Yearbook 2018: Power

Cover of the China Story Yearbook: Power
Artwork: CRE8IVE, Canberra

In 2018, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was, by most measures, more powerful than at any other time in its history and had become one of the most powerful countries in the world. Its economy faced serious challenges, including from the ongoing ‘trade war’ with the US, but still ranked as the world’s second largest. Its Belt and Road Initiative, meanwhile, continued to carve paths of influence and economic integration across several continents. A deft combination of policy, investment, and entrepreneurship has also turned the PRC into a global ‘techno-power’. It aims, with a good chance of success, at becoming a global science and technology leader by 2049 – one hundred years from the founding of the PRC.

In surveying the various ways in which the Party-state wields its hard, soft, and sharp power, the China Story Yearbook: Power offers readers a sense of the diversity of power at work both in China and abroad. Citizens of the PRC have long negotiated the state’s influence; increasingly diaspora communities and other actors are now being subject to its might. As with previous editions in the series, we place important developments in historical context, and adopt a cross-disciplinary approach: it is our view that economy and politics cannot be divorced from culture, history, and society. The Yearbook provides accessible analysis of the main events and trends of the year and is an essential tool for understanding China’s growing power and influence around the world.

Introduction: Powering Up

by Paul J. Farrelly, Jane Golley, and Linda Jaivin

On 18 December 2018, Xi Jinping 习近平, the most powerful man in an increasingly powerful People’s Republic of China (PRC), marked the fortieth anniversary of the Reform Era with a speech reaffirming China’s commitment to the path of economic reform and opening up to the outside world. Describing the reforms as a ‘great reawakening’ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi credited the Party, of which he is the chairman, with ‘the most profound and the greatest social transformation in Chinese history’.

Chapter 1 - Immunity to Temptation — ‘Power’ in Chinese Language

by Michael Schimmelpfennig

ACCORDING TO PLATO, only he who does not want power is fit to hold it. According to Laozi 老子, he ‘who overcomes others is strong 有力 and he who overcomes himself is mighty’ 彊.1 The Han dynasty commentator Heshang Gong 河上公 (200–150 BCE) understood Laozi to mean that for overcoming others, the type of power one needed was military force or strength 威力, whereas the kind of strength derived from power over one’s own ‘lusts and desires’ was superior and even made a man invincible.

Chapter 2 - Talking (Up) Power

by Gloria Davies

ON 2 MARCH 2018, Amazing China 厉害了, 我的国 — a ninety-minute, state-funded documentary film — opened in movie theatres across China. The film begins with footage of Xi Jinping from a press conference on 15 November 2012, when he had just been appointed as the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) General Secretary. To the accompaniment of a rousing symphonic score, we see Xi promising, on behalf of his fellow-Politburo members, ‘to attend to our duties day and night with diligence, and strive to deliver a satisfactory answer sheet to history and the people’.1 As the music builds, the film cuts to a scene of children playing outdoors, followed by images of a mother and her young son, smiling as they give a thumbs-up sign with both hands, then individual smiling workers, and then a group of happy students waving with their hands raised, each making a peace sign, as the narrator intones: ‘Five years have passed. More than 1.3 billion Chinese citizens have received an answer sheet of this kind.’

Chapter 3 - Technology: Rapid Ascent and Global Backlash

by Andrew Kennedy

IN THE REALM OF technological innovation, China has arrived. China has launched manned space flights, constructed the world’s largest radio telescope, and sent the world’s first quantum-communications satellite into space, among other achievements in recent years. Its pursuit of ‘innovation-led development’ — including such schemes as the ‘Made in China 2025’ program (for more on this, see Chapter 2 ‘Talking (Up) Power’) and the Internet Plus initiative — promise more accomplishments to come. President Xi Jinping wants China to become one of the world’s most innovative countries by 2020 and a leading global science and technology power by 2049.

