Chinese officials and diplomats often describe China’s return to national greatness as a process of “advancing towards the center of the world stage.” As with other aspirational aims associated with China’s NATIONAL REJUVENATION, this “advance towards the center of the world stage” is intended to be completed by 2049, the centennial anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Most of the central leadership’s aspirations for 2049 concern domestic affairs: this phrase is one of the rare statements of what a fully rejuvenated China means for the rest of the world.
The phrase “advancing towards the center of the world stage” was introduced in a 2011 People’s Daily editorial and saw periodic use in the early days of Xi Jinping. Xi elevated the slogan’s importance in his report to the 19th Party Congress. There he tied the claim that “our country advances ever closer to the center of the world stage” [我国日益走近世界舞台中央] to his declaration that the Party had entered a NEW ERA [新时代] in its history. As Mao gave China independence, and Deng made China prosperous, so would Xi Jinping help China “become strong.” This stronger, more assertive China could then turn its eyes outside of China’s borders to “make greater contributions to mankind” [为人类作出更大贡献]. In Xi’s judgment, growing Chinese influence over the future of the species is an integral part of moving China to the world’s “center stage.”
Phrases like “advancing towards the center of the world stage” and “making greater contributions to mankind” suggest the global scope of Chinese ambition while obscuring its ultimate object. An official Xinhua commentary on the 19th Congress provides an unusually forthright description of what this advance entails:
China has stood up, grown rich and become strong. It will advance toward center stage and make greater contributions for mankind. By 2050, two centuries after the Opium Wars, which plunged the “Middle Kingdom” into a period of hurt and shame, China is set to regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world.
…China’s success proves that socialism can prevail and be a path for other developing countries to emulate and achieve modernization. China is now strong enough, willing, and able to contribute more for mankind. The new world order cannot be just dominated by capitalism and the West, and the time will come for a change (Xinhua 2017).
Xinhua associates the “advance towards the center of the world stage” with a world order that is no longer capitalist nor Western-led; the less circumspect writing of Chinese academics and public intellectuals use the phrase in a similar fashion. The slogan should thus serve as a reminder that China’s leadership believes that the road to NATIONAL REJUVENATION demands structural changes to the world outside of China’s borders.
Doshi, Rush. 2021. The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order. New York: Oxford, Oxford University Press; Swaine, Michael. 2018. “Chinese Views of Foreign Policy in the 19th Party Congress,” China Leadership Monitor 55; Tobin, Dan. 2020. “How Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ Should HaveEnded U.S. Debate on Beijing’s Ambitions” Center for Strategic and International Studies; Xinhua. 2017. “Commentary: Milestone Congress Points to New Era for China and the World.”