Will China stay on course? – Global Public Square - CNN.com Blogs Events in the Middle East and North Africa are of historic importance, but the even bigger, long-term story is the rise of China. What path will it choose at home and abroad in the years ahead? For decades there has been debate at the highest levels of the Chinese government about how much to modernize politically to ensure growth and stave off revolution. Itâ€™s notoriously difficult to analyze the inner workings off the Chinese Communist Party. But today it seems that the liberals are losing the debate. China seems to be turning inward - moving away from a strategy of increasing openness and connection to the West and toward one of greater self-reliance and tighter internal controls. Just look at Chinaâ€™s response to the uprisings in the Middle East. The countryâ€™s leadership made no concessions or openings. Instead, it cracked down on any inkling of protest, banned sensitive Internet searches and clamped down on the media. China not only banned the word â€œjasmineâ€, it banned jasmine flowers too out of fear of a â€œJasmine Dayâ€ of protests. Rather than letting off popular steam through greater openness and freedom, China has come down on the side of increasing restrictions. Politics Chinaâ€™s inward turn is embodied in the rise of Bo Xilai, a potent new force in Chinese politics. Bo Xilai is the current head of the Chongqing Communist Party. He has been a very effective head of Chongqing - a city of 30 million people. His method of rule has been to pursue strong anti-corruption and accountability standards for government officials. He has also generated popular support by constantly talking about the virtues of Mao Zedong while complaining about how modern Chinese society has become too materialistic and permissive. Bo is running the first individual political campaign weâ€™ve seen in China. He is pushing for one of nine Politburo spots in a very public, unusual manner. Boâ€™s success suggests that the forces that are in the ascendancy in China are those that say, â€œWe need a period of consolidation and control - not more reform and openness.â€ These forces embrace a certain kind of social conservatism and a turning inwards. Economy Similar inward-looking tendencies exist on the economic side as well. Liberals who are in favor of more market reform are losing out to those who say, â€œWeâ€™ve had a lot of growth. We donâ€™t need to follow the American model. Look at what happened to the West in the financial crisis. What we need is a distinctly Chinese way. We need to support our own companies.â€ In fact, political restrictions and economic restrictions often work together. By making life difficult for external Internet search engines for political reasons, China is also empowering Chinese search engines like Baidu. Censorship has even led to a Chinese clone of Twitter, which faces content restrictions. This is happening in industry after industry. China is now focusing more and more of its attention on developing and empowering local Chinese companies. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt complained about this publicly. He said that it was becoming very difficult for multinational firms to do business in China because it was not clear that the Chinese government wanted any Western firms to succeed (of course, because of the scale of the Chinese market, Immelt had to retract what he said). Foreign Policy 2010 was a very bad year for Chinaâ€™s foreign policy. Chinaâ€™s leaders seem to understand this. There was the tiff over the Senkaku Islands, which irked Japan; the assertion of sovereignty in the South China Seas annoyed a number of the neighboring countries; the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army tested its stealth bomber during U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gatesâ€™s visit to China, which raised American hackles. China is trying to correct course now. You can see that in a number of statements that have been made recently by senior officials. Dai Bingguo, a senior foreign policy leader in China has clearly been given authority to reset the Communist Party line and to make clear that China does not seek confrontation with the United States. On the other hand, Chinese leaders clearly are intrigued by the geopolitical opportunities that present themselves. They have an ongoing economic and political push in Africa where they have cultivated African countries as markets and as potential opportunities for investment. Chinaâ€™s President Hu Jintao hosted an Africa Summit at which almost every African head of state showed up, which was truly extraordinary. Closer to home you see the Pakistanis asked the Chinese to take over operations of a port and to build a naval base at Gwadar. Whatâ€™s interesting about that is the Pakistanis did it in a very brazen way, literally trying to play the Chinese off the Americans. But the Chinese did not reciprocate. They did not make any public statements. If you look at Chinaâ€™s actions, however, and not their words, you see something else. China has a port in Pakistan, and is building ports in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. These ports secure China's energy supplies from the Straits of Hormuz through the Straits of Malacca up to China. Itâ€™s a hugely important route for them. But at another level, the three main ports happen to encircle India. Given that China has had 16 border disputes over the last 30 or 40 years â€“ and the only dispute that remains completely unresolved is the one with India â€“ you can tell that China must be thinking about ways in which they can maintain some level of pressure in the Indo-Chinese relationship. The way forward Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger just published a book On China. The central thesis of the book is that if you look structurally at a rising power of the magnitude of China and an established power of the magnitude of the United States - with the huge cultural differences and the huge differences in their perspectives on history - there is, at some level, an almost inevitable clash. How can this be avoided? What is the strategy that both countries should follow so that you donâ€™t end up with this historical drama replaying itself one more time? The answer is you need a real strategic commitment from the elites of both countries to try to maintain a very strong relationship. Both sides must understand the stakes. This would not be a relationship of allies. But both countries would understand that it would be bad for all if their relations went into a downward spiral. For this reason, elites on both sides must say, â€œWe need to understand your world and you need to understand ours.â€ I interviewed Henry Kissinger for GPS and he said he thinks that China's rise is the central challenge of American foreign policy. Kissinger also thinks that the Obama people are doing all right at it; Obama's people get the importance of the U.S.-China relationship, Kissinger said. Indeed, U.S. foreign policy toward China since President Richard Nixon has been stunning for its continuity. American has maintained a basic strategy of trying to integrate China into the world. Weâ€™ve helped them get World Trade Organization membership. We have maintained the same red lines weâ€™ve always maintained - no invasion of Taiwan. Weâ€™ve talked about human rights. U.S.presidents have met with the Dalai Lama. Ever since Nixon and Kissinger set a template, America's policy toward China has remained the same because the stakes are so high. The real question I have is: Is China going to be able to maintain consistency on its end? Or will it take an inward turn? Given all the political forces in China â€“ especially, the rise of a new generation of Chinese policy makers and the increasingly important role of the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army â€“ I wonder where China will be five or seven years from now. This is the big question of our time.