Zheng Bijian, the Marxist theorist credited with originating the concept of “China’s Peaceful Rise,” is also cited in PRC media for his key role in conceptualizing China’s Cyber Great Power strategy.

According to Zheng’s April 4, 2013 proposal to the Central Committee, titled “Face the Challenge With Comprehensive Planning; Strive to Build a World Class Cyber Great Power in Ten Years” (直面挑战 统筹经略 力争十年建成世界一流网络强国), Zheng argued to central authorities that China should seek to build itself into a world class Cyber Great Power within 10 years. Zheng’s timeline and recommendation were based on his assessment that U.S. policy to contain China had expanded from physical space to cyberspace, and China needed to formulate a strategy to respond. Specifically, he called for a strategy designed to reverse China’s passivity in cyberspace within three years and to effectively compete with the U.S. in cyberspace within 10 years.

As Dr. Yang Jian, vice president of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, would later explain, the watershed competition that China faced is not over technology per se but instead over the future of the global digital ecosystem and the hegemonic politics that dominate it. In Zheng Bijian’s view, Beijing had a 10-year window to achieve cyber great power status to avoid cyber containment by the United States. In short, “cyber warfare is no longer a matter of whether China wants to fight, but instead how long before it will be forced to act.”

Interestingly, there is some evidence that Zheng Bijian’s 10-year timeline still stands. Party discourse on the status of China’s transition from a Cyber (Major) Power to a Cyber Great Power  has appeared more regularly over the past year, just as Zheng’s 2023 deadline has arrived.

Find Zheng Bijian’s proposal to the Central Committee here.  For the full story, see David Dorman and John Hemmings, “Digital China: The Strategy and Its Geopolitical Implications,” Issues and Insights, February 21, 2023.