China


These sorts of banners are everywhere in China now, especially after the 19th congress of the CPC last year and then the two sessions this year:

Translated:

‘Hold high the mighty banner of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era; comprehensively implement the vigorous spirit of the party’s 19th congress’.

This one is at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, but I find all manner of banners and posters everywhere I go.

You really have to be here to get a sense of how much has shifted even in the last year. Marxism is forefront and centre in more and more places: in government policy; the renewed study of Mao Zedong; bookshops full of communist material, from Mao to Xi, let alone Marx and Engels; the best students flocking to schools of programs of Marxism; news and media engaging in in-depth examinations of its many dimensions; clarification of the practices of socialist rule of law, socialist market economy, socialist democracy and governance, and how this works out in international relations; people calling each other ‘comrade’ (example set by ‘Comrade Xi Jinping’). The list could go on for much longer.

It certainly sets me thinking and trying to understand further what is an extraordinary development. Not only does the relatively ‘liberal’ decade of the 1990s and even early 200os seem like a distant – and increasingly bad – memory, but I never thought I would live to see days like these, just as the USA and the ‘world disorder’ it had established is unravelling so fast.

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The texts of this speech will be available soon, in many languages. In his first major international speech after being re-elected president, Xi Jinping presented a keynote at the Boao Forum, held in Hainan Province. It is known as the ‘Asian Davos’. A few of the key observations, remembering that 2018 celebrates forty years of the ‘reform and opening up’. Let me add that we are planning a conference later this year called ‘The Marxist Philosophy of the Reform and Opening Up’, especially since Marxism has become again the focus of so many researchers and the best students.

The reform and opening up, initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, has significantly unleashed and enhanced productivity in China, blazed a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, demonstrated the strength of the nation, and actively contributed China’s share to the world, according to Xi.

Over the past 40 years, China has recorded an averaged annual GDP growth rate of around 9.5 percent, fostered a middle-income population of 400 million, and lifted more than 700 million Chinese people out of poverty, accounting for more than 70 percent of the global total.

China contributed over 30 percent of global growth in recent years.

Hailing it as “China’s second revolution,” Xi said the reform and opening up had not only profoundly changed the country but also greatly influenced the whole world.

In terms used for none other than Chairman Mao (although the background picture of this blog suggests an older history):

As the country’s helmsman, Xi launched the new round of reform and opening up, the largest in scale around the globe, at a time when the giant vessel of China has entered “a deep-water zone.”

And any country that seeks to isolate itself will be consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’:

“Humanity has a major choice to make between openness and isolation, and between progress and retrogression. In a world aspiring for peace and development, the cold-war and zero-sum mentality looks even more out of place.”

“We must dispel the clouds to see the sun, as we say in Chinese, so as to have a keen grasp of the law of history and the trend of the world.”

Xi said we live at a time with an overwhelming trend toward peace and cooperation as well as openness and connectivity.

Xi said we also live at a time with an overwhelming trend toward reform and innovation, adding that those who reject them will be left behind and assigned to the dustbin of history.

No prizes for guessing to whom he might be referring. Sourced from Xinhua News and Global Times.

One of the big lies bandied about these days is that China has been engaged in systemic and substantial ‘intellectual property theft’. Say it often enough and people will believe it – as Goebbels pointed out many years ago.

I leave aside the obvious points: that this is the usual practice of all big business and commercial research; that the United States is the past master at such practices, let alone Europe – most of their breakthroughs in the past were by foreigners, who willingly or willingly gave up these breakthroughs (think of Einstein, for example); that the idea of knowledge that benefits human beings is ‘private property’ is the most perverse idea of all.

Instead, I am interested in the rather obvious Orientalism of this accusation. To wit, China and its people – so the accusation would have us believe – do not have the wherewithal to make their own discoveries. For some, they are clearly ‘stupid people’ who have to steal other people’s ideas.

Nice one.

I cannot help wondering whether this accusation applies to the historical discoveries of paper, printing press, compass and gunpowder, which Europe ‘appropriated’ late in the piece.

