China leads the world in re-afforestation

On one or two occasions, I have written about the greening of Beijing, as well as ‘ecological civilisation‘ as one of the core features of the drive to a xiaokang (moderately well-off) society by 2021. But these are not merely recent developments. Many environmental projects require a long-term approach, stable planning and determined governance – precisely what a communist party in power is able to provide.

Here is another fact that is not so well known internationally: China leads the world in re-afforestation. This has been an ongoing project for several decades, as the following graphic from the People’s Daily shows:

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China’s Peaceful Rejuvenation

This China Daily article by Zhang Weiwei, dean of the China Institute at Fudan University, makes at least one good point: China’s economic development was not undertaken through plundering or colonising another country, or through exporting problems. I would add that it also did not require massive international debts to do so. In this respect at least, China’s socialist construction is analogous to the Soviet Union, which also had to find an endogenous path. The contrast with the Soviet Union, whose ‘socialist offensive’ of the 1930s effectively turned it into an economic powerhouse, is that it was often deeply disruptive and occasionally violent. China’s longer path – over the 40 years of Reform and Opening Up – has been overwhelmingly peaceful and stable.

China’s development is in sharp contrast to that of Western powers which has been based on wars of aggression and the plundered resources

The sharp contrast between China and Western countries in their rise shows that what China has achieved in the past 70 years really did not come easy. China’s per capita resources are so limited that the cost of its industrialization has been very high.

What’s more, China has had to properly handle relations with both Western powers and developing countries on the one hand, and address various domestic social contradictions and destabilizing factors on the other.

It is China’s unremitting goal to seek development and harmony within the country and to pursue cooperation and peace with the international community. This has already become the will of the country and has been translated into national development plans and guidelines and implemented in practice.

Guided by the goal of peaceful development, China’s various measures of reform and opening-up have promoted its development and progress across the board. The Communist Party of China’s observation of the ever fiercer competition and numerous challenges in the world, as well as its sober assessment of the times, are reflected in its governance wisdom and enabled the country to get a clear understanding of the current world, and closely follow the major trends and seize the momentum of the times.

China exports no revolution or ideology, engages in no arms race or value-oriented diplomacy, and does not intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries. China does not identify a circle of friends based on ideology and far transcends the cold-war zero-sum game mentality of countries being either friends or foes. Instead, it is committed to a path of win-win cooperation and a partner network of global reach is taking shape.

China’s participation in the World Trade Organization, the world’s largest multilateral trading system, has enormously enhanced win-win cooperation between China and the world, facilitated the allocation and flow of production factors in the world, helped China become the world’s biggest trader in goods and made it possible for China and other countries to benefit from the dividend of China’s peaceful development through fair trade.

China is both a contributor and a beneficiary of economic globalization. The essence of Western-propelled globalization over these years is the globalization of neoliberalism. It is both economic and political, and includes liberalization, privatization, marketization and democratization. Economic globalization is a major trend of history which China must seize and follow. Of course, it is a double-edged sword, if properly handled globalization will improve the wellbeing of the Chinese people, but if mismanaged it will lead to disaster or even obstruct China’s development. Therefore, China has taken the approach of drawing on its advantages and avoiding any pitfalls that may be created by its opening-up.

China has set a clear definition for globalization: It’s economic, not political. Instead of abandoning socialism, China uses the strengths of socialism with Chinese characteristics to harness the globalization of neoliberalism that is driven by Western countries. This has made China stand out on the international stage and made the Chinese beneficiaries of economic globalization.

A key reason why China can maintain its peaceful development is that it has relied on endogenous development. As a super-sized country, China faces population, environmental and social development pressure. But to resolve these difficulties, China has relied on domestic economic, social and political reforms to constantly emancipate and develop productivity. This forms a sharp contrast to some Western countries which exported their own crises to other countries. In some sense, the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics means finding Chinese solutions to various difficulties in the process of industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization and creating a new set of approaches.

History shows that China’s peaceful development is a journey in which it has to confront and overcome challenges of all kinds. China’s current efforts involve transitioning from exports and investment-driven growth to industrial upgrading and innovation and consumption-driven growth. This road of endogenous development is wider and brighter, China is likely to become the world’s largest consumer market. Endogenous growth and development can help us maintain patience and resolve, handle international trade frictions in a reasonable manner and push forward the Belt and Road Initiative and new-type of globalization.

The Chinese love and cherish peace, and there is a profound historical and cultural tradition in this nation for peaceful development. For the best part of the past 2,000 years, China was the world’s largest economy with a far more sophisticated economy than Western countries at the same time. The fleet of Zheng He’s overseas expeditions in China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was 100 times larger than that with which Christopher Columbus “discovered” the American continent. But what China engaged in was only international exchanges and trade. There was neither expansion nor colonization. China has held the wisdom from ancient times that a warlike country, not matter how strong as it is, contains the seeds of its own destruction.

President Xi Jinping has stressed that the 5,000-year-old Chinese civilization has always upheld peace; and that the pursuit of peace and harmony is deeply rooted in the spiritual world of this nation and runs in the blood of its people. The Chinese nation has always advocated precious harmony, peace for the whole world and good neighborly and friendly relations. The history of Western invasions and national humiliation have given the country an acute and deep understanding of the value of peace. Therefore, the People’s Republic of China, from day one, has made solemn pledges that China will never seek hegemony even when one day it is strong. The success of China’s peaceful development is also rooted in the traditional wisdom of its civilization which valued harmony and stability. The success embodies the combination of our cultural genes and modern spirit. Our cultural legacy has been brought into life by reform and opening-up, and has become a major source of wisdom for China.

The resilience of a socialist market economy

In the article copied below are some useful insights into the current ‘trade war’ that the USA has launched against China (among many other countries). I am not sure the article – by John Ross – fully understands the socialist market economy of China, but the reality is that this economy is far more integrated, resilient and advanced than the chaotic and hollowed-out capitalist market economy of the USA – which Ross does analyse quite well. One thing is increasingly clear: the US advisors who are calling the shots are both annoyed and alarmed that they are hurting and now slipping behind.