Chapter 4 - Internment and Indoctrination — Xi’s ‘New Era’ in Xinjiang

by Gerry Groot

ON 21 NOVEMBER 2018, Radio Free Asia announced that a court in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) had sentenced Abdughapar Abdurusul, a prominent Uyghur businessman and philanthropist, to death. His ‘crime’ was to have made an unsanctioned Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca rather than joining an officially sanctioned group. His wife and eldest son were also detained and dozens of his associates were taken into custody. Later, rumours spread that his wife had died in custody. No one knows what has happened to the couple’s other children.

Chapter 5 - Girl Power

by Jane Golley

FOR ANYONE WITH EVEN the slightest inclination towards feminism — that is, a belief in equal opportunity and rights for women and men — 2018 was a year in which good news was very hard to find.

Chapter 6 - Australia’s China Debate in 2018

by David Brophy

FOR SOME TIME NOW, Australia’s foreign policy establishment has contemplated how best to navigate the rivalry between the US and China, and debated whether or not Australia would one day have to choose between the two. Participants in this ‘old’ China debate might have disagreed on the timeline of China’s rise, or the likelihood of serious conflict between our defence partner and our trading partner, but there was a degree of consensus as to the parameters of the question. By the end of 2017, though, a string of highly visible imbroglios had seen a ‘new’ China debate take centre stage: one side arguing that there was widespread Chinese Party-state interference in Australian affairs; the other accusing the first of sensationalism, even racism. Throughout 2018, some of the basic facts about China’s presence in, and intentions towards, Australia seemed up for grabs. The ‘China question’ had become a much more polarised, and polarising one.

Chapter 7 - China’s Power in Africa: Rhetoric and Reality

by Beyongo Mukete Dynamic

ON 3 SEPTEMBER 2018, President Xi Jinping 习近平 delivered a short and rousing speech at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).1 The speech focussed on the ‘common interests’ and ‘shared vision’ of China and Africa, and their mutual responsibility to champion peace and development through ‘brotherly’ cooperation, and ‘win-win’ solutions.

Chapter 8 - Towards A ‘World Class’ Military: Reforming the PLA Under Xi Jinping

by Zhang Jian

ON 1 AUGUST 2018, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) celebrated its ninety-first birthday. From its humble beginnings as a peasant army, the PLA has become one of the most powerful armed forces in the world. Under Xi Jinping’s 习近平 watch, the Chinese military has greatly accelerated the drive towards modernisation that started under Deng Xiaoping 邓小平 in 1978. In 2016, the PLA embarked on the most sweeping and radical military reforms in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Three years on, it is a good time to take stock of both the PLA’s achievements and the challenges it faces in its transformation to a ‘world class’ military.

Chapter 9 - The Anthropomorphic City — Power and Planning

by Carolyn Cartier

THE NOTION THAT A CITY is powerful relies on some kind of anthropomorphism. A city is not a thing itself that constitutes and wields power. It lies on a map, inert and lifeless, staring back at us and rhetorically imploring, am I important? How big is my dot? Capital cities are always more important on the map: they get the star, like Beijing. Yet in a recent Party announcement about leading places in China, Beijing did not feature at all. Only three appeared — Shenzhen, Shanghai Pudong, and Xiongan 雄安 — and one of these, Xiongan, in Hebei province, is only just planned. (See the China Story Yearbook 2017: Prosperity, Chapter 6 ‘Magic Cities, Future Dreams — Urban Contradictions’, pp.188–205.) Nevertheless, in April 2018 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and State Council issued a joint announcement ‘in the name of Comrade Xi Jinping as the core’ to confirm its leading importance, affirming that ‘Xi Jinping has personally planned, personally decided, and personal promoted’ the construction of Xiongan as ‘a national model for promoting high-quality development’.1

Chapter 10 - The State Advances, the Private Sector Retreats

by Ben Hillman

IN THE LATTER PART OF 2018, China’s State President and Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping 习近平 made a series of widely reported public statements about Party support for the private sector. He appeared on television in an interview alongside Politburo member, Vice-Premier Liu He 刘鹤 — a key architect of China’s current set of economic and financial policies — and convened what Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post described as an ‘unprecedented forum’ to hear the views of business representatives.1 The Party, Xi reassured his audience, placed equal importance on private enterprises and state-owned enterprises (SOEs).


The following outline chronology covers some of the key events discussed in this book.