During the 19th Party Congress a roadmap was laid out for the development and progress of China and how its path will interplay with that of the world.
Behind President Xi Jinping’s assertiveness and the kind of confidence he exuded in his marathon speech lies China’s impressive economic performance. The widely speculated hard landing of the Chinese economy didn’t hold as China’s GDP catapulted to $12 trillion from around $8.5 trillion in 2012. High-speed rail tracks were expanded from 9,300 km in 2012 to over 22,000 km at present. The total number of Chinese students studying abroad increased from 40,000 in 2012 to 545,000 in 2016. In addition, 443,000 foreign students have found their way to China from 205 countries. More important, when China herself is undergoing economic readjustments and striking a balance between manufacturing, services and agriculture, the ‘four new inventions,’ namely, Hi-Speed Rail, Alipay, bike sharing and online shopping, have unleashed the forces of domestic consumption on the one hand and revolutionised the socio-economic landscape of China on the other.
It remains to be seen if poverty is completely eradicated by 2020, and also if China would be able to build a moderately prosperous society by the first centenary in 2021 which would be laying a solid base for the next two stages
China’s blueprint for future
Xi divides China’s development from 2020 to 2050 into two stages of 15 years each, aimed at realising the goal of socialist modernisation and developing China into a great modern socialist country, I believe it is the urgency and commitment Xi has shown towards the Chinese Dream. The ‘Two Step’ formula advocated by Xi reveals that the third step advocated in the 1987 plan was a bit obscure and too long. Therefore, striding the distance in two defined targets with their plausible outcomes is more sensible as it will provide time for readjustment, restructuring, and doing away with the anomalies in the developmental path. The way to achieve the ‘Two Step’ formula advocated by Xi would certainly be different against the backdrop of the ‘New Normal’ in the Chinese economy and the western retrenchment and protectionism. China would attempt to realise the development through innovation. Xi has mentioned the word innovation 24 times in his speech, he intends to do it by implementing the strategy for invigorating China through science and education, the strategy on developing a quality workforce, the innovation-driven development strategy, the rural vitalisation strategy, the coordinated regional development strategy, the sustainable development strategy, and the military-civilian integration strategy. It remains to be seen if poverty is completely eradicated by 2020, and also if China would be able to build a moderately prosperous society by the first centenary in 2021 which would be laying a solid base for the next two stages. Obviously the target of achieving modernisation by 2035, contrary to previously defined targets, seems realistic given the huge economic strides China has made in recent years. Moreover, in May 2016 the CPC Central Committee and the State Council jointly published a document pledging to build China into an innovative nation by 2020, and an international leader in innovation by 2030. The blueprint vows to make China a world powerhouse of scientific and technological innovation by 2050, the third step of the strategy.
Xi’s Thoughts on Chinese New Era
Xi makes it clear that the development path of China will remain socialism with Chinese characteristics and must not be abandoned. This again he attributes to historical explorations and choices made by the Chinese people. Adhering to the Chinese notion of continuity, Xi sees the development of socialism as a continuous phenomenon that has been advanced by all his predecessors irrespective of differences in guiding principles, thinking and policies during the revolution, development and reforms and other phases. Therefore, it will remain the path, theory, and system for a long time to come. The path which is economic development remains the main priority guided by the theory developed by his generation of the Chinese leadership, and guaranteed by such a political and economic system that is rule-based. The system has been successful in guaranteeing unity, diversity, social cohesion and peaceful development; therefore, rather than abandoning the system, it would be further improved, and perfected albeit requiring discipline from the party and government officials. The search for a rule-based system and society continues.
The ‘Thought’ makes clear that the “principal contradiction facing Chinese society in the new era is that between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” I believe ‘people oriented thought’ remains at the core of Xi’s governance, essentially the reinforcement of Chinese ancient philosophical thought. The Chinese dream, the goal of ‘two centenaries’, his tirade against the ‘tigers and flies’, reinforcing the ‘mass line’ as a fundamental of the Party, providing the best public services and goods in the form of state-of-the-art infrastructure, including the high-speed railway, the length of which was more than doubled during his first term, as well as promoting close people-to-people relations as far as China’s relations with foreign countries are concerned should be viewed in this context.
China’s neighbourhood policy
Since the blueprint for the future could be realised in a peaceful surrounding only, China will continue to pursue the policy of good neighbourliness, albeit there are some visible shifts. For example, even though China does not talk about the ‘bide your time and hide your capabilities’ dictum of Deng Xiaoping’s era, however Deng’s notion of maintaining a ‘favourable environment’ was changed to the policy of “good neighbourliness” under Jiang Zemin, and to ‘harmonious peripheral diplomacy’ during Hu Jintao’s time. Xi further intends to deepen relations with China’s neighbours in accordance with the ‘principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness and the policy of forging friendship and partnership.’ I see continuity in the shift. The US remains a factor throughout these stages; however, as China grows stronger economically it has been able to build win-win economic relations with its neighbours from the strengths of its capital, technologies and long development experience. With the initiation of the Belt and Road Initiative, which most of the developing countries have regarded as an opportunity to enhance their own capacities, they have refused to be part of US containment strategy. Furthermore, China by way of its assertiveness in the South China Sea has made the US scamper for allies and a leadership role. In the face of the US’s shrinking strategic space in the region and its withdrawal from various institutions of global governance, Japan’s sluggish economic recovery and strategic incompetence, and India’s domestic preoccupation and weak economics, China has successfully assured the neighbours of win-win cooperation.
