“Hide our capabilities and bide our time,” was the former Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping’s famous prescription for how China should play its role on the world stage.
On the People’s Republic of China’s 60th anniversary, its President Hu Jintao struck a markedly different tone, more confident than cautious, lauding China’s emergence as a global power. “Today, a socialist China is standing tall in the East, marching towards modernisation and embracing the world,” said Mr. Hu, addressing a crowd of 30,000 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square as the PRC celebrated its 60th anniversary on Thursday.
The last six decades have seen a transformation of the PRC from an isolated, poor and largely agricultural economy to the world’s fastest growing major economy and an increasingly influential global player.
Mr. Hu said on Thursday China would “unswervingly” follow the “reform and opening up” policies set forth by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 that fuelled the PRC’s rapid rise, after a turbulent first three decades.
He said China and its people were “full of confidence” about their country’s resurgence and “cannot be prouder of the development and progress of our great motherland”.
Most of his National Day address was directed to a domestic audience, in part focusing on what many analysts say is among his administration’s most pressing challenges — maintaining ethnic harmony. Recent ethnic violence in the Muslim majority region of Xinjiang claimed 197 lives in July and left more than 1,000 injured, while Tibet saw unrest last year. Mr. Hu made several references to the importance of “preserving ethnic harmony”, and called on all of China’s 56 ethnic groups to work together.
China-watchers said Mr. Hu’s 10-minute speech, shorter than what most expected, was most notable for the confident tone it struck, given the often cautious position China’s leaders usually adopt when discussing their country’s progress and position in the world. “It was striking in that it had a lot of confidence, almost the tone of a coming of age statement,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“This is not something we usually see. It was perhaps to make a point that even in this tough year, with the impact of the financial crisis on China, the country was still in good shape.”