Winds of Change: China

Richard Rigby and Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

[L-R: Richard Rigby, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri]

On December 18, Asia Society India Centre hosted Prof. Richard Rigby, Executive Director of the Australian National University China Institute and Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor of the Hindustan Times, for a discussion on the political and economic changes happening in China.

In his opening address, Prof. Rigby discussed President Xi Jinping’s leadership vision, and stressed the importance of history in how he sees the world. Specifically, Xi Jinping emphasizes the 5000 years of history and culture of the Chinese people that not only makes it a great nation, but also a great civilization. While China is clearly taking a more assertive role in the global arena, it is clear that domestic issues are the most salient. Prof. Rigby argued that one should not underestimate the importance of domestic drivers—as it is crucial for the Communist Party of China to have the right image amongst the civilian population for its continued existence in power. As such, while China’s global participation will undoubtedly increase in the years to come, its focus on reform and development within the country will also be of great significance.

Leading up to the discussion with Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Prof. Rigby suggested that China is now undertaking the “vision thing”. This refers to what the United States had done globally since the end of World War 2, where it was setting up values and broad ideals for the world. China, under Xi Jinping has undertaken this, and is articulating a broad set of values and ideals. What then, are the core interests of the Chinese state? In response to Chaudhuri’s question, Prof. Rigby gave a historical overview of China’s core interests from the 19th century to the advent of the Communist Part of China, and then to the present day. The underlying common interest and goal all throughout these years is the pursuit of wealth and power. However, Prof. Rigby questioned if it is just a means to an end. He ended his response with a thought—with no clear successor in sight, Xi Jinping might be the Communist Party’s last best bet.

The discussion then moved towards current affairs, and Chaudhuri inquired as to where India fit into China’s foreign policy vision. To this, Prof. Rigby responded that China does not think about India as much as India does of China. Other interesting discussions included the contested Doklam incident, the anti-corruption drive of President Xi Jinping and the country’s influence over North Korea.

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