Global Times, 13 May 2019:

Current US administration actions on trade make it important to carry out a calm objective comparison of the economic situation of China and the US. This is particularly necessary because the US administration engages in inaccurate boasting while China tends to present its economic situation in a calm, even modest, way. But, in very serious matters, there is no virtue in exaggeration — there is only virtue in realism.

Factual comparison of the economic situations of China and the US reveals the following: growth under the Trump administration is extremely slow by US historical standards, while China’s economy is growing twice as fast as the US and has greater resilience than the US, and China’s methods of macroeconomic control are much stronger than those of the US. These relative situations are confirmed by both the latest economic data and long-term economic trends.

To accurately analyze US economic dynamics it is necessary to remove false claims made by the US administration. President Trump has repeatedly claimed that “America’s economy is booming like never before,” but when this claim was made to delegates at the UN General Assembly, the Washington Post noted that “people actually laughed.” Such skepticism was justified. Facts show that under President Trump, the US is currently experiencing the slowest economic growth of any presidency since World War II.

Using the method by which the US presents data, peak growth under Trump of 4.2 percent in the second quarter of 2018 was significantly lower than the 5.1 percent under Obama, 7.0 percent under George W Bush, or 7.5 percent under Clinton. These peaks were in turn lower than under former US presidents since World War II. Peak growth under Nixon was 11.3 percent.

To make an accurate comparison to China, it should be understood that the way the US presents economic data differs from China and most countries. China states its economic growth as the increase from one quarter compared to the same quarter in the previous year – that is real year-on-year growth. The US presents economic growth as one quarter’s growth compared to the previous quarter presented at an annualized rate – approximately multiplied by four. This greatly exaggerates short-term US growth. The real highest year-on-year growth achieved under President Trump, making an accurate comparison with China, is only 3.2 percent.

China’s economic growth of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2019 was therefore twice the peak growth under Trump. But this still understates China’s growth lead over the US. US growth is more cyclical than China’s and falls to lower levels – during the last five years US growth fell to 1.3 percent during 2016. In that five-year period US average growth was 2.6 percent, whereas China’s was 6.8 percent — two and a half times as fast as the US. China’s lowest growth was 6.4 percent – almost five times as fast as the lowest US growth.

This determines the economic problem currently facing the US administration. US growth in the last quarter of 3.2 percent was a peak in the current business cycle – unsustainably above average growth. Therefore, US growth is likely to decline during 2019. The IMF projects US growth to fall as low as 2.3 percent for the year compared to China’s projected 6.3 percent. More worryingly for President Trump, as 2020 is a presidential election year, the IMF projects US growth to fall to only 1.9 percent in that year, while China’s growth is projected as above 6 percent.

This forecast of a US economic slowdown explains both current domestic economic demands by the US President and the administration’s position in trade talks. China does not undergo significant cyclical slowdowns because it has a socialist economy.  Tom Orlik, author of a serious Western study of China’s economy, Understanding China’s Economic Indicators, summarized why China had a more resilient economy: “Most economies can pull two levers to bolster growth: fiscal and monetary. China has a third option. The National Development and Reform Commission can accelerate the flow of investment projects.”

The dilemma the US faces amid threats of an economic slowdown, is that it rejects state intervention in the economy and is already running a very large budget deficit. Therefore, the only weapon available to attempt to limit an economic slowdown, which would affect the 2020 presidential election, is to reduce interest rates. Consequently, President Trump has recently launched public attacks on the US Federal Reserve, demanding that it reduce interest rates.

This threat of a US economic slowdown simultaneously explains the aggressive approach taken by the US in trade talks and the sharp falls on the US share market in reaction to this. Foreseeing that China’s economy will continue to grow far faster than that of the US, and that the US will slow, US neo-cons are desperate to attempt to slow China’s economy through tariffs. However, US stock market thinks that the combination of a slowing economy and tariffs would be toxic.

 

China is a great country, with a great culture, rich in history and wisdom: Pope Francis

I realise this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have an abiding interest in these fascinating developments. Perhaps the most significant observation is as follows: ‘He [Pope Francis] sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom. Today China has come to arouse great attention and interest everywhere, especially among young people. The Holy See hopes that China will not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the wider world and that the world’s nations will give credit to the profound aspirations of the Chinese people’.

Not only does this indicate an official Vatican position, but it also reveals how hollow the ‘China threat’ narrative really is, peddled by a handful of former colonisers (12-15 at most) who know their influence is well and truly on the way out.

It comes from an interview with Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. It was published today in the Global Times, but it also has clear connections with earlier statements (here, here and here). The text is as follows:

Editor’s Note: As a sign of positive developments in China-Vatican relations, the recent Easter celebrations were peaceful in China and the presence of the Vatican representation at the Horticultural International Exhibition in Beijing attracted positive attention. Cardinal Pietro Parolin(Parolin), Vatican Secretary of State, granted an exclusive interview to the Global Times (GT) special correspondent Francesco Sisci and staff reporter Zhang Yu. He talked about the latest progress of the provisional agreement between China and the Holy See, his memories of negotiating with Chinese representatives, and his take on China’s sinicization of religions in recent years.

GT: The agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China has been signed. The dialogue is still ongoing. How is it proceeding now? How often do the two sides meet? Can you give us some details about it?

