Considering this situation, how should we interpret the recent 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)? It provided abundant grist for professional China-watchers, including moments of drama such as what appeared to be the public humiliation of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Xi received an unprecedented third term in power, solidified his grip by appointing more loyalists to key positions, sidelined economically oriented technocrats in favor of officials with a more statist orientation, and likely made himself president for life. As Kevin Rudd notes, economic growth and development are no longer the top priorities; national security and preserving the authority of the CCP are.
I’m hardly a China expert, but one doesn’t have to be to understand that relations between the world’s two most powerful countries and the balance of power between them will have profound effects on many aspects of world politics. This raises an obvious question: What impact will the decisions taken at the recent Party Congress have on the balance of power and U.S.-China competition? From a U.S. perspective, was what just took place in Beijing good news or not?
My problem is that I can tell you two stories about this event: one that should make Americans relax a little and one that should make us all more nervous. To make matters worse, these contrasting stories aren’t mutually exclusive and could even be mutually reinforcing.
Let’s start with the good story, as seen from a U.S. perspective.
Read the full piece in Foreign Policy.