Is it time to dump Google?

Last week my gmail account was cancelled without notice. Why? No reason was given.

But it happened the day after the United States regime announced it had blacklisted Huawei from engaging with the United States – arbitrarily and on the basis of vague and groundless accusations. The regime has also been using ham-fisted tactics to try and stop others from working with Huawei, although this will only mean that the USA will have even fewer friends in the world.

Interestingly, a number of US companies – including Google – enthusiastically threw themselves into the fray, indicating that the US regime actively intervenes in, directs and is supported by the major tech companies in the United States. The irony is obvious: they are actively doing what the regime is accusing Huawei of doing. A Danish saying comes to mind: a thief always thinks everyone else is a thief.

However, I do not use Huawei products, although I will make sure to get some from now on. Instead, I use a Xiaomi phone and laptop, which are far better than anything you can get from Apple or Samsung or whatever. I do use Chinese systems on these items, and I do so in China and other parts of the world. (In the current situation, they are the only global products that you can use everywhere.) The only reason that I can come up with for the cancellation of my gmail is that Google is targeting all Chinese products and systems.

Let us be clear, Google is banned in China, not only because it refuses to follow Chinese law for responsible internet management, but also because it willingly hands over its big data to the privatised spy agency in the United States, the NSA. So there is no great loss to China from Google cutting off its limited engagement. But to cut off anyone who as any engagement with China is another step.

Then again, I have never been a fan of Google. I used to have its search engine on my computer, but deleted it. My gmail had only a few addresses and was used for personal matters (I do not use it in China). Google maps is a notoriously bad product and often misleading. And I do not use Facebook, Twitter or the many other useless products US companies use to mine information from their users.

But I do know that many people use Google products, whether its search engines, gmail, maps, phones (they are terrible) or even a whole Google account. It has relied on its pervasiveness in the ‘Western’ world to dominate, manipulate, gather information, and – now – to act as an agent of US capriciousness.

The conclusion for me is clear: it is time to dump Google.

China will not be humiliated again

More than two centuries ago, high quality Chinese goods were in heavy demand. Back then, the goods were porcelain, silk and tea, which the peoples of North America and Western Europe were unable to produce. Gold and especially silver flowed into China, including most of the stuff extracted from mines in Central and South America.

Back then, capricious Western regimes began decrying the ‘trade imbalance’ with China, saying it was the result of ‘unfair’ practices and ‘despotic’ restrictions on ‘legitimate’ Western trade.

From that point on, these same regimes began trying all sorts of tricks to force the Chinese to act ‘fairly’. The British began smuggling opium to China, against which China resisted, especially under Lin Zexu in 1839, who seized and burnt more than 20,000 chests of opium in Guangzhou. The British then initiated the first of the two Opium Wars (1840-1842), providing not only a textbook example of  ‘gunboat diplomacy’, but also the first of a series of unequal treaties. This was the Treaty of Nanjing of 1842, which was not so much a treaty as a unilateral imposition of British imperial demands on the Chinese (including, among other items, the occupation of Hong Kong).

For the Chinese, this was the beginning of a century of humiliation.

Sound familiar?

It should, since the United States is trying the same tactics now. The specifics might be different. Back then it was high quality goods such as porcelain, silk and tea; now it is high-technology, railway expertise, navigation equipment, quantum communication and so on. Back then, the Chinese were accused of using ‘unfair’ practices to develop a ‘trade imbalance’. And back then, a more powerful empire imposed its arbitrary will on the Chinese.

With this kind of history, you can see why China simply will not accept the unilateral and arbitrary demands of the United States in the so-called ‘trade war’. China will not be humiliated again.

Why? One crucial factor is now different: China is strong enough to resist, fight back and insist on its own integrity. Or rather, two factors are different: now the United States is a drug-addled country, tearing itself apart internally and in noticeable decline.

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:

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.

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. A useful background article can be found in Xinhua News.

The Silk Road is active again: Thousands of trains now run the route

Many centuries ago, the routes of the ‘Silk Road’ used camels and whatnot for covering the thousands of kilometres between east and west on the Eurasian landmass. In more recent times, when Chinese planners were thinking about the reincarnation of the Silk Road – what is now known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – they took into consideration a number of factors: trains, even slower ones, are faster than ships; the US navy likes to bully others on the high seas; Central Asia, Russia and Europe will become more and more keen on Chinese products as the latter move to high quality production. One of the key solutions was actually a relatively old one: trains.

I am a great lover of trains, taking them whenever possible. And China is now the world leader in train innovation, technology and implementation. But the development of long distance cargo trains on the Eurasian landmass has largely gone under the radar. From a modest beginning back in 2011, when the first cargo train left Chongqing in China for Duisburg in Germany, it was the beginning of a monumental shift. Back then, there were perhaps a couple of routes trains could follow. Now there are many indeed and they keep increasing exponentially.

Every few days in the Chinese newspapers (for example, here and here), I read of yet another service that has opened, so much so that now there are now 65 routes between 48 cities in China and 40 in Europe. For example, in 2108 alone, 6300 trains with cargo made the journey to Europe, an incease of 70 percent from the previous year.

More detail in this recent article from Xinhua News, the largest and most reliable news service in the world.