Parolin: Yes, on September 22, 2018 we signed a provisional agreement on the nomination of bishops in China. The two sides are well aware that such an act constitutes the point of arrival of a long journey, but it is above all a starting point. There is confidence that a new phase of greater cooperation can now be opened for the good of the Chinese Catholic community and the harmony of the whole society. The channels of communication are working well. There are elements which demonstrate an increased trust between the two sides. We are inaugurating a method which appears positive and which will still have to be developed over time, but which, for now, gives us hope that we can gradually arrive at concrete results. We have to journey together, because only in this way will we be able to heal the wounds and misunderstandings of the past in order to show the world that even starting from positions that are far apart, we can reach fruitful agreements. I would like to highlight an aspect which is particularly close to the heart of Pope Francis: That is, the true nature of dialogue. In dialogue, neither of the two sides gives up its own identity or what is essential for carrying out its own task. China and the Holy See are not discussing theories about their respective systems nor do they want to reopen questions which by now belong to history. Instead we are looking for practical solutions which concern the lives of real people who desire to practice their faith peacefully and offer a positive contribution to their own country.

GT: There is some opposition to the Vatican’s dialogue with the Chinese government. What is your take on the opposition and what would you say to the opponents within the Church?

Parolin: As generally happens in complex issues and when one faces problems of great importance, also in Sino-Vatican relations, it is usual to compare different positions and likewise propose different solutions, according to the initial points of view and the prevailing concerns. Therefore, there should not be a surprise if there is criticism, which can arise either in the church or in China or from elsewhere, of an opening which can appear unprecedented after such a long period of confrontation. Indeed, it seems to me human and Christian to show understanding, attention and respect for those who express such criticism. Of course, not all problems have been resolved. Many questions still need to be addressed and we are facing them with willingness and determination. I am well aware that no one has it completely worked out (or, indeed, can provide a magic formula!), but I can also say that we are committed to finding enduring solutions, which are acceptable to, and respectful of all concerned. Obviously, criticisms which come from prejudiced positions and which seem to seek to preserve old geopolitical balances are another matter. For Pope Francis – who is well aware of all that has happened even in the recent past – the main interest in the ongoing dialogue is on the pastoral level: he is making a great act of trust and respect for the Chinese people and their culture of millennia, with the well-founded hope of receiving an equally sincere and positive response.  The truly important point is that the dialogue should be able to progressively build a wider consensus by bearing abundant fruits. A first and two-fold fruit, to observe carefully, is what has already taken place: on the one hand, we are beginning to overcome reciprocal condemnations, we know each other better, we listen to each other, we understand the needs of those involved in the dialogue in a better way. On the other hand, the prospect opens up that two ancient, great and sophisticated international entities – like China and the Apostolic See – may become ever more aware of a common responsibility for the grave problems of our time. Global responses have to correspond to global challenges. Catholicism by its nature is a global reality, able to promote in an original way the search for meaning and happiness, to bolster the value of belonging to a specific culture and at the same time experience universal fraternity. As a Chinese bishop recently pointed out, the Catholic communities in China today are asking to be fully integrated into universal communion, bringing to the Church the gift of being Chinese.

GT: Inculturation has always been important for the Catholic Church when it preaches the Gospel. Now China is carrying out “sinicization” of religions. What is your take on inculturation and “sinicization”?

Parolin: Inculturation is an essential condition for a sound proclamation of the Gospel which, in order to bear fruit, requires, on the one hand, safeguarding its authentic purity and integrity and, on the other, presenting it according to the particular experience of each people and culture. The fruitful experience of Matteo Ricci is an outstanding witness of this: he knew how to make himself authentically Chinese in order to promote the values of human friendship and Christian love. For the future, it will certainly be important to deepen this theme, especially the relationship between “inculturation” and “sinicization,” keeping in mind how the Chinese leadership has been able to reiterate their willingness not to undermine the nature and the doctrine of each religion. These two terms, “inculturation” and “sinicization,” refer to each other without confusion and without opposition: in some ways, they can be complementary and can open avenues for dialogue on the religious and cultural level. Finally, I would say that the principal actors in this commitment are Chinese Catholics, called to live reconciliation in order to be authentically Chinese and fully Catholic.

GT: The Vatican (Holy See) has played a positive role in helping China get recognition for its efforts to crack down on organ trafficking. Are there other areas in which the two sides can work together?

Parolin: As I pointed out before, today many global challenges exist which need to be faced with a spirit of positive cooperation. I am thinking in particular of the great issues of peace, the fight against poverty, environmental and climatic emergencies, migration, the ethics of scientific development and the economic and social progress of peoples. It is of primary importance for the Holy See that in all these areas the dignity of the human person be placed at the center, beginning with the real recognition of his or her fundamental rights, among which is the right to religious freedom, and the common good, which is the good of each and everyone. These are very broad horizons which today more than ever need a shared commitment on the part of everyone: believers and non-believers. The Holy See will continue to do its part within the international community and is open to every initiative which promotes the common good.

GT: It is a complicated time for the whole world and in particular for some countries. What could you say to political leaders personally, as a religious man?

Parolin: Today, more than in the past, political leaders are called to enormous responsibilities. What happens on the local level almost immediately has repercussions on the global level. We are all interconnected, so the words and decisions of a few persons influence the lives and way of thinking of many. As a man of faith and as a priest, I would like to invite those who have direct political responsibilities to keep in mind this power of influence over people, a power which can be vertiginous. I would like to say that even in the most difficult situations and faced with the most complex decisions they should not be afraid to lift their gaze, beyond immediate success, to seek lasting and far-reaching solutions without preconditions which can contribute to building a more humane, more just and more worthy future for everyone. In this regard, I would like to highlight the message of Pope Francis for the celebration of the 52nd World Day of Peace on  January 1, 2019, entitled: “Good politics at the service of peace,” which offers valuable indications to all those who have political responsibilities.

GT: You have dealt with Chinese representatives for many years. What is the most powerful memory of that time? And the most beautiful one?

