The road to 2049

China’s short- and long-term development goals . . . 

China’s ability to become an influential international actor will depend on its success in managing internal development challenges while sustaining economic growth. When Xi Jinping became President in 2012, he set the ‘Two Centenaries’ as China’s future development goals. The First Centenary is to become a “moderately-well off society” by 2021 – the centennial of the establishment of the CCP. The concrete goal here is to double the 2010-levels of both China’s per capita income and GDP by 2021. The Second Centenary is to become “a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious” by 2049 – the centennial of the founding of the PRC. The Two Centenaries are linked to Xi’s concept of the ‘Chinese Dream’ – the prospect of a China that is both internationally strong and domestically modernized.

Potential challenges ahead . . .

China has already achieved the First Centenary’s goals of doubling both the per capita income and GDP. Between 2010 and 2018, China’s per capita income rose from US$4,340 to US$9,470, and the GDP increased from US$6.1T to US$13.6T. China is launching further economic reforms that are likely to continue to spur economic growth through to 2049, if it can deal with a number of challenges. Environmental degradation is likely to incur high health and infrastructure expenditures, and an aging population will also place a high burden on the state and society. Increasing economic inequalities and tensions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang could exacerbate social tensions. And the Party’s work to increase censorship combined with its heavy-handed tactics to contain dissent could backfire and undermine the creation of a ‘harmonious’ country.

What does this mean for Canada?

It is important for Canadians to deepen their understanding of China’s domestic context because the issues that China faces today will affect how it behaves internationally in the years ahead. For example, with mounting challenges at home, the government might bolster nationalism so as to galvanize public support amid difficulties such as slower economic growth and continued environmental degradation. Nevertheless, the domestic context can also highlight areas for increased co-operation, notably on the environment, social policies, senior care, epidemic control, and scientific and technological exchange. As the PRC celebrates its 70th anniversary, it provides Canadians with a good opportunity to reflect on China’s domestic and global policies as well as on the future of our engagement with China.