Make China great again!

In this summer's "Wolf Warrior II," Chinese action star Wu Jing portrays a tough super-patriot who rescues both fellow countrymen and oppressed Africans with help from the People's Liberation Army.

Audiences loved what became China's biggest-grossing movie ever. Some reportedly sang the national anthem as the movie closed on an image of a Chinese passport and the words, "Please remember, at your back stands a strong motherland."

This red-blooded nationalism has been channeled skillfully by President and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping as he seeks to strengthen the party's role in Chinese life and shepherd the country's rise to prominence at a time when the United States and others in the West are seen to be in retreat.

Xi's muscular foreign policy could become even more assertive following this month's congress of the ruling Communist Party, where delegates will agree to support his policies and endorse his second five-year term as party secretary general, observers say.

"Xi's on a roll," said June Teufel Dreyer, professor of political science at the University of Miami. She predicted he would continue expanding China's influence by gradually increasing pressure on other countries, a tactic seen in Beijing's steady island-building efforts in the South China Sea, for instance.

In an address Wednesday to the congress' opening session, Xi reiterated that China pursues an "independent foreign policy of peace" and maintains a defensive military posture. However, he also warned other countries not to underestimate China's willingness to stand up for itself.

"No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests," Xi told delegates at Beijing's hulking Great Hall of the People.

For years, after its emergence from hard-line Marxism in the late 1980s, China stuck to reformist leader Deng Xiaoping's dictum to "keep a low profile and bide one's time, while also getting things done."

That began to change after the last decade's global financial crisis, from which China emerged relatively unscathed, and the country's foreign policy has since shifted into high gear under Xi.

China has succeeded in leveraging its booming economy and mountain of foreign currency holdings to influence other nations and further its global ambitions. A key watershed came this year, when the People's Liberation Army began manning China's first overseas base in Djibouti, reversing decades of rhetoric eschewing such facilities as imperialist Cold War holdovers.

The overall goal seems clear: Restore China to its traditional role as East Asia's leading nation and a global economic and cultural force.

Xi said as much in his opening address on Wednesday when he outlined a vision of raising China's international stature. By 2050, Xi said, China would be "a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence."

"Xi presents very bold visions for where China should be headed and what China must become," said Jingdong Yuan, an Asia-Pacific security expert at Australia's University of Sydney.

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