Edelman Trust Barometer: China tops the world

These curious reports keep appearing. I have already mentioned the Ipsos survey from last year, which found last year that 87% of people in China are confident in the direction the country is heading. Now we have the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds the following for China:

Trust among the ‘informed public’:

In government: 89%

In business: 85%

In media: 80%

In NGOs: 76%

Average: 83%

Trust among the general population:

In government: 84%

In business: 74%

In media: 71%

In NGOS: 66%

Average: 74%

Overall, this is up by 27% in one year, the highest in the world:

Edelman 02.png

Or in a slightly different graph:

Edelman 01

Yes, the USA is by far the worst (Australia dropped 10 percent), while China is followed by UAE and South Korea. Or to put this in another perspective (since South Koreans were at rock bottom):

China and US Poles

In this light, you can understand the significant changes to the Chinese constitution proposed by the Central Committee, just before the two sessions of parliament open (next post).

Even the World Bank is starting to take notice: China’s ‘unprecedented poverty reduction’ and the role of the CPC

A detailed report from the World Bank, called Towards a More Inclusive and Sustainable Development has been raising interest in some quarters. Among many features of the report, it notes that China’s policies have enabled the “extreme poverty rate, based on the international purchasing power parity (PPP) US$1.90 per day poverty line, to fall from 88.3 percent in 1981 to 1.9 percent in 2013. This implies that China’s success enabled more than 850 million people to escape poverty.” Over the last four decades, 7 out of 10 people who moved out of poverty were Chinese. The report does not hesitate to point out that this is “unprecedented in scope and scale.” This figure is up from the 600-700 million mentioned earlier, which has already been called one of the greatest human rights achievements in world history. The aim in China – in line with the target of a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020 – is to enable the remaining 25 million to escape poverty.

Add to this the systematic growth of welfare and social protection, with the result that the Gini coefficient has been falling since 2008:

China has made remarkable progress in putting in place the core elements of a social protection system. Since the 1990s, China has introduced an array of social protection programs at a speed that is unprecedented internationally. Among other reforms, these include pension and health insurance programs for urban and rural populations; unemployment, sickness, workplace injury, and maternity insurance for urban formal sector workers; and the dibao program, a means-tested national social assistance scheme that now covers around 60 million people. This is a feat that took decades to achieve in OECD countries, and one that many middle-income countries have not realized.

A key component here is the CPC, or in World Bank speak, “China’s unique governance system”:

China has built well-functioning institutions, in unique and context-tailored forms, through a long process of institutional evolution. China’s cadre management system is a good example. Drawing on a long legacy of high state capacity, China has refined its cadre management system to shape the core of a high-performing bureaucracy by integrating features of party loyalty with professionalization of the civil service in a unique way. This has been critical to unlocking growth, promoting results through competition among local governments and anticorruption policies designed to prevent abuse of office. The cadre management system has built strong upward accountability and has provided incentives through promotion and rewards to bureaucrats and local officials in return for their attainment of growth and job creation targets. This system differs significantly from the typical Western governance model and has allowed China to find a unique way of “discovering” growth-enhancing policies through local experiments.

Much more in the report, but it errs in calling this a “market-based system,” assuming that it is a capitalist market economy. Of course, it is not, for China has developed a socialist market economy, which the report actually outlines in some detail. The report also outlines the challenges ahead, of which the government is acutely aware.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the EU now recognises that China is a socialist market economy, although the EU errs in understanding this system in terms of government “intervention” in the market.

The Vatican moves slowly, but it does move: the China-Vatican deal

Christians have been in China, on and off, since at least the seventh century CE. At that time, the Church of the East – the largest Christian church in those days – made contact and established churches during the T’ang Dynasty (based in Chang’an or modern Xi’an). The Church of the East had a distinct Christology, which is often dubbed ‘Nestorian’ (Jingjiao) but should be called dyophyticism, stressing the divine and human natures of Christ. It lasted in China until the 10th century, only to return in the 13th and 14th centuries during the Yuan dynasty.

By the time the Roman Catholics (Tianzhu jiao) appeared in China in the 13th century, Christianity had already been in these parts for some six centuries. The Roman Catholic story is a long and rocky one, with Matteo Ricci (Li Madou) in the early 17th century, periods of support and restriction, and then finding itself eclipsed by Protestant missions in the 19th century and  the establishment of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church in the 1950s.

However, the Roman Catholics found themselves in an old bind after the liberation of China in 1949. On the one hand, the government recognises the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is under the direction of the government’s department of religious affairs. The Vatican has never recognised this organisation, but it has also never condemned it as schismatic. On the other hand, there is the unofficial Roman Catholic Church in China, which is recognised by the Vatican but not the government. At heart is the old problem of who appoints bishops: the state or the Vatican.

For some 60 years this problem has seemed intractable – until China’s new ordinance on religious affairs (2017) took effect. To be added is Pope Francis’s desire to unite Roman Catholics in China under one organisation. So we find serious efforts to come to an agreement, much like the deal in Vietnam. Needless to say, arguments have gone back and forth among Roman Catholics, with some condemning the new deal and others advocating it.

Most recently, the Global Times has carried a piece by a Roman Catholic theologian – Massimo Faggioli – advocating the move on historical and theological grounds. To quote:

The negotiations between the Vatican and the government of the People’s Republic of China represent the most important diplomatic effort by the Holy See in decades, and it is no surprise they are encountering significant opposition in the Western hemisphere.

