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Foreign Policy

China’s 'Period of Historic Opportunities'

Feb 01 , 2018
  • Cui Liru

    Former President, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

The People’s Daily published a signed article on January 15, expounding Xi Jinping’s statement on a “period of historic opportunities for major achievements” made during a recent speech to senior officials. The longstanding concept of “period of strategic opportunities” has finally given way to the new “period of historic opportunities”.

What does the change of the phrase mean?

As an official expression, “period of strategic opportunities” first appeared at the beginning of the century, when China’s rise had not become a solid trend. The 9/11 terrorist attacks and China’s joining of the WTO offered China a period of strategic opportunity to concentrate on rapidly developing its national economy. A decade of continuous double-digit growth created the momentum for China’s peaceful rise. The 2008 US financial crisis and the subsequent global recession made this momentum even more conspicuous. When China overtook Japan to become the world’s second largest economy debate over the benefits and drawbacks of China’s rise increased in Western countries.

The US strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific was a sign Washington viewed China as a major strategic rival. Given the profound changes in the world, it became apparent that the concept of “period of strategic opportunities” has become outdated, failing to capture the changes in historical evolution. It is also inconsistent with such new assessments that Chinese diplomacy now “stands at a new historical starting point” and that the present-day world is undergoing “major developments, major changes, and major adjustments”. The concept is also in sharp contrast with the increasingly prominent state of China-US strategic competition and western vigilance against China.

The CPC 19th National Congress report followed previous practice and used the concept of a “period of strategic opportunities” in its opening. Yet the entire report was based on a grand narrative about the New Era for China and the country’s new historical starting point. To keep the phrase of a “period of strategic opportunities” presented a lack of strategic insight into the recent and ongoing historical changes. In the New Era, the development of major-country competition is a matter of fact, and China will inevitably face more complicated challenges under new conditions. The harsh judgment on China in the new US National Security Strategy is another reminder that the idea of “period of strategic opportunities” has become an outdated notion.

Nevertheless, the concept “period of opportunities” remains valid in both domestic and foreign policies, only that it needs an adjective that embodies more profound strategic insight and works better together with the new concepts of “New Era of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the “major developments, major changes, major adjustments” in international conditions. Finally, Xi has put forward the phrase “period of historic opportunities” based on his approach to history and his proposal to integrate domestic policy and China’s foreign relations. That effectively ended the shelf life of the concept of a “period of strategic opportunities.”

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