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Geopolitics

Beijing's Most Important Five-Year Plan Yet

The top leaders of China's Communist Party are gathering this week to develop the latest roadmap for the country, which could supercede the U.S. in economic and military might as soon as five years from now.

China could become the world's top economic and military power by 2020
China could become the world's top economic and military power by 2020
Nicolas Barré

-OpEd-

PARIS — It's with Soviet-like objective that the highest dignitaries of China"s Communist Party Central Committee began gathering this week to draw up the 13th five-year plan that will be adopted in March. This latest roadmap for the country is the most important in Communist China's history. If the plan fulfills its objectives, China will be the world's top economic and military power beginning in 2020, taking over the position that has been occupied by the United States since 1890.

Chinese leaders are nevertheless aware of the difficulties ahead. They even recall that the Soviet Union collapsed before the end of its 13th plan! They will do everything so that the Communist Party of China, which has been in power for 70 years, avoids its Russian cousin's fate. For the five years of this 13th plan, China will either definitely establish itself as the world's premier superpower or will undergo major upheaval. In either case, the strategic consequences will be considerable.

Of course, the first scenario is the more likely. Chinese leaders have proved that they can maintain the objectives set by the five-year plans. The current economic downturn mustn't hide the fact that the 7% growth objective set by the 12th plan (covering years 2010 to 2015) will have been exceeded by nearly one point. The new target could be reduced to 6.5%, a figure that reflects the new "normal" of an economy amid transformation and an aging society.

The new plan, like the previous one, will set the country's priorities in every sector, from heavy industry to elementary school programs and the progressive end of the one-child policy. It will provide a new, more ambitious objective of energy consumption per GDP unit, an indicator that Chinese leaders follow very closely out of concern for energy efficiency. Finally, we will be anxious to see what words are used to describe the economic marketplace, probably less central in a context of a slowing economy and the rise of social risks.

The world will be better off if China proceeds without chaos. The country contributes to 32% of global growth — that is to say, one point out of the three predicted this year — and makes up for 30% of all investments in the world. This is why its fate is deeply linked to the West's. And it's also why we also need a plan regarding China. In Europe, we lack a strategy regarding a power that practices reciprocity according its own terms, with the strength that its new status gives it.

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