It is perhaps in this context that Xi has said that China’s relationship with the developing countries would be ‘guided by the principle of upholding justice while pursuing shared interests and the principles of sincerity, honesty, affinity, and good faith, work to strengthen solidarity and cooperation.’ As regards poor nations in Asia and Africa, we will see a spurt of development aid from China to these countries. As regards India, even though the relationship has matured over a period of time, however, irritants such as the border issue, terrorism, NSG and so on have restricted a firmer handshake between the two. Nonetheless, it is expected that under Xi China will focus on stability in the neighbourhood, as the primary objective would be to realise the dream of China’s rejuvenation.
Any conflict between the two [US and China] would be detrimental to stability in the region, and this is precisely why the US has not been able to woo much support from the ASEAN and other countries in the region
Major power relationship
Even though analysts see many flash points between the US and China in the region, I remain optimistic about the future course of US-China ties. First of all, countries in the region would like to see a stable US-China relationship. Any conflict between the two would be detrimental to stability in the region, and this is precisely why the US has not been able to woo much support from the ASEAN and other countries in the region. Secondly, China will remain part of the solution as far as the Korean peninsula nuclear crisis is concerned. Thirdly and more importantly, being the world’s two largest economies, I believe the US and China have reached a consensus on how to move this relationship further, and the consensus is the ‘new type of major power relationship’ built on mutual respect, win-win cooperation, and avoidance of conflicts. The ‘new type of major power relationship’ has found greater currency in US political and strategic circles of late, which will not only avoid conflict but also the so-called Thucydides Trap. In fact, the consensus reached between President Trump and President Xi has been strengthened over time through frequent communication over phone, and it is believed that both have developed a good chemistry and rapport. Finally, I believe both accept that there are challenges; however, they also acknowledge that there are immense opportunities for partnership too.
The Belt and Road Initiative
Xi’s pet project has found its place in the party constitution along with his thought for the new era. China perceives the BRI as a global and civilisational rebalancing against the backdrop of sluggish global economic recovery, disequilibrium in global economic systems, retrenchment and protectionism in the West, as well as the US pulling out of various institutions of global governance, and other factors. China building the $51 billion Silk Road Fund, taking a lead in the foundation of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, New Development Bank, SCO and so on reinforces the fact that China will not shy away from shouldering greater global responsibilities in the face of Western retrenchment. The BRI brings within its fold various developing countries that in win-win cooperation would be able to claim the ancient routes of communication, and bring in regional prosperity through connectivity and integration of the markets. Nevertheless, China needs to have an objective assessment of the ancient Silk Road spirit; while largely it encompasses the elements of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and benefits generations as expounded by Xi, however, there were unhappy episodes of regime change and coercion as well. During his second term, China will more aggressively push the strategy, but will be cautious about various political, economic, environmental, and moral risks associated with the project.
Building a disciplined party
As China registered an impressive growth rate during the last three decades, corruption from the lowest levels to the highest echelons of the CPC threatened to damage the image and legitimacy of the party. The anti-corruption campaign under Xi has been unprecedented as he vowed to fight the ‘tigers and flies’ without impunity. In the face of building a moderately prosperous China by 2021 and realising the dream of China’s rejuvenation, especially the ‘four comprehensives’, namely, ‘comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, advancing the rule of law, and strictly governing the Communist Party of China’ advocated by Xi, it was predicted that Xi would have zero tolerance towards corrupt practices in the party and society. Undoubtedly, Xi realises the hazards of corruption. In the report to the 19th Congress, he has exclusively dealt with the question and shown the determination to weed out this menace. “We have taken firm action to ‘take out tigers’, ‘swat flies’, and ‘hunt down foxes’. The goal of creating a deterrent against corruption has been initially attained; the cage of institutions that prevents corruption has been strengthened; and moral defences against corruption are in the making.” In order to have close ties with the people, the party must have clean, honest and pro-people conduct, which perhaps Xi understands is not possible without the rigorous governance of the party.
I believe maintaining the growth momentum, and pushing for a consumption and services oriented transition will be top priorities and materialised through deepening of reforms and further opening up. China will continue to adhere to the principle of good neighbourliness in its periphery, avoidance of conflicts with the major powers, which is essential to deepen the reforms and build the community of common destiny through the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.
The author is an academecian and the managing editor of Think India