China in 2013

Note: this piece was written by Jack Zhang, senior adviser to China Focus, and is re-posted here with his permission.


China Focus reviews 2013’s top stories and how they were covered here at UCSD:

Xi's the Man

In March, Xi Jinping assumed office as president of the People's Republic of China.  This completed the transfer of power from Hu Jintao and company to Mr. Xi and his cohort of fifth-generation leaders.  Mr. Xi, widely seen as more self-assured than his predecessor, has been quick to consolidate his power. He has launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign which has snagged tigers and flies  (powerful leaders and lowly bureaucrats). The campaign's so-called petroleum purges ( have struck down senior executives at China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), including former Poliburo Standing Committee member and security czar Zhou Yongkang.

At the same time, Mr. Xi has cracked down on domestic social media (Link) and foreign journalists (Link). In April, China launched an Anti-Rumors Campaign meant to intimidate online opinion leaders and netizens . In August, details emerged that an internal party memo (Document No. 9) has been circulating to warn cadres about dangerous Western influences trying to infiltrate the ideological sphere.  (Link)

In November, at an Orwellian news conference, the vice minister of the State Internet Information Office reported that The fight against rumors has received a positive response and has been quite effective…The Internet has become clean.  (

After the New York Times and Bloomberg published investigations into the wealth of top Communist leaders, the Communist Party blocked both agencies' websites and refused to issue visas to newly hired journalists visas. In his first year in office, Mr. Xi has signaled his resolve to reinvigorate the nation and the party without relinquishing the party's stranglehold on Chinese politics.

Will Mr. Xi succeed? Or will he become China's Gorbachev? Professor Susan Shirk joins Evan Osnos and J. Stapleton Roy at the Asia Society to assess China's leadership transition one year later. Watch here.

A Blueprint for Reform

Xi and his colleagues took the helm of a China plagued by a serious set of short term and long term challenges. In April, Cai Fang, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and Director at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, shared with a UCSD audience his insights on the challenges China's new leadership faces. Watch here. In October, Damien Ma provided us with a compelling summary of the political, economic and social challenges that China will face in the next decade.  You can read more about these in his new book: Link

In November, Mr. Xi identified three main challenges China faces: its unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable  development model, an increase in social contradictions, and the severe struggle to contain corruption. Later that month, the much-anticipated Third Plenum laid out a blueprint for socio-economic reforms designed to mitigate these challenges. What the heck is the Third Plenum and why should you care? Professor Barry Naughton explains in China File.

In summary, important decisions include the loosening of the one-child policy, abolition of the laojiao system, formation of a national security committee, and establishment of a comprehensive environmental protection regime, as well as hints of hukou reform, rural land rights, and interest rate liberalization. The document pledges a decisive  role for markets in resource allocation, a notable shift from the basic  role outlined by the 1992 reforms when China transitioned to a socialist market economy . You can read the full Chinese version of the document here

Professors Li Weisen (Fudan University) and Yu Yongding (CASS) joined UCSD scholars at the China Research Workshop ( to analyze the Third Plenum and its implications. An upcoming event in January will further examine the next round of reforms in China. (Register here)

Snowden and Sunnyland

2013 has been a tumultuous year for U.S.-China relationship and gives us hints of what the future holds for the most world's most important bilateral relationship. At the inaugural Ellsworth Memorial Lecture in March, Jeffrey Bader, President Obama's East Asia director at the National Security Council, shared his insights on how the U.S. might respond to the rise of China. Read his speech here.

In June, President Barack Obama met President Xi Jinping here in Southern California at Sunnylands. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Professor Susan Shirk notes, The Sunnylands summit could shape the future course of US-China relations ” not by any specific agreements, but by starting to weave a human connection between the two leaders. It is the first time that the Chinese and American leaders have the chance to spend an extended period of time together in wide-ranging unscripted conversation. 

Kurt Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia at the State Department and UCSD alumnus, returned to campus to discuss the Pivot to Asia,  the U.S.-China relationship, and his thoughts on the Sunnylands Summit. Watch his talk here.