Or whether it applies to the more than 1.3 million patents lodged by Chinese inventors in 2017, more than the Unites States, Europe, Japan and South Korea combined.

Or indeed to recent breakthroughs, such as the world’s first successful sending of a quantum message into space and the first successful 5G phone call.

Or to the fact that coming to China now feels like stepping into the future, where so much is the reality of an everyday life that is yet to be found elsewhere.

Obviously, socialists with Chinese characteristics must have ‘stolen’ such ideas from the future, or perhaps from aliens.

Amidst all the uninformed opinions about the constitutional changes at China’s recent two sessions of parliament, this piece by Eric Li is the most balanced I have read (in the Global Times.). The only point with I disagree somewhat concerns the merging party and state. The reason is that Xi Jinping has been promoting China’s unique multi-party system more than ever before. The nine political parties all play a role.

Why Xi’s lifting of term limits is a good thing

SHANGHAI — Western media and the Chinese chattering classes have been in an uproar since China’s National People’s Congress approved constitutional changes that included lifting the two-term presidential limit. China approves “president for life,” proclaimed Western media.

But this misinterprets the nature of the development. And the world appears to be overlooking consequential political reforms taking place in China that will impact our collective future for the better.

The presidential term limit has no bearing on how long a top Chinese leader can stay in power and lifting it by no means allows anyone to rule for life. In fact, the position of real power — the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee — has never had term limits. The most recent draft of China’s constitution, written in 1982, set the presidency as a symbolic head of state, with no actual power. Although the two offices happened to have been occupied by the same person for more than 25 years since Jiang Zemin, the institutional mechanics of the offices are rather separate.

Formally unifying these two positions at the very top will transform the entire Chinese governance structure by institutionally fusing the party and the state. This reform is good for China simply because the party has developed into the most competent national political institution in the world today.

As to the issue of lifetime rule, the party does have institutional mechanisms, both mandatory and customary, that govern officials’ retirement. In fact, the party constitution specifically states that no position has lifetime tenure. This system has been developed over decades and covers the many tiers of the party’s organizational structure, from the Politburo to ministerial and provincial positions. Within this framework, it is possible for Xi to lead the country for longer than his recent predecessors. But not for life.

Age limits have varied over time and differ based on position. The custom for most senior leaders in recent years has been to retire at the age of 68, which is often extended to complete a term. Exceptions have been made for the position of general secretary (one served, successfully, through his late 70’s). But still, it’s always finite.

However, eliminating the presidential term limit is still significant. It is part and parcel of highly consequential and, in my view, constructive political reforms. These reforms were set in motion at the 18th party congress held in 2012 and were a particular focus at the third plenum in 2013. I wrote then that the fusing of party and state would be the most far-reaching political transformation in Chinese governance. The completion of the current constitutional reform is the culmination of that process.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, the leadership of the party has been central to China’s political DNA. However, institutionally the system has gone through significant growing pains. At first, China adopted the Soviet system that separated, at least on the institutional level, the party and government. The top organs — the party central committee, the National People’s Congress and the state council were parallel. But in reality, the party led everything. This produced significant conflicts that some have blamed as partially responsible for the disastrous Cultural Revolution.

When former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping began his reforms over 40 years ago, he pushed a policy of administrative separation between party and government. But that was due to the particular circumstances of post-Cultural Revolution China. At the time, many senior leaders who were purged by Mao Zedong were rehabilitated and returned to their previous positions.

The party was just emerging from a period of upheaval, and those officials all came from the era of the centrally planned economy. China needed market economics. Deng’s policy unleashed younger and more forward-looking governing forces to execute the reform agenda. But more importantly, he also focused great energy on rebuilding the party institution.

In the following decades, the party has developed into one of the most elaborate and effective governing institutions in the world and, I would argue, in history. It is responsible for achieving what’s known as the greatest improvement in standard of living for the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time.

The party has now stepped forward to the front and center of Chinese governance. This constitutional reform further enshrines the party’s political centrality by extending the wording of party leadership from the preamble to the body of the constitution. At the governing level, the reform creates a super agency, the National Supervisory Commission, to combat corruption. It is an extension of the party’s Central Disciplinary and Inspection Commission and will further institutionalize the tremendous anti-corruption drive executed by the party commission over the past five years.