While you were (not) watching North Korea: Business is booming (updated)

Recently, the DPRK was forced to set a limit on foreign tourists coming to the country. The number has jumped to about 100,000 a year and the country’s facilities are struggling to cope. When I first visited in 2015, there were perhaps 20,000 Chinese tourists a year and 5,000 non-Chinese tourists. Now the total number has jumped to 100,000. Our visit in October of 2018 verified this rise, for more and more hotels were catering for travellers.

Alongside the tourists are an increasing number of foriegn investors, most of them Chinese. Business is booming north of the DMZ. As a recent article in the Global Times indicates, the DPRK is actively seeking further investment. The article is careful to point out that the lawyers’ group touring China is anticipating the lifting of sanctions, but the reality is that some investment is already taking place.

For more information, you can read (here) ‘Chinese entrepreneurs eye new opportunities in N. Korea economy’.

The Greening of Beijing

For the past two weeks I have walked well over 100 kilometres – in Beijing.

Until now I have regarded my little corner of the city as an oasis, outside of which is the bewildering maze of one of the largest cities in the history of human civilization. To be sure, I am accustomed to taking the massive metro system to all corners of the city. But this practice makes no difference to the sense of living in a maze. One speeds along underground, emerging at one’s destination in another part of town.

Walking is completely different.

Initially, I simply set out to find a bicycle shop for local supplies for my new Brompton foldup bicycle. Before I knew it, I had checked my Baidu map (much better than the woeful Google maps) to locate another bicycle shop. By the time I found it and returned home, I had walked in a south-westerly loop of about 10 kilometres.

I was hooked in a way that I had not expected. The next day I walked north to a church and bookshop, ambling back via another route. Soon enough I was off again, walking north again to find the old Summer Palace grounds, known in these parts as Yuanmingyuan. Having been inside before and knowing the ruins (a result of one of the European colonial rampages in the nineteenth century), I preferred to walk there and find another way home.

Now it was time for a serious hike. To the west of where I live begin the mountains that encircle Beijing. A favourite is Xiangshan, Fragrant Mountain, which I have climbed in the past. But now I decided I would walk to Xiangshan, a distance of some 14 kilometres. On the way I found the Beijing Green Belt, a carefully designed strip that runs along the western reaches of town. Soon enough I was striding along, absorbing the trees and the first blossoms of spring. Few were enjoying them at the time, for people were flocking to Xiangshan and its fabled spring flowers. By the time I reached the village itself, at the foot of the mountain and outside the city, I was done, so I took the new metro back home.

More walks followed, to the massive Yuyuantan Park, south of where I live and full of people out and about and celebrating spring. But I was most thrilled by Xizhuyuan Park, or Black Bamboo Park. It had been a chance discovery on another walk, a green space that set a whole new standard for such spaces.

Originally it had been a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) minor palace area, but it had been closed for many a long year. What had they been doing in the meantime? It turns out that the Beijing City government had been working on a new plan for the greening of the city. Black Bamboo Park would be one of the model green spaces. It had opened only recently.

Inside I was amazed. The old buildings had been restored, but more importantly trees and birds and plants were everywhere.  As I walked along the lake, a ranger with much excitement pointed to the water. There was a turtle – an amphibian that is most sensitive to environmental conditions since it moves between water, land and air – enjoying the clean water of the lake.

After my first visit to this particular park, I was able to map out an ideal walk. Initially I would head west along Wanquanzhuang Road, deep in the outer regions of Beijing where few foreigners tread and where locals do their thing. Then I would pick up the western Green Belt, along the Nanchang River, which was yet another new development. The river itself had been cleaned up and its environs were full of trees, blossoms and recreational spaces. It led me to the Black Bamboo Park, where I once again relished the breakthroughs in green planning and implementation. For the final leg, I walked along some four kilometres of the major Zhongguancun Road, but I did so by walking through one green space after another.

By now I had walked in all directions of the compass, east, north, west and south. I had hiked into the centre of the city, to its outskirts and the mountains, to historic sites of colonial humiliation, and along the ever greater number of green spaces.

Above all, I was most struck by the greening of Beijing. Not so long ago Beijing was a leitmotiv of the worst of city living. Row upon row of high-rise building, with an air quality that had become proverbial. Indeed, some foreigners and Chinese people from other parts assume that Beijing is still like that.

Not any more: the city government has been fully aware that residents would no longer put up with such conditions, so it had set about for many a long year to clean up the city. Some of the strictest environmental laws in the world are enforced ever more strongly, but this is only a beginning. Whole new standards have been set for a greening of the city. The air quality would be tackled through many policies that has seen it gradually improve year upon year. Green spaces would abound, with designer planning and implementation, as only the Chinese know how. And water quality would be at a level where sensitive animals would feel at home, whether turtles or the fabled ducks – not the type of Beijing Duck that you eat at a restaurant.

How is all this possible, especially in a city that had become a parable for environmental degradation?

Long-term planning is the answer. A stable government that is able to implement five-year plans. This is of course a communist local government that is committed to a green Beijing. Forget the ‘Greens’ of bourgeois democracies, with their liberal policies that have become political footballs. Only a communist government committed to ‘ecological civilisation’ can achieve what I experience here in Beijing.