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The Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th birthday Thursday, with the kind of grand pomp we’ve come to expect from Beijing for such occasions. The anniversary was an opportunity for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to vaunt the party’s accomplishments, particularly in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty and setting the country on the path to prosperity, while also amplifying his message about China’s ambitions on the global stage.
“The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us,” Xi told a crowd of 70,000 people gathered in Tiananmen Square. “Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
The speech and centennial celebration come at a moment when China’s emergence as a global power has taken on heightened prominence. Forty years after China’s initial economic reforms and opening to the world, and 20 years after its integration into the liberal global trade regime, Beijing has eschewed the self-imposed inhibitions that guided its conduct and foreign policy under Xi’s predecessors. No longer content to hide its strengths and bide its time, as Deng Xiaoping famously counseled, China has become more vocal about articulating its interests and more assertive in advancing and defending them. And under Xi, that newfound boldness begins and ends with the CCP, which has reasserted its control over every aspect of Chinese society.
That boldness has in turn triggered a backlash among both governments and public opinion around the world, with a hardening of attitudes and policy on display in the U.S. and, increasingly, Europe. Whether China, already the world’s second-largest economy, seeks to displace the United States as the dominant power in the current international order or replace that order with one of its own making remains uncertain—and perhaps unknowable.
What’s clear is that the strategic competition between China and the U.S. is a contest over power that includes ideological overtones, given their starkly different political systems. Those differences were on prominent display this week in Beijing.
Here are some recent WPR articles that will help put the CCP centennial and Xi’s rule in context:
- This week’s in-depth article by Rana Mitter explains why the coming decade will be a crucial one for China, filled with potential pitfalls that will require flexibility to overcome.
- Last week, WPR’s Elliot Waldman spoke with Peter Martin on the Trend Lines podcast about the history of China’s diplomatic corps, as detailed in Martin’s recent book, “China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.” (Both the audio recording and an excerpted transcript are available at the link.)
- In April, I wrote a column about the dangers for the U.S. of groupthink in the context of the emerging hawkish consensus on China in Washington.
- In May, Elliot reminded us of the role China played in the emergence of that hawkish consensus, particularly with regard to the CCP becoming “more repressive at home, more assertive internationally and less respectful of global rules and norms.”
- And back in September, I interviewed Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and highly respected China-watcher, about Xi’s rule and the implications of “an infinitely more assertive China.” (You can find the audio recording and a full transcript at the link.)
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, federal forces suffered a major reversal in the war in Tigray this week. Having for months portrayed the war as essentially over, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was forced to withdraw its army from the provincial capital, Mekelle, in the face of a concerted counterattack by the regrouped Tigrayan Defense Forces. The rebels now reportedly control the entire province, while Abiy insists the unilateral cease-fire the federal government has declared is not an admission of defeat.
WPR has covered the conflict and the political tensions that led to it comprehensively over the past few years. Here are just a few more recent articles that provide some background on this week’s developments:
This Week’s Highlights
Iraq is scheduled to go to the polls in October to vote in parliamentary elections. Historically, the country’s elections are inconclusive, with government formation depending on a process of intra-elite negotiations that result in a fragile coalition and a weak prime minister. But as Sajad Jiyad wrote in a briefing Monday, the prime minister is also the only political figure “who might conceivably change the status quo and force the country onto a new path”:
Doing so will require striking a grand bargain with all of Iraq’s key external partners, addressing each side’s concerns in return for concessions that serve Iraqi interests. Such a grand bargain will require negotiating with tough partners who are already in a more advantageous position. The next Iraqi prime minister should be prepared for such an undertaking, as it will be one of the last opportunities to turn the country around from its current state of economic decline, insecurity and social unrest.
And in her Friday weekly column, Candace Rondeaux looked at the implications of the newly formed congressional select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of former President Donald Trump tried to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election. In addition to highlighting the importance of looking at the role social media platforms played in enabling the misinformation and disinformation campaigns that culminated in the storming of the Capitol, Candace pointed to the impact the committee’s findings might have on America’s domestic politics—and international relations:
The committee’s work is bound to make for lots of election-shaping headlines. And with a thin Democratic majority in the Senate and House, the way the inquiry colors the midterm election results will in turn have real consequences for the final two years of Biden’s presidential term, with implications for America’s friends and foes abroad for years to come. London, Paris, Berlin and other G-7 and G-20 partners, if you’re listening: You may want to keep close tabs on the committee’s work. Things could get bumpy.