What does China’s President Xi Jinping want? Four years before Donald Trump became president, Xi became the leader of China and announced an epic vision to, in effect, “make China great again”—calling for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Xi is so convinced he will succeed in this quest that he has blatantly flouted a cardinal rule for political survival: Never state a target objective and a specific date in the same sentence. Within a month of becoming China’s leader in 2012, Xi specified deadlines for meeting each of his “Two Centennial Goals.” First, China will build a “moderately prosperous society” by doubling its 2010 per capita GDP to $10,000 by 2021, when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Second, it will become a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation by the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2049. If China reaches the first goal— which it is on course to do—the IMF estimates that its economy will be 40 percent larger than that of the U.S. (measured in terms of purchasing power parity). If China meets the second target by 2049, its economy will be triple America's.
What does China’s dramatic transformation mean for the United States and the global balance of power? Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who before his death in 2015 was the world’s premier China-watcher, had a pointed answer about China’s stunning trajectory over the past 40 years: “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”