Parolin: I have clear and fond memories of the time when, as Undersecretary for Relations with States, I had dealings with the Chinese representatives and I thank the Lord for allowing me to have that rich experience.  There was, of course, no shortage of concerns and fears. On not a few occasions, it seemed to me that we would never make progress and that everything would be brought to a halt. The will to move forward prevailed on both sides, however, and with patience and determination we sought to overcome the obstacles along the way. This particular detail has remained clearly impressed on my memory. The most poignant times were those when we spent moments of familiarity and friendship together, allowing us to get to know one other and to appreciate each other more and, in the end, to share the humanity that unites us beyond the differences that exist between us. These are situations that have a profound value in themselves, but which were also useful in creating a more favorable atmosphere during the negotiations. I remember, in particular, a whole day spent in Assisi with the Chinese delegation one Sunday in spring: the fascination of the places of Saint Francis and the climate that was created between us opened my heart to a great hope, which kept me going in all the following years and that still encourages me. We have seen the first fruits of it and, with God’s grace, we will see yet more, for the benefit of the entire Chinese Catholic community, which I embrace fraternally – above all those who have suffered most and continue to suffer – and of the entire population of that country, to which I sincerely extend every good wish.

GT: Your Eminence, do you have a particular message for the Chinese people and its leaders?

Parolin: I would like to send to the leaders, but also to all the people of China, the greetings, best wishes and prayers of Pope Francis. The Holy Father asks Catholics in particular to undertake with courage the path of unity, reconciliation and a renewed proclamation of the Gospel. He sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom. Today China has come to arouse great attention and interest everywhere, especially among young people. The Holy See hopes that China will not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the wider world and that the world’s nations will give credit to the profound aspirations of the Chinese people. In this way, with everyone working together, I am sure that we will be able to overcome mistrust and build a more secure and prosperous world. In the words of Pope Francis, we would say that only by being united can we overcome the globalization of indifference, working as creative artisans of peace and resolute promoters of fraternity.

Book outline: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

This book arises from a contradiction in our time: Chinese scholars and indeed most people in China are well aware of the key arguments and developments that form the basis of socialism with Chinese characteristics (zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi); non-Chinese scholars are largely ignorant, even though I find that more and more want to know at least something. In China, many of the topics presented in this book were settled quite a few years ago, so much so that one finds relatively little debate today. Other topics have a renewed vigour – such as contradiction analysis and rule of law – but these rely on earlier debates. By contrast, one struggles to find even remotely adequate treatment of these topics in foreign materials – if they are studied at all. I will examine some of the reasons in the introduction to the book, but three may be identified here: first, some have a tendency to say they prefer to look at the practice and ignore the theory, but this is a profound abdication of not only proper research, but Marxism itself (where theory along with practice is crucial); second, the material that does appear stops with the death of Mao Zedong (some, especially by Knick Knight, is excellent); third, the vast bulk of available scholarship is in Chinese. Obviously, one needs to be able to research this Chinese-language material.

Even so, the primary purpose of this book not to engage in polemics (lunzhan – fighting theories), but to make available for a non-Chinese audience the sophisticated debates and conclusions in China concerning socialism with Chinese characteristics. Without knowing this material, one can come to superficial perceptions and profound misunderstandings; knowing it, one begins the first steps in understanding and thereby trust. The following begins with a careful philosophical analysis of Deng Xiaoping, and the implications of his core ideas and practices. This study is the basis of what the rest of the book: contradiction analysis; the Marxist philosophy of the Reform and Opening Up; the basis and nature of the socialist market economy; socialist modernisation; rule of law; sovereignty and human rights; minority nationalities and the anti-colonial project; and Xi Jinping’s thorough Marxism in a Chinese situation. I should say that I have about a year of further in-depth research before me, so some of the material below will be revised as the project develops.

Introduction

The introduction begins by tracing the idea that while Marxism has core principles, or sets of problems, the way it develops in different locations has distinct characteristics. While there are global commonalities, each region has its distinct history, culture and philosophical tradition. As a result, in each situation the problems are somewhat unique and require new answers – hence the specific ‘characteristics’ of Marxism in such a location. We may trace this idea back to the late writings of Marx and Engels, as they faced developments of socialism in other parts of the world. But it begins to appear more clearly with Lenin and Stalin, and of course with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Obviously, the idea is not original to Deng, although he gave it a particular resonance in China.

The introduction also attempts to explain why there is precious little treatment in non-Chinese material of the Marxist basis of the Reform and Opening Up, with which ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has been most closely associated. In order to understand this situation, I elaborate on the distinction between ‘before’ and ‘after’ October. In other words, a crucial divide in analysis appears between those who take the perspective of ‘before October’, before the communist revolution, and those who analyse Marxism ‘after October’, after the revolution and in the difficult period of the construction of socialism. As Lenin and Mao said repeatedly, gaining power in a communist revolution is relatively easy; by contrast, constructing socialism is infinitely more complicated. Obviously, this study is concerned with ‘after October’, with the project of constructing socialism.

Finally, the introduction presents the main features of Chinese scholarship on socialism with Chinese characteristics. This material is immense, so I introduce the main resources, journals and themes – with a distinct focus on the philosophical foundations as they are manifested in practice.

Chapter 1. Reading Deng Xiaoping

‘Less talk, more deeds’ – Deng Xiaoping is mostly remembered as a leader of concrete acts rather than extensive theoretical reflection. In non-Chinese works, one may find biographies, studies of foreign policy, and scattered quotations taken out of context (albeit usually within a western European liberal framework). Few indeed are the studies of ‘Deng Xiaoping theory [lilun]’. Apart from Domenico Losurdo, no-one outside China has credited Deng with a sophisticated and insightful theoretical basis.