However, the attempt at forging a new model of great power relations at the much anticipated summit was overshadowed by Edward Snowden's revelations of U.S. hacking of Chinese networks.  Snowden, an NSA contractor-turned-leaker, was holed up in Hong Kong at the time. The White House expressed disappointment with China when, despite U.S. extradition requests, China allowed Snowden to leave Hong Kong in July. The bilateral relationship was further tested by escalating tensions between China and Japan in the East China Sea. In November, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the disputed Diaoyutai islands and the U.S. responded by flying two B-52 bombers into the ADIZ and by reiterating its commitment to its mutual defense treaty with Japan. EmPac fellow James Fallows ( Breaks down the ADIZ news here.

For more on the subject, Professor Susan Shirk and Kurt Campbell discuss on PBS Newshour why the U.S. has an interest in preventing conflict between China and Japan. Read the transcript here.

After Air-pocalypse

A series of environmental crises in China grabbed headlines around the world in 2013. Indeed, as James Fallows remarked in the Sinica Podcast (, the iconic image of contemporary China was now the polluted skies plaguing its major cities. In February, Beijing experienced record levels of air pollution that caused flight cancellations, road closures, and an exodus of expatriates. In December, Shanghai experienced similarly hazardous levels of smog, reaching the highest severe  level in the pollution index.

Professor Zhang Junjie explains in an interview at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, After three decades of rapid economic growth without paying too much attention to environmental issues, now we see the consequences. And the environment has become a huge issue in Chinese society. It causes social discontent, social unrest and endangers social stability.  (

In April, Deborah Seligsohn, former China Director of the World Resources Institute and current UCSD PhD student, shared with a UCSD audience her insight that there is a silver lining to the airpocalypse , in that it has prompted the Chinese government to adopt more effective environmental policies and tougher measures to curb pollution. She notes in an editorial in SCMP: as China focuses on economic growth, breathable air and vibrant cities, it can also shift to a lower-carbon pathway. Upcoming policy choices, including the development of the 13th five-year plan, will lay out a more comprehensive picture of the government's approach and reveal the country's priorities.  (

Jade Rabbit on the Moon

In December, China successfully launched its first lunar probe and became the third nation to soft-land on the moon. A Long March 3B rocket launched the Chang'e 3 spacecraft into orbit, which then delivered the Jade Rabbit rover to the lunar surface. The Chang'e 3 Mission is an impressive technological achievement for space exploration but it also carries enormous national security implications. The space mission represented an important test of China's communications and missile (a rocket by another name) technology, as well as a milestone in China's indigenous innovation efforts.

The Chang'e 3 mission represents a new stage in the evolution of Chinese technological innovation, which has been closely researched by the Project on the Study of Innovation and Technology in China (SITC) here at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC). Link. Some of this research was highlighted in October, when IGCC director Professor Tai Ming Cheng hosted a public roundtable and academic conference on Chinese Science and Technology: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives  (

Space, along with cyber, will open up important new areas of research in a new project on cross-domain deterrence (CDD) funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Minerva Initiative. Link. Cross domain deterrence involves countering threats in one arena (such as space or cyberspace) by relying on different types of capabilities, such as sea power, nuclear weapons, or even non-military tools such as market access. In 2014, a team of researchers headed by Professor Erik Gartzke and Jon Lindsay will launch a five year project to study the theory and practice of CDD here at UCSD.

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Jack Zhang

Jiakun Jack Zhang is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas (KU). He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science at UC San Diego. His dissertation examines when and why economically interdependent countries use military versus economic coercion in foreign policy disputes. In 2018-2019, he was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University. Jack holds a bachelor's degree in political science and a certificate in East Asian studies from Duke University, where he served as the Editor-in-Chief of Duke East Asia Nexus and was a co-founder of the Duke-UNC China Leadership Summit. At UC San Diego, he served as the senior advisor to the 21st Century China Center’s China Focus Blog. Prior to coming to UC San Diego, Jack worked as a China researcher for the Eurasia Group in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @HanFeiTzu.

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