November 10, 2016 12:00 pm JST

Making the 'Chinese dream' a reality means flouting a few rules

SHANGHAI From his earliest days in power, President Xi Jinping has touted a "Chinese dream" of turning the country into a global power, and his pursuit of that dream has seen China flex its muscles in just about every sphere imaginable.

But Xi's aggressive approach and growing disregard for international rules have put China on a collision course with the country it hopes to emulate.

TWIN GOALS Xi unveiled his "Chinese dream" shortly after he took the reins of the Communist Party in 2012 and laid out a roadmap for achieving what he describes as the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." At the heart of this roadmap are two "centenary goals," the first to be achieved by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party's establishment, and the second by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The first centenary goal is to finish building a moderately prosperous society. While China is already the world's second-largest economy after the U.S. in terms of gross domestic product, there are still 70 million people living below the poverty line.

The Communist Party aims to lift all Chinese people out of poverty by 2021, an achievement that would strengthen the legitimacy of its one-party rule.

The second centenary goal is to build a modern socialist country. This is widely interpreted as regaining the great power status China enjoyed before it became a virtual colony of foreign powers following the First Opium War in the mid-19th century.

"Unlike the former Soviet Union, China will not openly confront the U.S.," said Tao Wenzhao, a professor at Renmin University of China. "But it is quite natural for China to have a certain amount of say," he said, suggesting the country's aim is to become a global superpower on par with the U.S.

AIR, SEA AND SPACE Eager to reshape the international order to its own liking, China is rapidly spreading its wings in areas where the U.S., the world's sole superpower, has long enjoyed dominance: at sea, in outer space and in the skies.

In early August, a fleet of more than 200 Chinese fishing boats flocked to waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Maritime militias under the command of the Chinese military are said to have been among those on board.

Some of the fishing boats, along with Chinese government ships, intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the group of small, uninhabited islets.

Zhou Min is captain of this fishing boat, anchored in Quanzhou, Fujian Province. (Photo by Yusho Cho)

The Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan but called the Diaoyu Islands in China, have been a source of tensions between the countries in recent years.

When the fleet of Chinese fishing boats made a foray into the waters near the Senkaku Islands, Zhou Min, a 44-year-old fishing boat captain based in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, was also there.

Asked why he went to such a dangerous area, Zhou said brusquely, "Because we can catch a lot of fish there."

That may be true, but that does not change the fact that he may also be doing the Chinese military a favor just by being there.

Like many other Chinese fishing boats, Zhou's fishing boat is equipped with a terminal for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. GPS.

Because location information from satellites is used to guide missiles, satellite navigation technology plays a vital defense role. In the case of a military conflict with the U.S. or one of its allies, China knows it would not be able to rely on GPS.

The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System started offering services for the Asia-Pacific region in 2012.

Zhou said he was ordered last year to mount a BeiDou terminal on his vessel. There are now some 40,000 Chinese fishing boats fitted with the terminals.

The system currently provides services to more than 30 countries, including Pakistan, with which China is on friendly terms. The plan is to cover the entire globe using a network of 35 satellites by 2020.

On Sept. 26, President Xi inspected the newly established Rocket Force, a successor to the Second Artillery Corps in charge of ballistic missiles, and lauded it for "strategically supporting our country's global power status."

The previous day, China flew a total of 40 fighter jets and bombers over the Miyako Strait, a waterway lying between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

MONEY TALKS China's rivalry with the U.S. has expanded beyond the military realm. The world's No. 2 economy is now looking to challenge the dollar's dominance.

As an international currency, the yuan still lags far behind the greenback. Only 2% of international trade and financial settlements are denominated in yuan, while the figure for the dollar is about 40%.

The dollar's dominance gives the U.S. enormous control over the global flow of money and information. This makes financial sanctions a powerful weapon for Washington to wield international influence.

As part of efforts to challenge the dollar's position, the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, set up a cross-border interbank yuan payment system known as China International Payment System in the autumn of 2015.

In the first half of the 19th century, China accounted for around 30% of the world's GDP. For Chinese citizens angry over past aggression by foreign powers, realizing the "Chinese dream" and regaining the country's former glory is a matter of national pride.

FLOUTING RULES By insisting that only the Communist Party can realize that dream, President Xi is looking to whip up patriotism and legitimize the party's continued rule.

A side effect of this nationalistic approach has been a noticeable shift in attitude. Under Xi, China now has few qualms about flouting international laws and norms if it feels its interests are being ignored. When an international tribunal sided with the Philippines in a case involving a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, Beijing lambasted the ruling against it as "waste paper."

China's dream of restoring national prestige has turned into an all-consuming obsession with becoming a great power. The result is a growing disdain for playing by the rules.

This week's cover package is compiled from stories written by Nikkei deputy editor Masahiro Okoshi and Nikkei staff writers Shuhei Yamada, Yasuo Awai, Wataru Kodaka, Yusho Cho, Yu Nakamura, Tetsuya Abe, Issaku Harada, Oki Nagai and Daisuke Harashima.

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