BEIJING — President Xi Jinping has an ambitious goal for China: to achieve “national rejuvenation” as a strong and prosperous nation by 2049, which would be the 100th anniversary of Communist Party rule. One problem: Donald Trump wants to make the United States great again too.
The emerging clash between a rising power and the world’s dominant one is front and center in a new set of challenges that the Chinese Communist Party faces as it celebrates 70 years in power on Tuesday.
The party is all but sure to rule longer than its Soviet Union counterpart, which governed for 74 years until its collapse in 1991 under the weight of economic stagnation. Conversely, China’s Communist Party engineered a remarkable policy shift that has lifted millions out of poverty and transformed the country into a global economic force, all while cracking down on dissent.
But this formula, which served the party well through years of double-digit growth, is in need of reinvention as the economy moderates, the population ages and Xi’s ambitions, both economic and military, collide with America’s interests. In retrospect, as challenging as they may have seemed at the time, the easy years are over.
“The last 30 years, they had a pretty good idea, as long as the party delivers strong economic growth — be pragmatic, maintain domestic stability, do not screw up, do not take big risks — they’ll be OK,” said Minxin Pei, an expert on Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College in California. “Now today they don’t know.”
Through much of China’s high-growth era, the United States and other developed countries were willing to help with technology and investment. Many believed that as China grew more interdependent with the rest of the world, it would be drawn into the Western-dominated system that governs international relations. In line with that, China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, agreeing to abide by its rules in return for better access to overseas markets.
Even then, there were voices that warned against letting China in. Today, from the U.S. to Australia and parts of Europe, those voices are coming to the fore.
The Trump administration, taking the view that China is a threat, has restricted the access of Chinese companies to American technology and hit its imports with tariffs, prompting Beijing to impose duties on American products in an escalating trade war that threatens the global economy.
Militarily, the two nations are playing cat and mouse in the South China Sea as China’s navy extends its reach into waters that have long been patrolled by the Americans. China believes the U.S., India and others are bent on containing its rise — or, in the mind of China’s leaders, its rightful return to its former position as a dominant Asian power until Western and later Japanese forces arrived in the 19th century and inflicted what China calls a century of humiliation.