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Four Issues Facing China


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four-issues-facing-chinaHeritage Foundation:

Franklin L. Lavin

April 1, 2013



There are four fundamental issues that China’s new leaders must face: (1) economic performance, (2) social stability, (3) leadership cohesion, and (4) foreign policy. How the People’s Republic of China addresses these issues will determine its success or failure at home, and will also contribute to either friction or comity in Asia in the coming years. On January 23, 2013, long-time “China hand” Ambassador Frank Lavin shared his insights on these issues with an audience at The Heritage Foundation.


It’s a delight to be here. I enjoy coming by and seeing friends, making new friends, and sharing ideas and insight. I have a terrific job—not just the job itself, which is interesting, but the fact that it’s a China-oriented job, and that it allows me, every time I visit China, to learn and to see and to chat with people. It was certainly interesting to do that in a government capacity, but that’s a very formalized, very structured, activity. It provides insight on government decision-making, but it doesn’t necessarily give a broader picture of society or of the enormous transformation the country is undergoing. I get a lot of that now, and it helps shape some of my thoughts that I’ll share with you today.


I have a very simple thesis: How China defines itself, and is defined by others, will in large measure define this century. The 21st century is all about the policy decisions that China makes and which decisions the United States and other countries make regarding those decisions. But it’s really the U.S. and China as the two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, because those are the two most consequential nations in terms of economic might and political and military capability. Certainly, other nations fit into this and other relationships are very important as well.


I start with China because it is the only great power that is still in a definitional phase, both domestically and internationally. What kind of country does China want to be? What is the proper relationship between a government and its people? What is China’s foreign policy? For the other great powers, we could say there is a pretty well-defined set of answers. It might have taken hundreds of years to get there, but we view the great powers around the world as generally mature powers; and China is the one ascendant power, so it is the one that has a changing dynamic. It’s an interesting contrast with the U.S. in the sense that, in our history, the philosophy of government came first and the nation was established subsequently. In China, a civilization and culture has existed for 5,000 years, but only over the past century has there been an effort to define a modern state. So it’s still a work in progress.


Now, there are a lot of elements of this exercise, but I will touch on what I view are the four main ones today: economic performance, domestic stability, leadership cohesion, and foreign policy. I’d like to touch on each of these four and then offer my predictions on each one.



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