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Note: The following translation is one of six entries in a roundtable discussion convened by two state think tanks in the spring of 2019. Participants were all eminent Chinese academics. Their task was to analyze the slogan “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” A general introduction to the seminar and the slogan it discusses can be found here.

When Zhu Feng surveyed the international scene in 2019, he saw a world of unseen dangers, unstable orthodoxies, and uncertain futures. His contribution to this roundtable concedes that “in terms of the allocation of rights, wealth and interests” the ‘great changes unseen in a century’ identified by the party leadership “are the result of China’s unprecedented advance toward the center of the world stage,” but this advance towards greatness does not ease his worries. He worries that China rises as the world fractures. Zhu fears that these once-in-a-century fractures might be enough to derail China’s journey to the center of a new world order.

Zhu’s contribution to the roundtable is preoccupied with the institutional and ideological failure of what Zhu calls “traditional liberal internationalism.” He tells us that “the United States’ most fundamental hegemonic value system… is at present encountering unprecedented challenges.” The developing world no longer “proceeds according to the Western model,” but has instead become a “site of experimentation in ideology.” China and Russia go further still, “holding high the banner” of anti-liberalism. But the most important developments have occurred within the West itself, as Americans and Europeans have turned their back on the path they pioneered. “As the transformation of the world commences,” Zhu concludes, “all that any country can do is to strengthen its own national power, [then] return to the cult of ethno-nationalism and a reliance on political strongmen.”

All of the entries in this roundtable were originally delivered as spoken comments at a seminar co-hosted by Nanjing University’s China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea and were subsequently published by Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs, the center’s policy journal.1 For the sake of publication, most participants rewrote their comments as tightly argued essays. Zhu, who heads center, seems to have gotten away with publishing his comments as delivered. His piece is looser, less organized, and more informal than the other scholars’ arguments; it can be difficult to discern how Zhu’s many points cohere into a single whole.

Great changes unseen in a century are accelerating across the world… the once-in-a-century pandemic has had far-reaching effects; a backlash against globalization is rising; and unilateralism and protectionism are mounting… The world has entered a new period of turbulence and change… [where] external attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time.

Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising… We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared for danger in times of peace, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.2

When General Secretary Xi declared that the world was undergoing “great changes unseen in a century” for the first time, the phrase was tinged with triumph.3No longer. Now Xi Jinping, like Zhu Feng before him, uses the slogan to describe his fears of once-in-a-century risks.

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