There are two dimensions that we need to take into account to understand these negotiations. The first dimension is historical-theological. There is a long history of relations between the papacy and political authorities that goes back at least to the early fourth century, under the Roman Empire of Constantine and later of emperor Theodosius, when the Church acquired public relevance. It was the beginning of a long history of bilateral relations between the Church as a community of believers and the political community. It is a history that always had at the center the care of the bishop of Rome (the pope) for his brother bishops and the local Churches, the good relations between the Church hierarchy and the political authorities, and especially the appointment of bishops.

These issues were crucial in the “investiture controversy” of the 11th-12th century, in the tensions with emerging nation states in Europe in the early modern period, and in the struggle with nationalisms in the 19th and 20th centuries. The issue of the bishops’ appointments was important also in the relations between the Vatican and Soviet Russia and Eastern European countries under communist rule after World War II.

But the parallels that are often drawn between the current negotiations with China today and the history of the Vatican Ostpolitik during the Cold War are misleading: the proper historical context for a correct understanding of the ongoing efforts is the entire 2,000-year long history of the Church and of the papacy. In this long history, the procedures for the appointment of bishops have always been very complex: they were often, and in many cases still are (in various forms, always subject to change in the long run) a moment of collaboration between the papacy and secular political authorities.

There is also a theological development that adds to this historical context. During the last century, Roman Catholicism has become a more globalized Church: Catholics and the papacy have come to terms with a wider variety of social and political contexts around the world. This means that the Church does not look for the same kind of arrangement for all Catholics in all nations, but strives for improving the relations of Catholics with the political authorities in order to maintain and foster the unity of the Church.

The goal of negotiations with political authorities is not ideological, but pastoral in the sense of helping the local Churches live their faith in a given, concrete reality, without artificial divisions between factions in their midst. Those who believe in this possible breakthrough between the Vatican and China today know that there is already a long history of Christianity in China, with which the global Catholic Church needs to be more directly in touch. This is an integral part of the vision of Pope Francis for a Catholic Church that is truly global, at the service of all humanity and of world peace.

What is typical of the international activity of the Holy See today is a direct appeal to the logic of the Gospel and not to a worldly or political logic. This is true for all the activities of the Holy See in all countries, encouraging Catholics to be fully Catholic, safeguarding communion within the Church, keeping the genuine tradition and ecclesiastical discipline, and at the same time respecting Catholics as authentically rooted in their particular countries and nations. The Vatican believes in a respectful and constructive dialogue with the civil authorities, and in doing this the diplomacy of the Vatican expresses the wishes of the global Catholic community, which cares for the Chinese Catholic community and its unity, and wants the good of the Chinese people.

Much of the resistance against this new relationship between the Vatican and the government of the People’s Republic of China is rooted in a lack of understanding of these two key dimensions – the long-term historical framework of the international activity of the Holy See and the pastoral goal of its diplomatic activity. The big historical picture and the proper goals of the international presence of the Holy See are often missing in the criticism against the Vatican negotiations with China. The use of Catholicism as an ideological surrogate for Western ideologies is not new, but is especially at odds with Pope Francis’ vision of Catholicism, and it makes it impossible to understand this important moment in the relations between the Vatican and China.

Or, more directly, as Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo put it, ‘Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese’.

China best realises the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church: Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo

This one is causing no small brouhaha among reactionary Roman Catholics and others. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, made the following observations in an interview:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

As part of the diplomacy efforts, Bishop Sánchez Sorondo visited the country. “What I found was an extraordinary China,” he said. “What people don’t realise is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo concluded by saying that China is “developing well” and now has “many points of agreement” with the Vatican.

I never thought I would be quoting the Catholic Herald, but there you go. All of this is part of a serious historical deal in the making between the Chinese government and the Vatican over the appointment of bishops. For the last few centuries, there have been two Roman Catholic Churches in China. One is officially recognised by the state – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) – and the other is not. A root cause of their difference is an old problem: who appoints bishops, the state or the Vatican? The officially recognised church has bishops who are recognised by the state, while the unofficial church does not. This has been the status quo for the odd century or three.

Now a breakthrough is in the works. Pope Francis has actively encouraged a deal in which future bishops would be appointed by a process that includes input from the government and the Vatican. Things move slowly in the Roman Catholic Church, since this little conflict goes way back to the efforts by Matteo Ricci and then the ‘Rites Controversy’ of the 17th and 18th centuries. But now it may well be resolved and the two branches of the Roman Catholic Church in China may become one – following the model already in place in Vietnam.

Needless to say, Chinese commentary has seen this as a positive development (here, here and here).

The amazing architecture of the DPRK

One of the top items in our next visit to the DPRK is the architecture. Since the USA destroyed nearly all the standing buildings (along with 20 percent of the population) in the Korean War, the country had to be rebuilt. The initial phase was heavily inspired by Stalin baroque from the 1950s, with significant assistance from architects from the DDR (East Germany). As Calvin Chua – a Singapore architect who has been engaged in the latest phase – puts it: ‘Then we have the modernist era in the 60s and 70s, which was followed by the revival of vernacular Korean architectural elements, like Korean hipped roofs, built with concrete in the 80s’. The latest phase is part of a boom in construction since 2014, especially since the DPRK’s economy has kicked along with its own version of the ‘reform and opening up’. Crucially, architecture concerns not merely individual buildings but the larger issues of spatial reconstruction. A reasonably informative article can be found here. It has collections of stunning images, of which I can give only a sample. They come from different periods, mostly from Pyongyang but also Hamhung in the north.

Finally, the new international airport in Pyongyang: