For all the breathless headlines, there is no real clarity as to what kind of global power China will become over the next critical decade. But if the international community is in the dark about China's 21st-century trajectory, it is likely because there is no real consensus among the Chinese themselves.
Throughout the first decades of the reform era, China under Deng Xiaoping quietly and gradually sought to join a wide range of international organizations and regimes. Top policy advisors such as economist Wu Jinglian -- who eventually earned the moniker "Mr. Market" -- openly favored market reform and integration with the global economy. At the same time, Deng retained earlier elements of Chinese strategy, such as the "Four Modernizations" (agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology) aimed at transforming China into a self-reliant power by the early 21st century; and military strategists like Adm. Liu Huaqing, who led the Chinese navy during the 1980s, were laying out a vision for a seafaring force that would be the equal of the United States by the mid-21st century.
The result of Deng's blending of old and new was the emergence of a global power that nonetheless maintained a low political and military profile. Chinese foreign policy hewed closely to one of Deng's guiding principles -- "hide brightness and cherish obscurity."