China Power

The Top Political Catchprases of 2013

The top 6 political catchphrases from Xi Jinping’s first year in office.

The Top Political Catchprases of 2013
Credit: Flickr/ APEC 2013

In China, political slogans are a key to governing. From Mao Zedong on, every leader has chosen one or more slogans that come to define his term in office. Deng Xiaoping had “reform and opening up” and “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” For Jiang Zemin, it was “the three represents.” For Hu Jintao, “harmonius society” and “scientific development.” Now that Xi Jinping has taken over, we can get a good sense of where his government is headed by looking at the phrases he coined. So in honor of New Year’s Eve, I present the top political catchphrases of 2013.

  1. Chinese Dream 中国梦:  The catchphrase of the year award goes to “Chinese dream,” which was mentioned by Xi almost immediately after he officially assumed power at the National Party Congress. As Xi’s first political slogan, the term has the potential to guide China’s development throughout the next 10 years. So what does it mean? In his initial explanation, in November 2012, Xi said “”Everyone is talking about a China Dream. I believe the revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream of the nation since modern times.”  Later, after the National People’s Congress in March 2013, Xi explained further, tying the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” to increasing the standard of living for individual citizens. Now, the Chinese Dream is used by media outlets to describe almost everything from Yao Ming’s sports achievements to the success of a popular science website. A search for the Chinese phrase on People’s Daily turns up over 80,000 hits, and the word was also named the #1 most popular phrase of the year by Xinhua. Besides indicating a general sense of prosperity, both for the nation and for individuals, the Chinese Dream also has foreign policy implications, with a “rejuvenated” China taking its place as a global power. The Global Times even declared 2013 the “year of ‘Chinese dream’ diplomacy.”
  2. New Type Great Power Relations (also translated as New Model Major Power Relations) 新型大国关系: More specifically relevant to foreign policy is our number 2 catchphrase, “new type great power relations.” This phrase, like the Chinese dream, first appeared in 2012 as Xi was setting himself up to take control. Since then, the phrase has expanded to become a cornerstone of China’s foreign policy rhetoric. Although it has been variously applied to countries like Russia and Japan as well, the idea of “new type great power relations” is most often applied to the U.S.-China relationship. As such, the phrase is usually understood as a warning that the U.S. and China must have a historically “new type” relationship in order to avoid the Thucydidean trap. China’s vision for creating this new relationship involves still more catchphrases — a recent speech by Vice President Li Yuanchao further defined the term as “implement[ing] the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation in all aspects of the relations between the two countries.” None of these terms are new in themselves, but rolling them into the catch-all phrase of “new type great power relations” achieves two things: it acknowledges relations have not actually achieved these goals, and it asserts China’s new role as a great power (or major power, which is China’s preferred translation). Except this term to stick around — as my colleague Zachary noted, this concept is expected to be a priority of China’s foreign policy in 2014.
  3. Reform and Opening Up 改革开放: The old catchphrase from Deng Xiaoping’s era is making a comeback in China this year, although in 2013 the components of “reform” and “opening up” are often used separately. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are determined to carry out economic reforms to rebalance China’s economy to increase domestic demand and reduce reliance on exports. These reforms, long delayed, are seen as crucial for helping China escape the so-called “middle income trap.” Thus, the “Chinese dream” is dependent on China being able to continue to reform. The report from this year’s Third Plenum, which generally sets the agenda for a new leadership, was actually titled “The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms.” The government has promised to let market forces play a stronger role in the economy (especially the financial sector), to address the chronic problem of industrial over-capacity, and to deal with the issue of local government debt. Along with reform, China has promised to also continue the process of “opening up” to the outside world. After the Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, the government promised to emphasize “opening up,” especially by negotiating free trade agreements and investment agreements. As I wrote earlier this year, the experimental new free trade zone in Shanghai will serve as a testing ground for both reform and opening up.
  4. Fighting Both Tigers and Flies 老虎、苍蝇一起打: Xi kicked the Party’s anti-corruption battle into high gear with his January 2013 promise to fight both “tigers and flies.” By that, Xi meant going after both high-ranking party official and low-level bureaucrats. “No exception will be made when it comes to Party disciplines and law,” Xi said. True to his word, Xi’s anti-corruption battle has netted some “tigers.” Since Xi came to power, new investigations have been started against nearly a dozen senior leaders, including officials at the oil behemoth PetroChina, a deputy party chief in Sichuan province, and the mayor of Nanjing. And that’s not counting the conviction of Bo Xilai on charges of corruption, or the rumored investigation into China’s former head of public security, Zhou Yongkang. The “flies” haven’t been neglected either, as China reportedly opened over 30,000 corruption investigations from January to August of 2013. Most outside observers believe that China can’t ultimately solve the problem of corruption without strengthening the rule of law and allowing for a free press to serve as a watchdog. Still, Xi’s emphasis on (and startlingly upfront admissions of) the problem sets him apart from previous leaders.
  5. Fighting Online Rumors 网络辟谣: While Xi has focused on eliminating corruption, he has not been happy to see rumors and accusations against Party officials popping up on Chinese social media sites, especially microblogs like Sina Weibo. To go along with the anti-corruption battle, Xi’s government has started another campaign: fighting online rumors. China has passed laws making it illegal to post rumors online — those convicted can be punished with up to three years in jail. China defends the campaign as a legitimate quest to fight online slander and uphold public safety. Critics believe the anti-rumor campaign is a ploy to silence those who questions the government as part of a broader effort to control cyberspace. The Chinese government would probably not deny this — to the Communist Party, silencing its critics is an essential part of maintaining public stability.
  6. Air Defense Identification Zone 空防识别区 : For a phrase that most people had probably never heard of (in Chinese or English), “air defense identification zone” shot up to be one of the most-used phrases in November and December. Obviously, the phrase isn’t a Chinese invention — the U.S., Japan, Korea, and Taiwan all had ADIZs well before China — but Xi made sure the term will always be associated with his leadership. China announced it was establishing its first ADIZ in the East China Sea on November 23, sparking intense media coverage and political attention. The United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all objected to the move, in part because the zone overlaps with the existing ADIZs of the latter three countries. China’s ADIZ also covers disputed territories, most notably the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan, but also an islet claimed by China and South Korea. In response, South Korea expanded its own ADIZ, the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the zone without notifying China, and Japan ratified a new defense strategy that calls for an increase in military spending. Xi Jinping has shown himself ready to take more aggressive steps to defend China’s territory, while China’s neighbors seem equally inclined to push back against such moves. It’s safe to say all’s not quiet on the East China Sea as we head into 2014.