It is in this context that the removal of a presidential term limit is so significant. While the party’s leadership has always been politically paramount, the administrative separation of party and government has produced institutional contradictions and confusion. As China increasingly becomes a major power in the world, the office of the president has assumed greater importance, especially in China’s interactions with the rest of the world.

Bringing the presidency’s institutional mechanics in line with the office of party general secretary, and for them to be occupied by the same person, will create a more efficient and coherent governing structure and more transparency and predictability in China’s dealings with the world. It lifts the veil of pretense that, somehow, the party and state governance are not one, which is untrue and wholly unnecessary and counterproductive at this stage of China’s development. It signals the maturing of the Chinese political system that shows the world clearly how decisions are made and who is in charge.

The current Chinese system is a good combination of principle and flexibility. The principle of no lifetime tenure, combined with collective leadership and retirement rules, prevent unchecked rule for life by the wrong person. But a degree of flexibility in the retirement mechanism allows the right leader to govern longer. Xi will retire someday. But as long as he continues to lead successfully, that day will be a long way off.

I dare say that Xi has done more for China in five years than Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama combined did for the United States in 25 years. On the watches of those three American leaders, with slow and incompetent reforms and major catastrophes such as the Iraq War and the financial crisis, the U.S. managed to squander what was arguably the greatest advantage any nation ever had in history at the end of the Cold War and is now mired in dysfunction and losing its leadership position in the world. Meanwhile, opinion surveys, such as this one by the Harvard Kennedy School, show Xi consistently receiving the highest domestic approval ratings of any world leader.

It would be a mistake to judge that Xi is putting himself above the party and the nation. On the contrary, a major theme of his governing philosophy has been the centrality of the party as an institution. And in today’s China, both society and the party are much more robust and pluralistic than the time when Deng came to power.

The feedback mechanisms and channels available to China’s leaders to effectively respond to the needs of society are much more abundant today. It was popular discontent with pollution that spurred Xi’s administration into action and achieved, in just three years, the extraordinary improvement in air quality that took London and Los Angeles decades to accomplish — and the latter went through major deindustrialization, while China remains a growing industrial power.

Xi is now beginning his second term. No one knows for sure how long he will serve. But with his impressive life track record, it is understandable that there are genuine sentiments for him to lead China for a long time. Sadly, liberal democracy in its current state seems incapable of producing a leader half as good.

Recently, Australia’s ‘recycling’ industry was thrown into crisis. Why? It turns out that it was simply shipping recyclables and garbage to places like China. The stuff that people carefully separated in garbage and recycling bins was not being processed in Australia, but placed in containers and shipped away. Turns out Australia is by no means the only culprit in this practice. While China has developed impressive recycling technology, it has also decided that it will no longer be the world’s rubbish dump. The following article from Zhang Ming, head of mission to the EU, explains why. It originally comes from the the Euractiv website.

Dumping garbage overseas is not the right way to go

During the recent meeting of the World Trade Organisation Council for Trade in Goods, some representatives raised concerns about China’s ban on “foreign garbage” import. Some even asked China to halt its implementation. Zhang Ming explains China’s position.

Zhang Ming is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Head of Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union.

As Chinese Ambassador to the EU, while quite surprised by such “concerns”, I would like to share my views on why China made such a decision and why China will not overturn the ban.

China is a Party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal adopted in 1989. The Convention provides for and fully recognizes the right of its Parties to prohibit the import of hazardous wastes or other wastes.

China started importing solid wastes in the 1980s, whose annual volume surged from 4.5 million tons to 45 million tons in the past 20 years. A great amount of prohibited wastes, or “foreign garbage” as is often called, were mixed up in the imports, causing great harm to China’s environment and threatening public health. The widely-watched documentary “Plastic China” released in 2015 well captures the problem.

To address the challenge, China decided to ban foreign garbage and to reform the management system of solid wastes import. According to international law, China has the legitimate right to do so.

