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In his second public appearance since the conclusion of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party last month, Xi Jinping declared that China is on the cusp of re-emerging as a great nation and the party will ensure this historic transition.
If the occasion for the new leader's appearance seemed just right to celebrate Chinese nationalism, Xi made full use of it by setting a new political marker and urging the party cadre to avoid empty talk and focus on the hard work of rejuvenating the nation.
The venue was an exhibition at the National Museum in Beijing titled "Road to Renewal", and depicting China's progress since the First Opium War (1839-42) imposed on it by the British Raj. The exhibits included the first Chinese version of the Communist Manifesto, photos relating to the founding of the CPC in 1921, the first national flag of the People's Republic of China, and pictures on the Third Plenary Session of the December 1978 Central Committee meeting at which Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening up of China.
Appearing with all his six colleagues from the powerful standing committee of the Politburo, Xi was reportedly at ease, spoke without notes, and wrapped his words around some memorable words of Mao Zedong and the lines of an ancient Chinese poet, Li Bai. "Everyone is talking about a China dream. I believe the revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream of the nation since modern times," Xi said. The speech went viral on Chinese internet sites minutes after Xi spoke.
Xi's avoidance of communist jargon and his focus on reviving the great Chinese nation appears to be resonating with the people, at least for the moment. Xi affirmed his conviction that China will realise (under his leadership) the newly set goal of becoming a "moderately prosperous society" by the time the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC is celebrated in 2021.
Barring unforeseen turbulence, Xi will remain China's top leader until 2022, when the 20th Congress of the CPC convenes. The 18th Congress had set the target of doubling China's per capita income by 2020. Last year, the per capita income in China stood at around US $5,000.
As Xi relies on the Chinese nationalist spirit to boost the legitimacy and authority of the party, the betting is that Beijing will have even less political space for any significant concessions in its territorial disputes with its Asian neighbours, especially Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and India.
China's decision to put its map as the watermark in its passport pages has evoked strong reactions from its neighbours, who have reacted with their own measures. New rules announced last week by the island province of Hainan that promise tougher action against ships entering its waters in the South China Sea has added to these concerns.
Unlike the waters of East Asia, where China's territorial disputes have become much sharper in the last two years, the contested Himalayan frontier between Delhi and Beijing has been relatively tranquil. While the two sides continue to negotiate on the border dispute, the focus may inevitably turn towards advancing the bilateral relationship. A decade ago, India began the new round of boundary negotiations with the express objective of finding an early settlement.
Beijing, which seemed to accept that proposition then, has been suggesting for some time that the two sides should leave the difficult boundary issue to future generations and concentrate on the deepening of bilateral partnership.
After prolonged marginalisation from the geopolitics of Southeast Asia, Russia seems determined to reclaim a role in the troubled waters of the South China Sea.
After the recent visit to Vietnam by Russia's prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, speculation is mounting that the Russian navy might return to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay.
Following the American defeat in Vietnam in 1975,
the Soviet Union gained access to the Cam Ranh Bay that offers a commanding position to any great power seeking to define the seascape of Southeast Asia. Unable to sustain its presence, Russia pulled out of the base in 2002. Now, amidst plans to revitalise the Russian navy, Moscow's gaze is turning once again towards Cam Ranh Bay.
Meanwhile, Vietnam, under pressure from China, has been looking for strategic partners and has sought to rebuild the once-strong military cooperation with Moscow.
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a contributing editor for 'The Indian Express'