Despite the widespread attention among external observers to China’s political, economic, and military ascendance, the Chinese leadership still remains tentative and cautionary about the country’s power position and strategic opportunities. More assertive voices are far more prevalent among scholars and commentators than at an official level.
This uncertainty reflects unease about China’s daunting domestic preoccupations as well as unease about the coming leadership transition. A reactive, self-protective mindset remains widespread within policy making circles, but this also results in inadequate coordination at decision-making levels.
Leaders are trying to manage bottom-up domestic pressures as well as coordinate increasingly complex bureaucratic arrangements within the system. But there is also a growing awareness of the need to manage the reactions of neighboring states as well as the United States to the country’s growing political, economic, and strategic weight.
Amidst the multiplicity of voices and viewpoints expressed within China, deeper, unresolved questions persist. What are China’s legitimate longer-term aspirations as a major power, and should China’s strategic calculations be based on full cooperation with outside powers, as distinct from more autonomous conceptions of its role and power in the international system?