U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 38 mins

Xi Jinping rallies China for decades-long 'struggle' to rise in global order, amid escalating US trade war

Zhou Xin and Sarah Zheng , sarah.zheng@scmp.com

Chinese President Xi Jinping has rallied Communist Party cadres to meet the country's coming "struggles" and ensure a "great national rejuvenation" by 2049, signalling that China is preparing for continued friction with the US and other Western powers over the next three decades.

In a speech on Tuesday, Xi said China must go through "great struggles" to achieve the "Chinese dream" of national rejuvenation " a term popularised under the rule of Xi, who could stay in power China well beyond the previously standard two five-year terms.

Xi said the country will inevitably undergo "all manner of struggles" before it becomes a "powerful socialist country" in time for the 100th anniversary of its founding as the People's Republic of China, which takes place in 2049.

Xi was speaking at the opening ceremony of a training programme for young and middle-aged officials at the Central Party School, the training base of senior Communist Party cadres.

His emphasis on "struggle" " a term that can also be translated from Chinese as "fight and argue" " comes as a rising China under one-party rule is in the grips of a bitter trade war with the United States. Tensions are also high on geopolitical and ideological fronts, with rising suspicion and mistrust of China throughout the West.

This has given rise to fears of a "new cold war", a "clash of civilisations" and a "Thucydides Trap" scenario that would see China and the US locked into an inevitable path to war.

The summary of Xi's speech, published by the official Xinhua news agency, does not mention China's rivalry with Western democracies or the US trade war, but made clear that China would not make concessions over "core issues" or change its model of governance.

"For those risks or challenges that jeopardise the leadership of the Communist Party and China's socialist system; for those that endanger China's sovereignty, security and development interests; for those that undermine China's core interests and major principles; and for those that deter China's realisation of a great national rejuvenation, we will wage a determined struggle against them as long as they are there. And we must win the struggle," Xi said.

Analysts viewed Xi's speech as a tougher response to rising hostility towards what China perceives to be its legitimate pursuit of its "national greatness", lost in a "century of humiliation" at the hands of Western powers over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Despite a dozen rounds of talks, trade tensions with the United States continue to rise, leading analysts to interpret Xi's speech as a response to tougher views of China overseas. Photo: AP alt=Despite a dozen rounds of talks, trade tensions with the United States continue to rise, leading analysts to interpret Xi's speech as a response to tougher views of China overseas. Photo: AP

Wu Qiang, a political commentator in Beijing, said that the speech was a "political declaration of antagonism" towards those trying to change China's model or thwart its rise.

"It is a fundamental political statement," said Wu. "China will adopt an antagonist stance, position and approach to handle the deterioration in China-US relations."

Pradeep Taneja, a Chinese politics and international relations expert at the University of Melbourne, said that Xi's use of the word "struggle" reflects a shift in his reading of China's external challenges.

"It betrays a siege mentality " the thinking in Beijing among the top leadership now is that China is under siege," he said, which could mean China is less able "to reach compromises with other international powers" on global governance.

Relations between the United States and China are at a decades-long low, with Xi's speech signalling that decades more of struggle could lie ahead. Photo: Reuters alt=Relations between the United States and China are at a decades-long low, with Xi's speech signalling that decades more of struggle could lie ahead. Photo: Reuters

The Chinese word douzheng, which is translated as "struggle", appeared nearly 60 times in the speech's summary.

A hallmark term in Chinese politics during the Cultural Revolution, its use faded from official rhetoric in recent decades, as former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping started economic liberalisation at home and kept a low profile abroad, a policy continued by former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

An opinion piece on Xiakedao, a social media account run by the overseas edition of People's Daily, said that China would be forced to engage in a number of different struggles.

"Struggle is always an uninvited guest and it will not go away because of our good intentions," it read. "The trade war between China and US, for instance, broke out all of a sudden. Nobody officially notified us, even one day in advance, about the upcoming trade war," the editorial reads. "It just came. That is a struggle."

The piece claimed that China did not invite disputes such as the trade war, but must be ready to engage. "If you push us to show our sword, you will see it," it warned.

Xi said China should not "give up an inch on principal issues" but must be flexible in tactics, to achieve unity and "a win-win out of the struggles".

Xi took a poetic turn to tell Communist cadres they must be able to "notice a deer passing by, looking at the grass and leaves, see a tiger jumping out by hearing the wind in the pines, and know the coming of autumn by spotting the changed colour of a tree leaf".

Li Mingjiang, an expert in international studies at Nanyang Technological University, said Xi was trying to "stimulate morale" amid an increasingly bumpy relationship with the US.

Li acknowledged that the repeated reference to "struggle" could look "quite scary" to outsiders, since it could stir fears of China using "unilateral coercion to get what it wants".

However, he said that the real meaning is more nuanced. "It is not just an all-out confrontational approach to get what you want, to subdue your rivals or enemies " it is also about flexibility, and the art of the struggle," Li said.

Additional reporting by Nectar Gan

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.