Enter -- with perfect timing -- Edward Snowden, the spy who came in from Hawaii and who has been holed up in Hong Kong since May 20. And cut to the wickedly straight-faced, no-commentary-needed take on Obama's hacker army by Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party's official press service. With America's dark-side-of-the-moon surveillance programs like Prism suddenly in the global spotlight, the Chinese, long blistered by Washington's charges about hacking American corporate and military websites, were polite enough. They didn't even bother to mention that Prism was just another node in the Pentagon's Joint Vision 2020 dream of "full spectrum dominance."
By revealing the existence of Prism (and other related surveillance programs), Snowden handed Beijing a roast duck banquet of a motive for sticking with cyber-surveillance. Especially after Snowden, a few days later, doubled down by unveiling what Xi, of course, already knew -- that the National Security Agency had for years been relentlessly hacking both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese computer networks.
With a set of cyber-campaigns -- from cyber-enabled economic theft and espionage to the possibility of future state-sanctioned cyber-attacks -- evolving in the shadows, it's hard to spin the sunny "new type of great power relationship" President Xi suggested for the US and China at the recent summit.
It's the (state) economy, stupid
The unfolding Snowden cyber-saga effectively drowned out the Obama administration's interest in learning more about Xi's immensely ambitious plans for reconfiguring the Chinese economy -- and how to capture a piece of that future economic pie for American business. Essential to those plans is an astonishing investment of US$6.4 trillion by China's leadership in a drive to "urbanize" the economy yet further by 2020.
Beijing may, in the end, spend up to 30% of its budget on defense-related research and development. This has certainly been a key vector in the country's recent breakneck expansion of information technology, micro-electronics, telecommunications, nuclear energy, biotechnology, and the aerospace industry. Crucially, none of this has happened thanks to the good graces of the Goddess of the Market.
The pace in China remains frantic -- from the building of supercomputers and an explosion of innovation to massive urban development. This would include, for example, the development of the southwestern hinterland city of Chongqing into arguably the world's biggest urban conglomeration, with an estimated population of more than 33 million and still growing. A typical savory side story in the China boom of recent years would be the way that energy-gobbling country "won" the war in Iraq. The New York Times recently reported that it is now buying nearly 50% of all the oil Iraq produces. (If that doesn't hit Dick Cheney right in the heart, what will?)
Dreaming of what?
As soon as he was confirmed as general secretary at the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Party Congress in November 2012, Xi Jinping started to weave a "China dream" zhongguo meng for public consumption. Think of his new game plan as a Roy Orbison song with Chinese characteristics. It boils down to what Xi has termed "fulfilling the great renaissance of the Chinese race." And the dreaming isn't supposed to stop until the 20th Party Congress convenes in 2022, if then.
The $6.4 trillion question is whether any dream competition involving the Chinese and American ruling elites could yield a "win-win" relationship between the planet's "sole superpower" and the emerging power in Asia. What's certain is that to increase the dream's appeal to distinctly standoffish, if not hostile neighbors, China's diplomats would have to embark on a blockbuster soft-power charm offensive.
Xi's two predecessors could not come up with anything better than the vague concept of a "harmonious society" (Hu Jintao) or an abstruse "theory of the Three Represents" (Jiang Zemin), as corruption ran wild among the Chinese elite, the country's economy began to slow, and environmental conditions went over a cliff.
The Holy Grail of the moment is the "Two 100s" -- the achievement of a "moderately prosperous society" by the Chinese Communist Party's 100th birthday in 2021, one year before Xi's retirement; and a "rich, strong, democratic, civilized, and harmonious socialist modern country" by 2049, the 100th birthday of the founding of the People's Republic.
Wang Yiming, senior economist at the National Development and Reform Commission, has asserted that China's gross domestic product (GDP) will reach 90 trillion yuan (US$14.6 trillion) by 2020, when annual per capita GDP will, theoretically at least, hit the psychologically groundbreaking level of $10,000. By 2050, according to him, the country's GDP could reach 350 trillion yuan ($56.6 trillion), and annual per capita GDP could pass the 260,000 yuan ($42,000) mark.
Built into such projections is a powerful belief in the economic motor that a relentless urbanization drive will provide -- the goal being to put 70% of China's population, or a staggering one billion people, in its cities by 2030.
Chinese academics are already enthusing about Xi's dreamscape. For Xin Ming from the Central Party School -- an establishment pillar -- what's being promised is "a sufficient level of democracy, well-developed rule of law, sacrosanct human rights, and the free and full development of every citizen."