Through a careful study of Deng’s speeches and writings, along with relevant Chinese scholarship, I analyse the philosophical basis in two related ideas: liberating thought, and seeking truth from facts. While the terms seem simple enough on the surface, at a deeper level they identify the need to escape from the trap of Marxist dogmatism (as Mao also urged) and the need for careful analysis of the particular conditions of China in order to develop new answers in light of the Marxist tradition. From these two core ideas flow many of Deng’s positions: liberating the forces of production (see further the chapter on the socialist market economy), seeking a moderately well-off (xiaokang) society, to each according to work, and of course socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Chapter 2. Contradiction Analysis

Deng Xiaoping presented less of a break with Mao or indeed the Marxist tradition and more of a creative continuity within that living tradition. A significant element of this continuity was ‘contradiction analysis [maodun fenxi]’. This topic requires an initial step back to Mao Zedong (‘On Contradiction’) and how he developed a whole new phase in the Marxist tradition of dialectical analysis, via Lenin and Chinese conditions. Crucial for the construction of socialism is the idea of non-antagonistic contradictions: contradictions will appear under socialism, but the focus should be in ensuring they are non-antagonistic. Subsequently, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, we find contradiction analysis at the basis of philosophical thought and government policy. For example, it appears in: class analysis in the primary stage of socialism; socialist market economy; poverty alleviation; education: medicine; workplace realities; core socialist value; and – of course – the crucial need to identify a primary contradiction as the basis of all policy (as Xi Jinping did at the nineteenth congress of the CPC in 2018).

Chapter 3. The Marxist Basis of the Reform and Opening Up

It is perhaps less realised than it should be that the Reform and Opening Up is not a compromise, but a distinctly Marxist project. As Deng Xiaoping pointed out repeatedly, the Reform and Opening Up provides a distinct path to socialism (and not, as some misguided foreigners suggested, to capitalism). To understand this emphasis, we need initially to go back to Lenin and his insight into the relationship between revolution and reform. Instead of seeing these two terms as an either-or, Lenin argued that reform is absolutely necessary, but it should always be undertaken in light of the communist revolution. During the era of constructing socialism, this means that reform must be undertaken by a communist party in power. In a Chinese context, I would like to focus on the following issue (until more have been identified in research): the tension between equality-justice and improving the quality of life for all. In many respects, the Reform and Opening Up may be seen as an effort to keep the two sides of the contradiction in a productive and non-antagonistic relationship. Finally, this chapter offers a brief survey of the leading Marxist philosophers during the forty years of the Reform and Opening Up.

Chapter 4. Socialist Market Economy

With the socialist market economy, we come to a question that was settled in China 25 years ago, but of which foreigners remain noticeably ignorant. After immense debates in the 1980s and early 1990s, the following was seen as the solution. First and following Stalin, the core contradiction of socialism is between the forces and relations of production. How is this manifested? It can be – and often is – seen in terms of the ownership of the means of production. Thus, workers and peasants need to seize ownership of the means of production from the former bourgeois and landlord owners. But what happens after such a seizure and the destruction of the former ruling class? The contradiction shifts to one between the underlying socio-economic system (zhidu) and its specific components (tizhi). In the first category, we find – for example – a capitalist system and a socialist system; in the second, there are political, social and economic components. Here the productive forces also appear, of which one manifestation is a market economy. To summarise a more detailed analysis: a market economy may form part of a larger socio-economic system, including socialism; a market economy is not  always the same and is not inherently capitalist, but is shaped and determined by the system in question (as found already in Marx and in historical analysis); the overall system not only determines the nature of a market economy, but also its purpose, whether profit (capitalist system) or social benefit and meeting the needs of all people (gongtongti fuwu) as in a socialist system. Finally, this approach to a socialist market economy entails a recalibration of the question of ownership. Initially, the ownership of the means of production was related to secondary status, with a mix between public and private ownership, albeit with the state owned enterprises (SOEs) as the drivers of the economy. However, since the 2010s, one may identify a new development: the very distinction between public and private has begun to ‘die away’ (to parse Engels). How this works is the focus of the final part of the chapter.

Chapter 5. Socialist Modernisation: Seeking a Xiaokang Society

Since Zedong and Zhou Enlai, ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihua]’ has been a major feature of government policy and action.[1] But what does it mean? Let us begin with Deng Xiaoping’s famous observation in 1979: ‘By achieving the four modernizations, we mean achieving a “moderately well-off family [xiaokang zhi jia]” … a moderately well-off country [xiaokang de guojia]’. For Deng, this is modernisation with Chinese characteristics.

To understand this statement, we need to go back and forward in the Chinese tradition. Deng was the first to pick and reinterpret the old Confucian category – from the Books of Rights and Book of Songs – of xiaokang in light of Marxism, with the sense of being moderately well-off, healthy and peaceful. It is a more achievable aim than datong, the ‘Great Harmony’, at least in the foreseeable future, although both terms (through He Xiu and Kang Youwei) are intimately connected. If we move forward in the more recent tradition, Deng’s insightful move led to a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects’ becoming central to the Chinese socialist project under Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and especially Xi Jinping. Indeed, the end of 2020 – following hints from Deng – was set as the ambitious but achievable goal for a xiaokang society. But what are the benchmarks? Xi Jinping has identified three: managing profound risks, poverty alleviation and environmental health. The last section of the chapter considers each of these items, with a focus on the impact of lifting 750 million rural and urban workers out of poverty since 1978 and the noticeable advances in achieving an ‘ecological civilisation’.

Chapter 6. Socialist Rule of Law

‘Governing the country according law [yifazhiguo]’ – this four-character phrase encapsulates a range of permutations, from the new Social Credit system, through core socialist values, to religious policy. However, it also has a distinct history that enables us to understand what it means in China, specifically as a socialist rule of law. Although traces of usage appear in much older texts, the key development is precisely during the Reform and Opening Up.

Initially (1978-1996), most of the debate centred around the opposition between ‘rule of human beings [renzhi]’ and ‘rule of law [fazhi]’, after which the latter became the agreed-upon position. Subsequently (1997-2011), the relationship between ‘rule of law’ and ‘legal system [fazhi]’ (sometimes misleadingly translated as ‘rule by law’) was debated, with the two clearly demarcated. Thus, while ‘legal system’ is the basis and concrete manifestation of ‘rule of law’, ‘rule of law’ is itself the ultimate framework and goal of the legal system. During this time, ‘governing the country according to law’ entered the 1999 revision of the Constitution. Finally (2012 to the present) we find increasing clarity of more and more aspects of rule of law, along with its consistent and impartial application. Tellingly, in 2018, the Constitution was revised further, replacing ‘improve the socialist legal system’ with ‘improve the socialist rule of law’.

