Chinese leaders have told their diplomats to seek greater political and economic influence, changing tack from the low profile they relied on for decades to ally foreign concerns about the country’s growing might.
China’s new status found voice in last year’s Beijing Olympics was bolstered by its role in fighting the global financial crisis and will be cemented on Thursday with the 60th birthday of the People’s Republic.
President Hu Jintao earlier this year publicly urged ambassadors to give China a more powerful international presence.
“Work hard to make our country more politically influential, more economically competitive, build a more congenial image and make it more morally inspiring.”
His speech marked a firm step away from former leader Deng Xiaoping’s slogan “conceal brilliance, cultivate obscurity”, which China has followed for 20 years, downplaying its economic renaissance and keeping a modest international profile.
But while a more assertive China is likely to be a permanent feature on the global stage, the government has little appetite for outright confrontation and there are limits to its overseas ambitions, which are outweighed by homegrown challenges.
The domestic pressures that dog China’s ruling Communist party include a yawning rich-poor gap, sluggish consumption, widespread corruption and massive environmental degradation.
This means that, even on the cusp of the “new China’s” 60th anniversary, a longstanding ambivalence about superpower status will not soon go away.