May 15, 2019 3:18PM

We Need More Objectivity About China’s Ambitions

By Simon Lester and Huan Zhu

In a recent Washington Post op-ed calling for more funding for U.S. diplomacy, Kori Schake and Brett McGurk said this:

President Xi Jinping has declared that “it is time for China to take center stage in the world”

Their link goes to a BBC piece, which provides additional words that seem very relevant:

"It is time for us to take centre stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind," 

And for even more context, the official translation of the full context of the remarks is as follows:

This new era will be an era of building on past successes to further advance our cause, and of continuing in a new historical context to strive for the success of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It will be an era of securing a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and of moving on to all-out efforts to build a great modern socialist country. It will be an era for the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to work together and work hard to create a better life for themselves and ultimately achieve common prosperity for everyone. It will be an era for all of us, the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, to strive with one heart to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. It will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.

We checked the original Chinese version, and this translation appears to be accurate.

So we've gone from “it is time for China to take center stage in the world,” to "It is time for us to take centre stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind," to "It will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind."

We don't think we should always take the Chinese government at its word, but if you are going to cite to those words as evidence, you should do so accurately. In this case, there are very different meanings to the various versions of the statement. The first one seems designed to be inflammatory, evoking the idea of a Great Power competition that China is trying to win, with the prize being world dominance. It does not go as far as Steve Bannon ("the goal of the radical cadre running China — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — is to be the global hegemonic power"), but it strays from objectivity in ways that are dangerous, and puts us at risk of a conflict that can be avoided. It is true that China is an economic rival, that it does not respect many of the rights that Americans hold dear, and that there are even some real security conflicts. But the relationship is manageable and a full-on confronation can still be avoided. Exaggerating the threat and using inflammatory rhetoric will make the conflict worse, not better.