21st Century Council Meets with Chinese Leadership at Understanding China Conference

Nathan Gardels

Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council gained a firsthand glimpse into the mind-set of China’s new leadership during a rare, wide-ranging discussion with President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in early November on the eve of the recent Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which announced a broad array of reforms.

We also met with Premier Li Keqiang as well as top generals of the People’s Liberation Army and other ranking officials from National People’s Congress as well as governors and Party secretaries from Zhejiang, Guangdong and Yunnan provinces.

During our meetings the 21st Century Council had the opportunity to take off Western lenses and understand China’s strategy from their own perspective. The Chinese leaders see no contradiction between economic and social liberalization on the one hand and more political control on the other. In fact, in their minds, the latter is the condition for the former. Lightening up and tightening up are two sides of the same coin.

Only a strong state party at the center, in their view, can forestall conflicts abroad and push reforms forward against the vested interests of state-owned enterprises, local party bosses and the virtual “manufacturers of chaos” on the Internet. 

At the same time, Xi stressed that “the Chinese Dream” dream can only be realized by remaining engaged in today’s interdependent world. “The more developed China becomes,” he said, “the more open it will be. It is impossible for China to shut the door that has already been opened.“

Other topics we discussed included the G-20 and the new global architecture, whether China’s economic boom can last, the decision-making process in China, and social media and governance.

The meeting was jointly hosted by the Berggruen Institute, Zheng Bijian’s China Institute for Innovation and Development and the People’s Institute on Foreign Affairs.

The 21st Century Council members and guests in attendance, among others, included:

SHAUKAT AZIZ Former Prime Minister of Pakistan

NICOLAS BERGGRUEN Chairman, Berggruen Institute on Governance

DAVID BONDERMAN Founding Partner, TPG Capital

GORDON BROWN Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom


RONNIE CHANChairman, Ha ng Lung Group, LTD.

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA Author, ‘The Strengths and Weakness of China’s Governing System’

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ Former Prime Ministerof Spain

REID HOFFMAN Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, LinkedIn

FRED HU Chief Executive Officer of Primavera Capital, China

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON Founder, President and Chair, The Huffington Post Media Group

PAUL KEATING Former Prime Minister of Australia

ALEKSEI KUDRIN Former Russian Minister of Finance

RICARDO LAGOS Former President of Chile

KISHORE MAHBUBANI Author, ‘The Great Convergence’

ALAIN MINC Founder, A.M. Counseil

MARIO MONTI Former Prime Minister of Italy

DAMBISA MOYO International Economist


NOURIEL ROUBINI Co-Founder and Chairman, Roubini Global Economics

KEVIN RUDD Former Prime Minister of Australia

ERIC SCHMIDT Executive Chairman, Google Inc.

STEPHEN SCHWARZMAN Chief Executive Officer, Blackstone Group

WU JIANMIN Executive Vice Chairman, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy

GEORGE YEO Former Foreign Minister of Singapore


ERNESTO ZEDILLO Chairman, 21st Century Council

ZHENG BIJIAN Chairman, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy