Has China compromised its long-term strategic discipline?

The image tweeted by Chinese Government spokesman Zhao Lijian in 2020.

I was rather surprised when China's spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted the image above. My reading of Mao Tse-Tung seemed pretty straightforward in terms of a long-term strategy for China. Even during the changes brought about by Deng Xiaoping in the 1990s that led to having a foot in both camps (socialist/capitalist), it was not an undoing of Mao's strategy.

For example, Mao warned that by 2001 China would be a great socialist industrial country, but:

...we must be modest - not only now, but forty-five years hence as well. We should always be modest. In our international relations, we Chinese people should get rid of great-power chauvinism resolutely, thoroughly, wholly and completely. "In Commemoration of Dr. Sun Yat-sen" (November 1956). 

It was certainly the case that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Deng Xiaoping seemingly adapted Mao's strategy to changing circumstances, in that:

It is perfectly true that we should learn from the good experience of all countries, socialist or capitalist, about this there is no argument. 

Further, and although not blindly trusting the West, there was no strategic intention by Mao to start a war:

As for the imperialist countries, we should unite with their people and strive to coexist peacefully with those countries, do business with them and prevent a possible war, but under no circumstances should we harbour any unrealistic notions about them.

So what has brought about the change in China's strategy? Today, I was fortunate enough to be able to pose this question to New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, at a Sydney Institute event:


It was interesting that Friedman couldn't work it out either. It just doesn't make any sense. I would argue that China has messed up its foreign and strategic policy, perhaps echoing Mao's warnings against great-power chauvinism. The discipline that China sustained for the last eight decades is impressive, yet it has been so readily undone in just a few short years. 

For me, at least, it justifies Australia's strategic policy response, and the world has changed yet again. What an interesting period of history to have witnessed.