Theory is crucial, but so is practice. The final part of the chapter examines some concrete manifestations of the rule of law in China: the Social Credit System as an effective and creative way to ensure rule of law at all levels; core socialist values as the positive side of the anti-corruption campaign; and ensuring that the long-standing laws on freedom of religion are strictly observed, especially in light of the revised Regulation on Religious Affairs (2018) and its emphases on self-government, self-support and self-propagation. In all of this, it should re remembered that we are speaking of a socialist rule of law, which is a crucial bulwark of China’s socialist system and is distinct from a capitalist rule of law.

Chapter 7. Sovereignty and Human Rights

This chapter offers a comparison between two traditions concerning human rights, through the prism of state sovereignty: the Western European liberal tradition and the Chinese Marxist tradition. It does so as follows. The first part introduces the distinction between false and rooted universals. A false universal forgets the conditions of its emergence and asserts that its assumptions apply to all irrespective of context, while a rooted universal is always conscious of and factors into analysis contextual origins, with their possibilities and limitations. With this distinction in mind, the next part deals with state sovereignty. In a Western European context, the standard narrative of this development has two main phases: the initial Westphalian definition (1648) and its significant restriction after the Second World War. The main problem with this narrative it that it largely neglects what drove the shift: the success of anti-colonial struggles in the first half of the twentieth century (the last phase through the United Nations under the inspiration of the Soviet Union). In light of this global perspective, it becomes clear that in formerly colonised and semi-colonised countries the very definition of sovereignty is transformed into an anti-colonial and non-theological definition. It is not simply an extension of the Westphalian definition, an assumption that entails a false universal. The next two parts of the argument deal directly with human rights. Initially, it focuses on the Western European tradition, which is predicated on the identification of human rights as private property and their restriction to civil and political rights. Here is the risk of another false universal: the assertion that this specific tradition applies to all, irrespective of context and of anti-colonial sovereignty. The final topic is the Chinese Marxist tradition of human rights, which arises from the intersections of Confucianism and Marxism. In this tradition, anti-colonial sovereignty is a prerequisite but does not determine human rights, and the core human right is the right to socio-economic wellbeing, through which civil, political, cultural and environmental rights arise.

Chapter 8. Minority Nationalities and the Anti-Colonial Project

The main topic of this chapter – minority nationalities policy –arises from the Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights. In brief, the comprehensive minority nationalities (which are sometimes called ‘ethnic groups’) emphasises the core human right to socio-economic wellbeing. Before we get to that point, we need to engage in historical analysis. The Soviet Union was the first socialist country to develop a comprehensive minorities policy, so much so that it was crucial in the very formation of the Soviet Union and was embodied in government structures. Much was learned, from both successes and failures. The Soviet Union was also the first country to see the intrinsic connection between an internal minorities policy and the international anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle. It supported most of them, from logistics and weapons to initiating declarations in the United Nations (especially the 1960 ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’, which forced France, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, to give up their colonies for the sake of independence).

But what did the minority policy entail? Here I turn to China, which – like other socialist countries – adopted the Soviet policy, adapting it and strengthening it in light of their own conditions. This ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ fosters minority languages, cultures, education, governance, and – above all – economic development as the basis for all the others. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the 1990s the policy was strengthened in a dialectical manner; minority rights and incentives were enhanced significantly, precisely as way of ensuring the inviolability of China’s borders. To give a sense of how this policy works, I deal with two pertinent case studies: Tibet and Xinjiang. In both cases, we find short-term and long-term programs. Short-term: enhanced fostering of security (anquan), stability (wending) and harmony (hexie), in order to counter the effects of separation, extremism and terrorism. Long-term: renewed and revised projects to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of all who live in Tibet and Xinjiang. At this point, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plays a significant internal role, with marked results in the six years or so of its implementation.

The BRI brings us finally to the question of international relations. Here we find a distinct development: while material from the 1950s and 1960s still used the terminology of anti-colonial struggle, it substantially disappears from use thereafter. Why? Already in the late 1950s, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had proposed the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Deng Xiaoping as China sought not confrontation but peaceful development (although he was also quite clear that China would always have closer connections with formerly colonised countries due to a shared common history). The more recent manifestation of this emphasis appears with Xi Jinping’s promotion of a ‘community of shared future for humankind [renlei mingyun gongtongti]’, concretely manifested in the BRI, and the policy – as an alternative to the Western European liberal emphasis on ‘zero-sum’ – of ‘both win, many win, all win’. Or simply, ‘win-win’.

Chapter 9. Xi Jinping on Marxism

Xi Jinping has confounded those international observers who ignored much of what I have discussed in the previous chapters and concluded that China had abandoned Marxism. But Xi Jinping’s resolute emphasis on Marxism makes perfect sense if we keep these developments of socialism with Chinese characteristics in mind. At the same time, it is true that Xi Jinping has also re-emphasised Marxism at its many levels, so much so that the CPC has been noticeably strengthened. Older members are once again proud of the party and what it has achieved, while young people are once again keen to join and study Marxism.

How did this happen? While Xi Jinping’s many writings and speeches (in the good tradition of communist leaders, he is also a thinker and writer) cover a wide range of topics, my focus is on his direct engagement with Marxism. The core piece for analysis is his major speech on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, delivered on 5 May, 2018. While the speech deals with Marx’s biography (as an engaged intellectual), the basic premises of Marxism, its history as a living tradition and its emergence to sustained leadership in China, the main part of the speech elaborates on nine topics of relevance to China’s situation. Calling on all the ‘study Marx’ once again, he begins each sub-section with quotations from Marx and Engels and then elaborates on what they mean for the time after the communist revolution, during the complex and often difficult process of constructing socialism. The topics are: development of human society; sticking to the people’s standpoint; productive forces and relations of production; people’s democracy; cultural construction; social construction; human-nature relationship; world history; and Marxist party building. These topics open out to a series of other dimensions of Xi Jinping’s writings, with which I deal when analysing each section.