This is also what we must do to improve our environment and protect our people’s health, as a crucial part of our new development philosophy. The decision is widely welcomed and applauded by the Chinese people.

Before announcing the ban, China had full communication with other parties. It was half a year before the ban was actually put in place that we notified the WTO of the change. Issues arising in the course of implementation have been well addressed through timely coordination.

The Basel Convention stipulates that Parties have an obligation to minimize the quantities that are transported and to treat and dispose of wastes as close as possible to their place of generation. In other words, it is the due responsibility of Parties to do their best to reduce and take care of their own wastes.

Only when this principle is well appreciated can we join forces more effectively to promote green, low-carbon and circular development globally, and to make our planet a cleaner and better place.

Interestingly, those who have expressed “concerns” are all from developed countries. For a long time, well-off and well-equipped developed countries have been dumping their garbage to developing countries. This phenomenon should not be overlooked. It is more of a moral issue that relates to the future of mankind than of a trade issue.

The great Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Do not do onto others what you do not want others to do onto you.” A famous quote from the Bible goes like this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Islam belief has it that “none of you have faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself”. No matter in which civilisation, it is morally unacceptable to dump trash in others’ backyard. Moreover, as we already live in a global village, troubles shifted to your neighbour will get back to you sooner or later.

For those garbage exporters, it is inadvisable to cry out loud and ask for too much from others, like spoiled children giving little heed to others’ interests. Rather, they should first examine what is going wrong on their part and fulfil their responsibilities.

Developed countries need to rely on their own efforts to address excess waste and endeavour to develop a circular economy. Then they could see what they can do to help developing countries tackle their waste challenge. This is the right way to go.

Many still remember the public health disaster in West Africa in 2006 caused by toxic waste shipped from other countries. The tragedy should have prompted garbage exporters to stop doing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, little has changed ever since.

Mr Erik Solheim, the head of the UN Environment Programme, said “We should see the Chinese decision as a great service to the Chinese people and a wake-up call to the rest of the world”. Now, it is high time that developed nations re-thought their use of plastics and not simply sought alternative foreign dumping grounds.

We could already see encouraging changes in China and elsewhere in the world. The Chinese people are more aware of the necessity of waste separation and sorting and are following more stringent rules on waste management and recycling.

Some American companies are setting higher and more sophisticated standards for waste sorting, and have introduced artificial intelligence to handle wastes. The EU has adopted the first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics as part of the transition to a more circular economy and to enhance the Union’s overall capacity for waste disposal.

If China’s ban could trigger other countries to develop more advanced technologies out of a greater sense of urgency and to better serve their own people with a stronger sense of responsibility, China must, indeed, be doing a good deed.

As soon as I arrived in China, the government published a new ‘white paper’, called ‘China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief’. The Chinese original can be found here, but translations into other languages are not yet available. The comrades at the Central and Compilation Bureau will be working on the translations as I write.

However, a number of new outlets have given a foretaste, such as this one at Xinhua News:

China Tuesday issued a white paper noting that the country adopts policies on freedom of religious belief, and that such freedom is protected under the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics.

The white paper, titled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief,” was issued by the State Council Information Office.

It said that respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief is a basic policy of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government.

“Believers and non-believers enjoy the same political, economic, social and cultural rights, and must not be treated differently because of a difference in belief,” the white paper said, adding that the state respects citizens’ freedom to religious belief and protects their normal religious activities.

It said China manages religious affairs in accordance with the law, adheres to the principle of independence and self-management, actively guides religions to adapt to the socialist society, and unites religious believers and non-believers to the greatest extent.

Also, the document said the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics is continuously being improved, providing stronger guarantees for the lawful rights and interests of religious believers.

The religious activities of foreigners in China are also protected in accordance with the law, according to the white paper.

The document noted that religious extremism and violent terrorist activities are dealt with in accordance with the law. It said China opposes all extremism that seeks to instigate hatred, incite discrimination and advocate violence by distorting religious doctrines or through other means, and forbids any discriminatory behavior on the grounds of region, ethnicity and religion.

“China takes measures against the propagation and spread of religious extremism, and at the same time, carefully avoids linking violent terrorism and religious extremism with any particular ethnic group or religion,” it said.

