Much has been written on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s remarkable consolidation of political power since he took office five years ago. But an equally important question for the international community to consider is how Xi views the world—and what that means for how China will approach it. Because of the opacity of the Chinese political system, this is hard to answer with real certainty. But clear patterns are beginning to emerge.
Xi’s worldview places greater emphasis on the centrality of the Chinese Communist Party over the professional apparatus of the state and of communist ideology over policy pragmatism. It is one of Chinese nationalism suffused with a cocktail of economic achievement, political nostalgia, and national grievance together with a new culture of political self-confidence that represents a clear departure from Deng Xiaoping’s orthodoxy of “hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead.”
This new approach can be best understood as a set of seven concentric circles of interests, starting with the centrality of the party and expanding out to the unity of the country; the importance of sustainable economic growth balanced against environmental concerns; keeping China’s 14 border states under benign control; projecting its regional maritime power; leveraging its economic power across its continental periphery; and slowly reforming parts, but by no means all, of the postwar international rules-based order over time to better suit its interests. Whether Xi succeeds, in whole or in part, with his grand strategy is an open question.
THE PARTY AND THE NATION
The first and most immediate circle is the Chinese Communist Party itself and its overriding interest to remain in power. There has been a tacit assumption, at least across much of the collective West over the last 40 years, that China would slowly embrace the global liberal capitalist project. In making this assumption, many scholars failed to pay attention to the internal debates within the party in the late 1990s, which concluded early in the first decade of