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Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.

Which China will we see in 2011? Add to ...

China behaved in an assertive, sometimes arrogant, fashion in 2010 - at various times taking on the U.S., Europe and Japan - but there are signs that both Beijing and the Chinese people recognize the need for greater caution and restraint in the coming year.

For one thing, President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the U.S. in a few weeks, and so China will not want to pick a fight with Washington.

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Moreover, China genuinely realizes that despite its rapid growth in the past three decades, it is still far weaker than the U.S., economically as well as militarily.

Thus, a Chinese official, Le Yucheng, director-general of the policy planning department of the Foreign Ministry, is quoted as saying in an interview that "China might rank second by GDP, but it still ranks behind 100th place in terms of per capita GDP, and there is a population of 150 million living in poverty based on UN standards." He added, "China does not have aircraft carriers. So we must have a clear understanding of our position."

A more restrained public attitude was also reflected in a yearend survey conducted by the Global Poll Center, which is run by the Global Times newspaper. According to the results, fewer Chinese now characterize their country as a superpower. Of 1,488 individuals who responded to random telephone interviews in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chongqing, 12.4 per cent deemed China to be a superpower - the lowest figure since 2006.

But China's determination to become a world power is clear. While Mr. Le warned that the country has no aircraft carriers, Beijing has already announced its intention to rectify this shortcoming. Moreover, China has had success developing an anti-ship missile, which has been dubbed the "aircraft carrier killer."

The country's growing international role is reflected in the annual addresses delivered by President Hu at the end of each year. Unlike the U.S. president's State of the Union address, which is directed at Americans only, the Chinese leader has from the beginning included non-Chinese in his annual addresses.

Thus, in his first speech in 2003, he addressed "Chinese people of all ethnic groups, including those in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan and overseas Chinese" as well as "friends from all other countries." In 2005, his message was directed not just to China's friends overseas but to "people all over the world." And by 2009, President Hu had widened the scope of his address by calling upon other countries and peoples to join China in creating "a beautiful future of world peace and development."

And, last week, in delivering the 2010 address, Mr. Hu promised to help improve the welfare of people of all countries: "I believe, as long as the people from all countries make efforts hand in hand, the world will have a better future and the welfare of the people from all countries will be improved."

Thus, over the past eight years, President Hu has gradually shifted from speaking only as the leader of his country to speaking as a world leader, calling on other countries and peoples to respond to China's entreaties to build a harmonious world of peace and prosperity.

And yet, the year 2010 was especially marked by China's challenge of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo, who had called for democracy and human rights in China. The imprisonment of Mr. Liu was part of China's policy of putting political stability ahead of everything else, including the basic rights of its citizens, which are ostensibly guaranteed by the constitution.

The eyes of the world will be on China in 2011 to see whether it will continue its hard-line policies both toward the outside world and toward its own people.

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