Premier Wen Jiabao of China addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on Thursday with a brief speech that was largely dedicated to convincing the delegates of China’s peaceful intentions.
Wen, who has been premier since 2003 and is a prominent member of China’s technocratic “fourth generation” of leadership, expressed pride with his country’s economic performance in recent years. At the same time, there are heavy challenges ahead, he said. “China, which has come a long way in modernization, is fairly advanced in some areas of development but remains backward in others.” He specifically addressed his country’s mounting public discontent though in the sort of soft and careful rhetoric that is to be expected of him. “Our people are more and more actively engaged in the country’s social and political development,” he said, “yet our democracy and legal system still have room for improvement and such social ills as inequity and corruption still exist.”
In the coming decades, “the Chinese people will continue to move forward along the path of reform and opening,” predicted Wen. Economic development is his government’s priority but it will also work to open up institutions and China as such to the rest of the world. “We will follow established international rules in expanding business ties with other countries,” he promises, and “continue to improve the environment for foreign investors.”
China has been criticized by companies and countries alike, particularly by the United States, for the pegging of its currency to the American dollar. The Americans complain that this gives China an unfair advantage in global trade. Wen didn’t address the currency issue specifically but did profess to be “committed to promoting the establishment of a fair, equitable, inclusive and well managed new international financial order and an open and free international trading regime.” He added that China is “against protectionism in all its manifestations,” which is a bold statement for the leader of what is still a socialist country.
The premier concluded with the promise to “foster a peaceful international environment for our development and at the same time contribute to world peace through our development. China, he said, will “never” seek hegemony.
Some of the countries in Southeast Asia, specifically those bordering on the South China Sea, may beg to differ. China has shown itself more assertive than usual in the region during the past several months, apparently attempting to extend its sphere of influence southward. China’s strategy on the whole however is a defensive one, aimed at protecting its vital economic growth in order to perpetuate Communist Party rule and ensure tranquility at home.