The Makings of a Giant
China is a great nation that has played an important role in civilization’s advancement. It also has suffered periods of poverty and foreign aggression: After the Opium War of the 1840s, it fell into an era of decline. Japanese attacks from 1937 to 1945 claimed 35 million lives, an incredible era of suffering during the Second World War that is largely erased from the consciousness of the world.
For more than a century, China’s underdeveloped economy left it at the mercy of its foes, but since turning that situation around, the nation’s growing might has forged a country now at the peak of its power. In a 2012 speech during a visit to an exhibit titled “The Road to Rejuvenation,” Chinese president Xi Jinping said, “All Party members must bear in mind that backwardness left us vulnerable to attack, whereas only development makes us strong.”
In a collection of speeches and writings titled ‘The Governance of China’, Chinese President Xi Jinping, perhaps the most important and influential Asian leader to have emerged for decades, describes Chinese socialism (or ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’) as highly efficient, but also as a work in progress – something for Chinese leaders to continue to study and tweak as they learn from experience. China’s path to prosperity passes through its working class, and its people must constantly push themselves to ever-higher achievement and “guard against indolence,” Xi says. At the same time, the country’s leaders leaders must protect and cherish the working class, and nurture and honor talent. Xi terms China’s trade unions as “an important social pillar,” that should embrace innovation. He is effusive in his praise for the “model workers” – those dedicated, self-sacrificing souls who eschew money and notoriety, behave boldly, and think creatively. Through their toil and discipline, these exemplars turn mundane work into the extraordinary.
Xi’s style of writing may seem formal and diplomatic, but the English version under review is a work of translation carried out for a head of state mind you, so a bit of ‘fudge’ to play safe may be indigenous to its nature. Many of his speeches and interviews address pressing topics – such as the “inefficient management” of the Internet – in broad terms, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions from the language of statecraft. Yet readers will discover some genuine gems of insight in this this repository of ‘Xi Jinping thought’, that has recently been worked into the Chinese constitution, putting Xi on a par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
The book works to provide invauable insight not only into how Xi views the evolution of Chinese socialism, but also more micro-level concerns such as rural development and judicial reform. It also distils his vision of China as a powerful but peaceful nation.
Xi outlined his vision of the “Chinese Dream” in a 2013 speech to the Western Returned Scholars Association, a group for Chinese students who attended universities abroad. In this speech, Xi urged Chinese scholars to adhere to four principles:
1. Patriotism – Love of country is a basic value for all Chinese citizens, according to Xi. Students should maintain deep ties to their homeland and remember that their work uplifts an entire nation.
2. Hard work – “In the world today, knowledge and information are quickly updated, and if one slackens even a little in study, one is likely to fall behind,” Xi writes at one point.
3. “Innovation and creation” – Chinese scholars who study abroad must bring home their vision and knowledge to create new advances in science and commerce. Only through innovation will China raise the quality of its economic development.
4. Cultural openness – Students who study overseas act as emissaries for China as it continues to establish ties with the rest of the world.
Reform is an ongoing process that Chinese leaders must work on year after year, decade after decade. In 1992, China embarked on a dramatic path of economic reform that created “a socialist market economy,” a system that combined broad state control with market-based allocations of resources. This crucial change set China on a path to renewal and years of robust growth that thrust the nation to the front of the world stage.
In a 2014 speech, Xi described Chinese socialism as willing to incorporate some tenets of capitalism. He spoke of using both the invisible hand of markets and the “visible hand” of state control to manage a balanced economy. Reformers’ work is far from done, Xi stressed. He described China’s system of market socialism as not simply a Marxist dogma but as a work in progress. After two decades of reform, “many problems” remain.
China draws strength from its people. Its socialist system focuses on their welfare. The Chinese populace aspires to “pursue lofty virtues.” Yet for all China’s economic advances over the past two decades, its “social and economic development level and its people’s living standards are not high,” Xi said in a 2014 interview on Russian television, of which the transcript is reproduced in ‘The Governance of China’. One of his top priorities is raising incomes, especially for poor people. One strategy calls for subsidizing college educations for impoverished students. Xi stressed the importance of “prosperity through hard work.” Government support is crucial, but so is individual effort.
One of Xi’s brightest moments on the international stage was after US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that was reached between 193 countries in 2015. In contrast, China’s dogged support for the agreement under Xi marked out his arrival as a world leader. In the governance of China, we gain a greater sense of his views on the environment.
It is Xi’s belief that China should embrace the concept of a sustainable “low-carbon economy” and commit to conserving resources, recycling more, and using less water and energy. In the past, the nation prioritized growth, but that must change, he says. China must balance the environment and the economy, something he terms “a matter of common sense”. Even as China has become the world’s second-largest economy (and soon to be its largest, a fact that surprisingly finds no mention in these pages), Xi concedes the globe cannot feasibly support the hundreds of millions of newly affluent people created by China’s growth. “Our efforts for ecological conservation and environmental protection will benefit future generations,” he says at one point.
China Embraces the World
As China’s economy grows, it deepens its connections with the rest of the world. Some 16 million Chinese people traveled to neighboring countries in Asia in 2012. Chinese imports approach $10 trillion. As an active participant in the world economy, China strives to be more open and fair and to reject protectionism. China made good on its promise to the World Trade Organization to improve its business climate.
Xi stresses China’s love of peace. During his travels around the world, he described China as a peaceful, not belligerent, giant. He stressed China’s friendly relations with the United States and Russia. China will not be an aggressive nation. Colonialism and aggression “inevitably lead to a dead end,” Xi said. However, he opposes independent status for Taiwan. China and Taiwan share strong cultural ties, and the citizens on both sides of the Taiwan Straits are “one close family.”
On one of the most persistent issues in world affairs, we find in this volume that Xi expresses support for a Palestinian state, an independent nation with its 1967 borders and with a capital in East Jerusalem.
He also talks about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), that offers a framework for China to collaborate with Central Asia. The SCO also gives China a platform to improve roads and to look toward a possible future transportation route to connect Central Asia and China – creating a modern-day Silk Road reuniting old trading partners. One realizes these deliberations on Xi’s behalf were possibly the beginnings of what has now come to be known as the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s ambitious initiative to revive the old Silk Road and extend it even, this time to the edge of Western Europe. It stands as the most ambitious vision that has been set forth for the world by any world leader since the Marshall Plan. Ultimately, it may seal Xi’s legend in world history, and China’s place at the pinnacle.
Enayetullah Khan, Editor-in-Chief United News of Bangladesh (UNB) and Dhaka Courier