Conclusion

Given that most of the material in this book concerns material already known in China, it may be of interest to Chinese readers who wish to see what a foreigner engaged with and working in China thinks about socialism with Chinese characteristics. But I anticipate that it will mostly be of use to non-Chinese readers whose minds may already be open, or perhaps should be opened, to what such a socialism actually means in theory and practice.

Note

[1] The original four modernisations are: shaking off China’s poverty and backwardness [pinqiong luohou]; gradually improving the people’s living standards; restoring a position for China in international affairs commensurate with its current status; and enabling China to contribute more to humankind.

Is it time to adopt China’s internet model? More and more countries are doing so

As someone who spends a good deal of time in China, I find that I can access all I want on the internet here. The search engines are generally better, the scholarly resources superior to elsewhere, and the news services reliable and well-informed. At the same time, China has developed a sophisticated approach to internet responsibility, which is carried out by the tech companies themselves. For example, as a few countries ponder what to do with Facebook after the live-streaming of the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, the Chinese approach is very simple: it would not happen here. In fact, Facebook is unable to operate in China precisely because of its fundamental approach, which leads to chaos, disruption and insecurity. Instead, one can use Wechat, Weibo and many other platforms, which are socially responsible. Even more, this approach actually fosters democracy – socialist democracy.

And guess what: more and more countries are adopting a version of China’s model, as this article from the Global Times points out:

If targeting Beijing’s internet regulation is the new US strategy to wrestle with China in an imaginary cold war, Washington will be disappointed. Because China’s continuously improving management over the internet is becoming a trend in other countries and regions.

This is the answer to the question why “the US is losing a major front to China in the new cold war,” a topic raised by Bloomberg, which noted that “a swathe of the world is adopting China’s vision for a tightly controlled internet over the unfettered American approach.”

In January 2019, Vietnam passed a tight cybersecurity law, which requires social media in the country to remove offending content from their platforms and store personal data on users. Over a month later, Thailand also passed a similar bill. It is “a stunning ideological coup for Beijing,” said Bloomberg, adding that China is pushing Southeast Asia toward authoritarianism.

Yet, what caused the trend? The answer is the rising problems in those countries given their previous slack approach. The number of fake news spiked months before the just-concluded Indonesian election, in which many were targeting political candidates and electoral institutions. Hate speech and fake news photos flooded Myanmar’s internet after the outbreak of the Rohingya crisis in 2017, exacerbating local clashes. It is not an exaggeration to say the lack of governance jeopardized their social stability.

The situation does not only happen in emerging economies. As Bloomberg pointed out, “Facebook and Twitter manipulated the 2016 US election … American social media allowed a gunman to livestream the worst mass shooting in New Zealand.”

The so-called internet freedom, advocated by the US, has stirred up enough trouble not only for itself, but also for many developing countries, especially in those societies which were already facing sharp ethnic conflicts and social division. Social media has failed to consolidate or promote their democracy, but has facilitated the spread of misinformation and rumors. Take the Arab Spring. It showed the potential of internet freedom at the very beginning and seemed to have temporarily boosted local democracy, but in the end, it tore the society apart and caused long-lasting turmoil.

Developing countries are tightening internet governance, and so are developed nations, which are formulating stringent regulations to crack down on vicious dissemination of political misinformation. Some European countries including Germany even allow police to spy on encrypted messaging services so as to limit dissemination of pornographic, fraudulent and terrorist content.

Absolute freedom leads to freedom for no one. Compared to US-style internet regulation which is full of problems, China’s approach showed its worthiness.

Labeling China as an authoritarian country and calling countries that are learning from China authoritarian is dividing the internet into two completely different fronts, and splitting the internet in two.

US media needs to know that if more countries start to follow Beijing’s footsteps in internet governance while pursuing democracy in social media, it means China must have done something right.

China’s poverty alleviation: One of the greatest human rights achievements

One of the greatest human rights achievements in human history is China’s forty years of poverty alleviation – given the fundamental right to socio-economic wellbeing. The World Bank estimates that 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty, but still some remain in poverty. Given that one of the three great challenges for a xiaokang society is absolute poverty elimination, there is a resolute focus to achieve the target. The following is a useful background article from Xinhua News:

During an inspection tour to southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality this week, President Xi Jinping called for greater efforts to win the battle against poverty and realize the goal of building “a moderately prosperous society in all respects” as scheduled.

As the deadline to eradicate absolute poverty approaches, the country is gathering strength to focus on the nation’s poorest people, who mainly dwell in deep mountains with adverse natural environments and backward infrastructure, or have special needs.

It was China’s solemn promise to let poor people and poor areas enter the moderately prosperous society together with the rest of the country, Xi said in a letter to the International Forum on Reform and Opening Up and Poverty Reduction in China, which was held in Beijing last November.

The country’s poverty-reduction drive has been widely recognized as the largest such campaign in history, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointing out that China had contributed the most to world poverty alleviation in the past decade.

Here are some facts on poverty reduction in China.

PEOPLE FIRST

With the world’s largest population, China has been boosting its economic development on one major theme: improving people’s livelihoods. This has become a fundamental goal and a consistent priority in policy-making. A typical example is the development blueprint for building a moderately prosperous society.

— Under that blueprint, China will eradicate absolute poverty by 2020 and double per capita income from 2010 level.

— More than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty over the past 40 years. The country’s proportion of people living below the Chinese poverty line fell from 97.5 percent in 1978 to 3.1 percent among the rural population at the end of 2017.

–In the past six years, China lifted 82.39 million rural poor out of poverty, with the rural poor population down from 98.99 million in 2012 to 16.6 million in 2018.

— By the end of 2018, more than half of the 832 poverty-stricken counties had escaped poverty.

