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What Can the World Expect From China?
By Tim Collard By Tim Collard | NO. 3 JANUARY 21, 2016

The core of the message to the outside world lay in President Xi Jinping's assertion that the international community expects to hear China's voice and be aware of China's plans and China will not be absent from the world's debate. This is not new, of course. For some time now, the world has recognized China as a force to be reckoned with. But in order to understand what the world can expect from China in 2016, it is useful to analyze the carefully considered content of the president's New Year address.

President Xi emphasized that the strengthened position of China in the world is, and will continue to be, based on a continued reform and strengthening of China's polity and economy. Though it is likely that China's economic growth will stabilize at a somewhat lower level than during the "boom years," it will still lead the world for the foreseeable future. Internal reform, particularly in the judicial field and that of discipline and anti-corruption in the Party and government, will continue to be pushed forward. Most importantly, despite a certain amount of economic turbulence during 2015, the general public will enjoy a sense of growing prosperity.

China will continue to pursue global leadership in the fields of science and technology. The start of production of the Chinese-built C919 large passenger aircraft represents a real challenge to the current domination of European- and American-built passenger aircraft, which in the last 20 years have monopolized the Chinese domestic flight market.

The direction of planned progress was laid out at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee in October 2015. The work program adopted focused on promoting structural reform, social fairness and justice, and a sustainable environmental protection regime. As was demonstrated at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, China is willing to take a leading role to tackle the problems of pollution and global warming. Domestically, President Xi said that his government will aim to build a moderately prosperous society in China in a comprehensive fashion, aiming at spreading the prosperity among all sectors of society rather than allowing a potentially dangerous inequality to develop.

President Xi also spoke directly about some of the problems which faced China in 2015: the capsizing of the Eastern Star ferry, the major fire and explosions at the Tianjin Port and the Shenzhen landslide were among the domestic tragedies mentioned, and also the killings of Chinese citizens by the terrorists of the so-called "Islamic State" group. He made it clear that China is not satisfied just to bemoan these incidents, but is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to preserve the lives and vital interests of its citizens. This promise of effective action is no longer strictly limited to the Chinese territory and Chinese citizens. Though China renounces any wish to interfere aggressively in other countries and regions, the president has realized that mere expression of sympathy is not enough, saying that when we see people trapped deeply in suffering and war, we should have compassion and sympathy, but also take responsibilities and action.

Regarding China's position in the world and in the East Asian region, the president looked back to the summer's commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, reminding the world how far it has come since then and how important it is that such situations do not recur. He also looked forward to further steps toward stable peace in the region by mentioning his historic meeting with Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore. While the outside world does not wish to interfere in the details of cross-Straits relations, we are all deeply concerned that the problem be resolved peacefully and by agreement.

The president also reiterated that China's contribution to world security and prosperity will be made primarily by promoting and strengthening economic links of all kinds, including the necessary physical and financial infrastructure for successful trade. This primarily means pushing along the Belt and Road Initiative and the regional and international financial structures required to underpin it, and also full participation in international sustainable development initiatives.

President Xi's New Year address did not actually include any new material. However, none was necessary. The path to progress has already been laid out and his speech was aimed at endorsing and underlining China's intentions as already expressed, assuring listeners that there will be no weakening or dilution of China's approach to the construction of a more peaceful, secure and prosperous world.

The author is a retired British diplomat. This is an edited version of an opinion piece first published on 

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