Podcast: Elizabeth Economy on Xi Jinping’s Third Revolution and the Future of U.S.-China Relations


Elizabeth Economy speaking at a podium
Photo credit: 
Thom Holme

In her acclaimed book The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, Chinese domestic and foreign policy expert Elizabeth Economy argues that Xi Jinping’s dual-reform trajectories—a more authoritarian system at home and a more ambitious foreign policy abroad—provide Beijing with new levers of influence that the United States must learn to use to protect its own interests.
Economy, the C. V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, kicked off the China Program’s 2019 winter colloquia with a discussion of the transformations underway in China today and the future of U.S.-China relations.
Speaking to a packed audience, Economy described how, in the process of pursuing his vision of the rejuvenation of the Chinese dream, Xi Jinping has upended much of Deng Xiaoping’s "second revolution" and has put in motion four significant strategic shifts in Chinese domestic and foreign policy.
The first shift is a move away from Deng’s consensus- and collective-based decision-making process back toward a more single-man, authoritarian role. The second is a reassertion of the Chinese Communist Party more deeply into the everyday political and economic lives of the Chinese people. The third is a creation of a virtual wall of restrictions and regulations that allows Xi and the rest of the Chinese leadership to control more closely what comes into the country and what goes out. The fourth shift, the most visible one to people outside China, is the move from Deng’s low-profile foreign policy to a far more ambitious foreign policy.
This foreign policy shift, said Economy, is especially noteworthy in three areas: first, in Xi’s move from staking claims around Chinese sovereignty to realizing them; second, in his Belt and Road Initiative; and third, in his effort to reform institutions of global governance so that they reflect Chinese values and norms.
How should the United States address these changes in China’s domestic and foreign policy? Economy listed four ways of response: first, cooperation, namely, collaborating with China on global problems such as those concerning public health or the environment; second, coordination with U.S. allies; third, countering China by pushing back on, for example, its South China Sea claims and incidents of intellectual property infringement; and finally, competing with China by investing domestically in areas including education and research and technological development.
Listen to Economy’s discussion. A transcript is also available below.