What's the ultimate Chinese obsession? Stability, stability, stability.
The usual self-description of the system there as "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is, of course, as mythical as a gorgon. In reality, think hardcore neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics led by men who have every intention of saving global capitalism.
At the moment, China is smack in the middle of a tectonic, structural shift from an export/investment model to a services/consumer-led model. In terms of its explosive economic growth, the last decades have been almost unimaginable to most Chinese (and the rest of the world), but according to the Financial Times, they have also left the country's richest 1% controlling 40%-60% of total household wealth. How to find a way to overcome such staggering collateral damage? How to make a system with tremendous inbuilt problems function for 1.3 billion people?
Enter "stability-mania." Back in 2007, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was warning that the Chinese economy could become "unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable." These were the famous "Four Uns."
Today, the collective leadership, including the next Prime Minister, Li Leqiang, has gone a nervous step further, purging "unstable" from the Party's lexicon. For all practical purposes, the next phase in the country's development is already upon us.
It will be quite something to watch in the years to come.
How will the nominally "communist" princelings -- the sons and daughters of top revolutionary Party leaders, all immensely wealthy, thanks, in part, to their cozy arrangements with Western corporations, plus the bribes, the alliances with gangsters, all those "concessions" to the highest bidder, and the whole Western-linked crony-capitalist oligarchy -- lead China beyond the "Four Modernizations"? Especially with all that fabulous wealth to loot.
The Obama administration, expressing its own anxiety, has responded to the clear emergence of China as a power to be reckoned with via a "strategic pivot" -- from its disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East to Asia. The Pentagon likes to call this "rebalancing" (though things are anything but rebalanced or over for the U.S. in the Middle East).
Before 9/11, the Bush administration had been focused on China as its future global enemy number one. Then 9/11 redirected it to what the Pentagon called "the arc of instability," the oil heartlands of the planet extending from the Middle East through Central Asia. Given Washington's distraction, Beijing calculated that it might enjoy a window of roughly two decades in which the pressure would be largely off. In those years, it could focus on a breakneck version of internal development, while the U.S. was squandering mountains of money on its nonsensical "Global War on Terror."
Twelve years later, that window is being slammed shut as from India, Australia, and the Philippines to South Korea and Japan, the U.S. declares itself back in the hegemony business in Asia. Doubts that this was the new American path were dispelled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's November 2011 manifesto in Foreign Policy magazine, none too subtly labeled "America's Pacific Century." (And she was talking about this century, not the last one!)
The American mantra is always the same: "American security," whose definition is: whatever happens on the planet. Whether in the oil-rich Persian Gulf where Washington "helps" allies Israel and Saudi Arabia because they feel threatened by Iran, or Asia where similar help is offered to a growing corps of countries that are said to feel threatened by China, it's always in the name of U.S. security. In either case, in just about any case, that's what trumps all else.
As a result, if there is a 33-year Wall of Mistrust between the U.S. and Iran, there is a new, growing Great Wall of Mistrust between the U.S. and China. Recently, Wang Jisi, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and a top Chinese strategic analyst, offered the Beijing leadership's perspective on that "Pacific Century" in an influential paper he coauthored.
China, he and his coauthor write, now expects to be treated as a first-class power. After all, it "successfully weathered... the 1997-98 global financial crisis," caused, in Beijing's eyes, by "deep deficiencies in the U.S. economy and politics. China has surpassed Japan as the world's second largest economy and seems to be the number two in world politics, as well... Chinese leaders do not credit these successes to the United States or to the U.S.-led world order."
The U.S., Wang adds, "is seen in China generally as a declining power over the long run" It is now a question of how many years, rather than how many decades, before China replaces the United States as the largest economy in the world" part of an emerging new structure." (Think: BRICS.)
In sum, as Wang and his coauthor portray it, influential Chinese see their country's development model providing "an alternative to Western democracy and experiences for other developing countries to learn from, while many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos."
Put it all in a nutshell and you have a Chinese vision of the world in which a fading U.S. still yearns for global hegemony and remains powerful enough to block emerging powers -- China and the other BRICS -- from their twenty-first century destiny.