TAIPEI — Xi Jinping officially became China’s president and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) on Thursday, but since November he has been making speeches around China that the media have dubbed the “China Dream” speech.
Basically, the dream is to make China prosperous, powerful and proud. It is being compared by some Western observers, with some hype, to Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech and John F. Kennedy’s 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon. Not everyone agrees.
“In one word, ‘no.’ It’s nothing like ‘I have a dream’ speech. Chinese leaders are far too technocratic for that,” said Gary Li, a senior analyst at London-based IHS Fairplay.
There is no question that the speech’s core idea, the “China dream,” has gone viral on the Chinese Internet, and media outlets have been promoting the speeches with enthusiasm. In particular, interest in the book by the same title, written by Senior Col. Liu Mingfu of the National Defense University, has caught the public’s imagination.
Liu’s book calls on China to outstrip America in military power. Economic power is not enough for China, he wrote; it must have a strong military to guard its economic success. He quotes the Roman adage: Si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war). The outspoken and hawkish Liu has been quoted as warning regional countries not to support the “global tiger” (the U.S.) or the “Asian wolf” (Japan).
However, there is little true comparison between Liu’s book and Xi’s speeches.
“These colonels frequently try to push their own hawkish agendas through publishing but they are not a reflection of the feeling at higher levels nor the CMC,” Li said. “If Liu’s books stir up too much nationalist rhetoric,” then the government will just revoke the publishers right to sell it to the public, which has been done in the past, he said.
Xi’s goals, as outlined in a Dec. 29 version of his dream speech, quoted by Xinhua News Agency, are to have a “well-off society” by the time the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrates its 100th anniversary, “and by the time the People’s Republic celebrates its 100th anniversary, we will become a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized and harmonious socialist modernized country on its way to the ultimate great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Xi’s speech was more focused on the theme of “national rejuvenation,” Li said, with more emphasis on economics and sustainable development as the way to achieve “xiao kang,” or personal prosperity.
“It was essentially a manifesto on how he seeks to rebuild the social contract between the CCP and the Chinese people. The promises made were far more immediate to the needs of the Chinese people, such as combating poverty and inequality in development. Xi hardly mentioned military power in his speeches to the nation so I really think that that angle has been overblown.”
In other “dream” speeches, Xi has called for China’s military to train under realistic combat conditions, but this is more “aimed at ending the heavily scripted exercises of the past and move the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] towards modern tactical training, which are more valuable,” Li said. Many have interpreted this as more evidence of Xi’s hawkishness.