China is not displaying contradictory impulses over its major policies
Many people look back longingly to China's recent past when it minded its own business and was too busy counterfeiting other people's products to worry about asserting sweeping territorial claims in maritime disputes with its neighbours.
It was following the famous dictum of Deng Xiaoping : "Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead - but aim to do something big."
Not a few China "experts" in the West still hope Beijing hasn't completely turned its back on Deng's spiritual guidance. Among the more erudite of these experts is Christopher Johnson of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. In a new study titled Decoding China's Emerging "Great Power" Strategy in Asia, Johnson and his colleagues claim President Xi Jinping has no "fully fleshed out worldview" and that he is torn between making China the top dog in Asia and being a good neighbour. "The challenge is compounded," they wrote, "by the many seemingly contradictory policy inclinations that appear to be guiding Xi ... by the leadership's ostensible inability ... to sustainably reconcile the contending impulses to seek improvements in relations on China's periphery while simultaneously pushing hard to reinforce Beijing's sweeping territorial claims."
Actually, judging by China's recent behaviour in the East and South China Seas as well as the sustained crackdown on official corruption, Xi shows consistency rather than contradictory impulses. It's a deliberate move from a defensive posture to an overtly aggressive stance. That's pretty obvious when Beijing takes on Japan, the US, Vietnam and the Philippines. At the same time, Xi thinks nothing of cracking down on tens of thousands of "corrupt" cadres. In his China dream, he believes the nation deserves a far greater say in world affairs, especially in Asia, commensurate with its economic rise. He is taking enormous but calculated risks.
This has enormous consequences for Hong Kong. People like Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun may want Hong Kong to play chicken with Beijing, but their supporters should recalibrate their thinking in light of recent events and not blindly follow their leaders.