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Society & Culture

China’s Priorities: “Three Coordinates”

Mar 15, 2023
  • Chen Jimin

    Guest Researcher, Center for Peace and Development Studies, China Association for International Friendly Contact

On Feb. 28, the Communique of the Second Plenary Session of the 20th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was released. It stated that China has better coordinated its domestic and international imperatives, its COVID-19 response and its socioeconomic development and security priorities. The underlying emphasis is development, and the focus of China’s work in the future will be geared even more in that direction. For China, development has specific connotations. It emphasizes quality development underpinned by innovative, coordinated, green, open development for shared benefits.

The first “coordinate” (better coordinate the domestic and international imperatives) means China must foster a favorable external and domestic environment for quality development. At the international level, it must cope with various de-globalization practices, such as trade protectionism and “decoupling,” as well as with the serious challenges posed by others abusing the concept of security, as well as attempts to divide the world along political and ideological lines. In terms of the domestic environment, it is vital to fully and faithfully implement the new development concept and comprehend the interaction between international and domestic economic flows.

The second “coordinate,” (COVID-19 response and socioeconomic development) carries a distinctive feature of the times, which clearly captures the thinking and orientation to seek and advance development.

The third “coordinate” (development and security) means that this pair of priorities must remain at the fore of China’s modernization process in the new era. For a long time after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, security — especially military security — had been a key priority. However, since the start of reform and opening-up domestically, as well as the end of the Cold War internationally, China has shifted its focus toward economic growth and development, with the expansion of economic output elevated to become a central task.

Since the 18th National Party Congress, as the international and domestic environment has changed, the question of how to better achieve scientific, high-quality development while effectively safeguarding national security has become an important issue that China must handle well in the new era. In essence, the two are dialectically interlinked. Development and security go hand in hand. The absence of development gives rise to insecurity, but development cannot endure without security. In practice, the interaction between development and security is much more complex, and requires an intricate balance to avoid focusing on one at the expense of the other. Therefore, better integration of development and security is a major test of the Chinese government’s ability to govern.

The narrative on the “three coordinates” is not news, but they feature prominently in the latest communique to send the following messages:

First, it is imperative to see these three sets of relations as guiding principles for China to deal with the myriad risks and challenges ahead. In the post-pandemic era, the prevention, early warning and response to major public health emergencies remains a long-term issue in the governance of a country.

Second, the common theme of the “three coordinates” is development, and China's experience since the start of reform and opening-up points to the fact that it needs to interact with the rest of the world to advance its own development. The first set of coordinates shows that China is keenly aware that it is deeply integrated with the world. It cannot develop in isolation.

Meanwhile, the world needs China to drive its prosperity. To a certain extent, China and the world have become a community of shared interests. China wants a peaceful, secure and stable environment that is conducive to its development, and it is working tirelessly toward this end. This is not only reflected in China’s unwavering pursuit of development and its commitment as a force for peace — including its active efforts to promote peace in regional hot spots. China calls on all countries in the world to follow the path of peaceful development and work together to build and maintain a world of universal security and common prosperity.

Third, the plenary session proposed “better coordinate” — a term that is intended to build on past experience while taking revolving reality into account and constantly exploring new and more effective ways to achieve this goal.

Development is a global issue. The world’s developing and developed countries alike are faced with the imminent test of how to achieve better and more sustainable development. From the perspective of global interdependence, development is a process of integrated growth in tandem. Through coordination and cooperation, countries around the world work together to grow the pie bigger and reap development dividends. However, in an era of strategic competition between major powers, development has turned into a process of competition. This has made cooperation increasingly difficult, and development has been left in limbo, leading to widening development deficit.

Against this backdrop, China hopes to explore an effective path to modernization that is informed by the “three coordinates.” This empowers the world’s development by example — underpinned by more certainty and sustainability — and boosts the confidence of all countries in development, especially developing countries. From this perspective, the “three coordinates” are not only of profound domestic significance for China but will have far-reaching international implications.

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