After noting a distinct change in tone in Chinese assessments of the DPRK only a few days ago, it turns out that Xi Jinping invited Kim Jong Un to Beijing.

As is the custom with such visits, the news appears after the meeting is over. Let me pick up some of the comments in the Xinhua account (although all the major Chinese news outlets are carrying the story).

Xi said Kim’s current visit to China, which came at a special time and was of great significance, fully embodied the great importance that Comrade Chairman and the WPK Central Committee have attached to the relations between the two countries and the two parties.

“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim.

Kim said Comrade Xi Jinping enjoyed the support of the CPC and the people of the whole country, became the core of the leadership and was re-elected Chinese president and CMC chairman. He said it is his obligation to come to congratulate Xi in person, in line with the DPRK-China friendly tradition.

At present, the Korean Peninsula situation is developing rapidly and many important changes have taken place, Kim said, adding that he felt he should come in time to inform Comrade General Secretary Xi Jinping in person the situation out of comradeship and moral responsibility.

Xi said the China-DPRK traditional friendship, established and cultivated meticulously by the elder generations of leaders of both parties and both countries, was the precious wealth of both sides.

Sharing common ideals and beliefs as well as profound revolutionary friendship, the elder generations of leaders of the two countries trusted and supported each other, and wrote a fine story in the history of international relations, said Xi.

He said several generations of the leaders of China and the DPRK have maintained close exchanges and paid frequent calls on each other like relatives.

The two parties and countries have supported each other and coordinated with each other during long-term practices, making great contributions to the development of the socialist cause.

“Both Comrade Chairman and I have personally experienced and witnessed the development of China-DPRK relationship,” said Xi, adding that both sides have stated repeatedly that traditional China-DPRK friendship should be passed on continuously and developed better.

“This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties. This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time,” Xi said.

The CPC and the Chinese government highly value China-DPRK friendly cooperative ties, Xi stressed. It is an unswerving principle of the CPC and the Chinese government to maintain, consolidate and develop good relations with the DPRK, he said.

“We are willing to work together with DPRK comrades, remain true to our original aspiration and jointly move forward, to promote long-term healthy and stable development of China-DPRK relations, benefit the two countries and two peoples, and make new contribution to regional peace, stability and development,” Xi said.

Kim said he was greatly encouraged and inspired by General Secretary Xi’s important views on DPRK-China friendship and the development of relations between the two parties and countries.

The DPRK-China friendship, which was founded and nurtured by the elder generations of leaders of both countries, is unshakable, he said. It is a strategic choice of the DPRK to pass on and develop friendship with China under the new situation, and it will remain unchanged under any circumstances.

Kim said his current visit aims to meet Chinese comrades, enhance strategic communication, and deepen traditional friendship, hoping to have opportunities to meet with Comrade General Secretary Xi Jinping often, and keep close contacts through such forms as sending special envoys and personal letters to each other, so as to promote to a new level the guidance of high-level meetings to the relations between the two parties and countries.

The two leaders thoroughly exchanged views on the situation of the world and the Korean Peninsula.

Xi said that positive changes had taken place on the Korean Peninsula since this year, and China appreciates the important efforts made by the DPRK.

On the Korean Peninsula issue, Xi said that China sticks to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and solving problems through dialogue and consultation.

China calls on all parties to support the improvement of inter-Korean ties, and take concrete efforts to facilitate peace talks, said Xi, noting that China will continue to play constructive role on the issue and work with all parties, including the DPRK, toward the thaw of the situation on the peninsula.

Kim said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is starting to get better, as the DPRK has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks.

“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” he said.

Kim said that the DPRK is determined to transform the inter-Korean ties into a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation and hold summit between the heads of the two sides.

The DPRK is willing to have dialogue with the United States and hold a summit of the two countries, he said.

“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if south Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” said Kim.

The DPRK hopes to enhance strategic communication with China during the process, jointly safeguard the trend of consultation and dialogue as well as peace and stability on the peninsula, said Kim.

The message to the world could not be more obvious.

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