No more „hide and bide“: China’s „Grand Strategy“ for the Coming Decade 2020+

Bernhard Seyringer

The year 2021 is a key year for China: the “period of strategic possibilities” is at the end and according to plan, the “moderately prosperous society” is to be realized. China’s foreign policy is preparing for the predicted confrontation with the West. Xi Jinping has given Beijing’s political course a far more hostile stance and sees the time to end Deng Xiaoping’s bid for diplomatic restraint. Since the late 1980s, China has viewed the evolution of the global hierarchy as an “inevitable” and “irreversible” development toward a “multipolar world.” One of the most influential transformation scenarios comes from Chen Qimao, an adviser to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin. He divided the “transformation period” into three sections: the first from 1989 to 1991; the second was described as “one superpower, four great powers”. In the third section, around the turn of the millennium, he saw the great transformation in which the global hierarchy will shift into a “multipolar” world due to the relative loss of power of the United States on the one hand and the rising great powers on the other. This shift offers China a “period of strategic opportunity” announced by Jiang Zemin at the 16th Communist Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and its maintenance as the goal and center of all governance, in which domestic and foreign policy was declared. China thus conceded a two-decade period to implement internal reforms, gain economic strength, and create a “benevolent” international environment for the rise of China. Ascension must be achieved after these two decades, following the scenario, after which the “West” will recognize its effects and begin with drastic countermeasures (“containment”). During this period, active “great-power diplomacy” must be used to undermine any anti-Chinese coalition formations and, based on Deng Xiaoping's diplomatic reticence (hide capabilities and bide your time), to allay Western concerns about the consequences of China’s rise. Since Xi Jinping outlined the idea of the Belt and Road Initiative in the fall of 2013, many Western observers have seen China in the global offensive. In reality, however, the BRI is only modestly innovative: there are probably more than a dozen “Silk Road” initiatives since the mid-1990s. At the end of the “period of strategic possibilities”, China has shaped its foreign and security policy more confrontational, proclaiming a future “Chinese-style world order”. Foreign policy ideas, concepts and, in many cases, skills fall far short of this ambition. While the time for appeasement and charm offensives seems to be over, there is a suspicion that Beijing has simply ventured out of cover too soon for reasons of domestic instability and future-perspective misjudgment.