— Per capita income of Chinese people increased by nearly 25 times from 1978 to 2018. In 2018, per capita disposable income of rural residents in poverty-stricken areas stood at 10,371 yuan, a 10.6-percent year-on-year rise.

STRONG ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

With Xi Jinping in charge, China’s poverty-relief battle has made decisive progress and provided global poverty relief with Chinese solutions.

–Last June, Xi presided over a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee to review a plan on efforts in poverty alleviation, stressing that the battle against poverty was one of the “three tough battles” that the country must win to build a moderately prosperous society.

–Last October, the CPC Central Committee arranged a new round of disciplinary inspections targeting poverty alleviation, the first of its kind, to intensify local governments’ poverty-reduction efforts.

— To wipe out absolute poverty, governments at all levels have established anti-poverty special departments or leading groups, increased poverty-reduction budgets and ensured eastern economically developed regions to help underdeveloped regions in central and western China.

— State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have taken the lead to support the country’s poverty relief campaign. Ninety-six centrally-administered SOEs have offered targeted support to 246 poverty-stricken counties, or 41.6 percent of the key counties under the national poverty-relief program. They have also set up poverty alleviation funds of 18.18 billion yuan (about 2.7 billion U.S. dollars) and invested 14 billion yuan in nearly 100 aid projects.

TARGETED APPROACH

China has adopted a targeted approach, which requires officials to identify actual impoverished people and the factors that caused their poverty.

— A large legion of capable officials have been selected to guide poverty relief work. For example, officials with business savvy were sent to poverty-stricken villages, while officials with specialized industrial knowledge were sent to villages with an industrial base. As a result, each household or even family member has been given a bespoke poverty relief plan.

— Apart from setting a multi-year timetable, China also targeted different policies to different regions, including developing business, relocating the poor, compensating farmers in ecologically fragile areas, encouraging education and improving social security.

— The independent development of needy residents has been enhanced using areas including e-commerce, financing, tourism and infrastructure improvements.

— During his inspection tour in Chongqing, Xi said that people who still live under the poverty line or slip back into poverty due to illness should be the priority of poverty alleviation projects, and should receive support such as minimum-living allowances, medical insurance and medical aid.

 

A photo for the ages: Xi Jinping on Chongqing poverty alleviation tour

China has set 2020 as the year for total alleviation of basic poverty, a key plank in the target to achieve a ‘xiaokang society’ – moderately well-off, healthy and secure for everyone. This was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping, who picked up an old Confucian term and reinterpreted it in light of Marxism, but it also pre-empts the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021. Or as Xi himself put it, stressing two sides of the dialectic of actually constructing socialism (liberating the forces of production and ensuring equality and justice for all): ‘Socialism means development. Development must serve the common prosperity for everyone‘.

As the date draws near, efforts are being stepped up in all aspects. This includes ensuring that people do not slip back into poverty later. China’s standards for poverty alleviation are somewhat higher than international standards, so this makes the project – especially for local CPC officials on the front line – even more demanding.

Recently, Xi Jinping undertook an inspection tour in poor areas of Chongqing. As Xinhua News reports, the visit had many levels, from a forum to visits to a poor village in the mountains. But I was taken with this photo. Look at the faces of the two girls who are shaking the hands of the person whom Fidel Castro called one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders of the 21st century.

Without the Communist Party of China there would be no new China

This slogan appears at key locations and moments: Without the Communist Party of China there would be no new China.

For me, this is obvious. But let me copy an article from the People’s Daily that explains to some extent why this is the case:

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, recently published an article in Chinese on what the system of Party leadership means to China. He began his article by saying that last year the United States turned on China, launching a trade war. “In the face of such a blow, almost any country would panic,” he said.

In fact, many Chinese people did panic at first, but the panic quickly subsided, because it became quickly apparent that the United States could not so easily crush China in a trade war. According to Hu, the reason for this is because the Chinese system is just too powerful and, as a result, the US side was forced to seriously negotiate with China.

“China’s political system is the key asset to China’s rise,” he wrote.

The Communist Party of China is an essential part of China’s growth story. When you talk about the success of China, you must also talk about the role of the Party. China has risen high under the guidance of the CPC and Hu believes that as long as the CPC continues to mature and its leadership role is strengthened, China has a good shot of achieving national rejuvenation.

The Chinese political system has also led to a fairer society. “Without the leadership of the Party, one thing is certain. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen would be surrounded by large slums like Rio, Mexico City, and Mumbai,” Hu said.

Many people may not accept this assertion, but there is truth to it. If you look at what China is doing in terms of poverty alleviation, it is pretty astonishing. China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since initiating the reform and opening-up policy in 1978 and the country is on track to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020. In 2018 alone, official figures show that China lifted close to 14 million people in rural areas out of poverty.

And the Party’s organs at various level have been the fighting force in this battle against poverty.

China’s political system is the key to China’s rise, which is closely related to the well-being of more than 1.3 billion Chinese people. To continue rising, Hu pointed out, the country must continue to mature politically, firmly support the national system, and take its own path.

“If it was not for the strength of the Chinese system, when the United States launched a trade war against China last year, at the very least the renminbi would have been smashed,” Hu said. This is not an exaggeration. The fate of a country is often very fragile.

Hu pointed out that China is a huge country, therefore, even the migrant workers enjoy more space for living and more opportunities to grow than many of the people in other developing countries, and even the ordinary people in some developed countries. They are able to seek opportunities and earn a better living in the large market.

To see China in action look no further than the hard-working delivery people who run around the cities all day. China’s rise is being driven by the efforts and diligence of each Chinese person and their hard work has brought the country huge rewards.

“Living in China as a common citizen has the greatest average opportunity to improve one’s life,” Hu said. This is also true, because only in China can you find a large country with relatively balanced development and rapidly rising standards of living.

China is strong, both economically and politically. For this reason, the country is on very solid footing. China has encountered some difficulties, but nothing has put the brakes on its development. We need to better understand why that is the case.