Third meeting between Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping

Chinese papers have already reported on Kim Jong Un’s third visit to China and to meet with Xi Jinping over the last couple of days, but I have been waiting for KCNA to report, especially since they always have the best pictures.

A selection from the lengthy report at KCNA:

At the talks the result of the historic DPRK-U.S. summit, which was successfully held amidst the unusual interest and expectation of the international community, and appreciation, views and stand on it were informed each other. And beneficial views on a series of issues of mutual concern including the prospect for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula were exchanged and a shared understanding on the discussed issues achieved.

The respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un expressed thanks to the Chinese party and government for positive and sincere support and good help for the successful DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks.

Saying that he is much pleased with and values the recently strengthened strategic cooperation between the two parties and the mutual confidence getting further deepened, he expressed the determination and will to further develop the closer relations of friendship, unity and cooperation between the two parties and the two peoples of the DPRK and China.

Xi Jinping gave high appreciation and extended heartfelt congratulations to Chairman Kim Jong Un for having steered the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks successfully and put the situation of the Korean Peninsula on the track of dialogue, negotiation, peace and stability.

Voicing full support for the stand and determination of the DPRK side for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he said that China will continue to play its constructive role in the future, too.

The talks proceeded in a comradely, candid and friendly atmosphere.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and president of the People’s Republic of China, hosted a grand banquet in welcome of the China visit by Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday evening.

At the banquet Xi Jinping made a congratulatory speech and Kim Jong Un made a reply speech.

Xi Jinping warmly welcomed Kim Jong Un‘s China visit, saying that this fully showed his fixed will to attach great importance to the strengthened strategic communication between the two parties of China and the DPRK and develop the traditional friendship of the two countries and demonstrated to the whole world the invincibility of the relations between the two parties and two countries.

After Chairman Kim Jong Un‘s China visit in March, the China-DPRK relations have entered a new phase of development and the important joint agreements of both sides are being implemented one by one and the China-DPRK relations of friendship and cooperation are in new vigor, Xi Jinping stated.

Noting that Kim Jong Un has made great efforts to protect peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula by leading the Korean people and further consolidated the trend of dialogue and détente on the peninsula, Xi Jinping said he is pleased to see it and highly appreciates it.

He affirmed that China and the DPRK would learn, consult, unite and cooperate with each other as close friends and comrades to jointly open up rosier and beautiful future of the socialist cause in the two countries.

Kim Jong Un said he is very glad to meet again Xi Jinping and other close Chinese comrades at the time when a new historic current is being created in the Korean Peninsula and the region with the successful DPRK-U.S. summit. He expressed heartfelt thanks to Xi Jinping for his cordial hospitality despite the pressure of work.

Saying the picture of the DPRK and China sharing joy and sorrow and sincerely helping and cooperating with each other like family members clearly demonstrates at home and abroad that the relations between the two parties and two countries are developing into the unprecedentedly special relationship beyond the traditional ties, Kim Jong Un stated that he would make every possible effort to steadily develop the DPRK-China friendly relations onto a new high level, valuing affinity and affection forged with Xi Jinping.

He said that he would closely cooperate with the Chinese comrades at the same staff in the historic journey of defending socialism and opening up a new future of the Korean Peninsula and the region, and fully discharge his responsibility and role to protect genuine peace.

He expressed the belief and expectation that the Chinese people would surely realize the dream of China called the great prosperity of China in the near future under the leadership of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China.

To add another perspective, as Chinese analysis indicates, Kim Jong Un is relying on China to make sure the USA keeps its security promises. Or to put it more directly, the clear message is: don’t mess with the DPRK, since it has China’s backing.

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Second meeting between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un

In case the rest of the world missed the message of the first meeting between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un, they have just had a second at the beautiful port city of Dalian.

X&K 01

X&K 02

Addressing each other as comrades, they affirmed the four principles of close ties between China and the DPRK:

Xi stressed that he and Kim held their historic first meeting in Beijing in March this year, during which they had a long and in-depth communication, and reached principled consensus in four aspects on developing China-DPRK relations in the new era.

Firstly, the China-DPRK traditional friendship has been a treasure of both countries. It is an unswerving principle and the only correct choice for both countries to develop the friendly and cooperative China-DPRK relations.

Secondly, both China and the DPRK are socialist countries, and their bilateral relations are of major strategic significance. Both sides need to enhance unity, cooperation, exchanges and mutual learning.

Thirdly, high-level exchanges between the two parties play an irreplaceably significant role in guiding bilateral relations, Xi said. The two sides should maintain frequent exchanges, strengthen strategic communication, deepen understanding and mutual trust, and safeguard common interests.

Fourthly, cementing the people-to-people friendship foundation is an important channel to advance the development of China-DPRK relations, Xi said. The two sides should, by multiple means, enhance people-to-people communication and exchanges to create a sound foundation of popular will for the advancement of China-DPRK relations.

The full story is at Xinhua News.

Xi Jinping is serious about Marx: Speech celebrating the 200th anniversary

Finally, it seems as though commentators in other parts of the world are noticing that Xi Jinping is serious indeed aboout Marx. He gave a major speech on Marx, celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth and 170 years since the publication of the Communist Manifesto. While the translation of the speech is not yet available, you can find the Chinese version here at the CPC website. Newspaper reports can also be found, such as the one here and here.

And there is a video summary here:

Views from the Common People: Appreciating Xi Jinping

One of the problems of spending time in universities and research institutions is that you lose touch with everyday realities. Think of the nerd at school, who was always top of the class and a complete social misfit – all of them ended up in such places. I am no exception, but I also find the context alienating and weird. So to get a sense of what life is like for the vast majority, I travel on buses, metros, trains, I walk the streets in cities and the countryside, talking at length with workers, cleaners, local administrators – wherever I can find them.

Obviously, I am speaking of China, where I do this frequently.

Let me begin with a simple observation from a cleaner. We talked about many things, but when we came to Xi Jinping, he simply said: ‘Chairman Xi is good guy [bucuo], because he has recovered Chairman Mao’. Wow, I thought, right to the point. He added, ‘Chairman Xi has the common people [laobaixing] at heart’.

More comprehensive was a low-level provincial administrator in the south, working in the countryside. It is not a high-paid job by any means. I told her that every morning I study Mao Zedong’s key works, in Chinese (as part of my language study). She told me that I should also study Xi Jinping.

Why? ‘He is a really good chairman’, she said. ‘He has done a lot for common people like us. My parents like him very much, and all the common people love him’. The term she used was laobaixing, a colloquial term for everyday workers, who have a simple life, work hard because they see it as a great duty for the country, and appreciate someone who takes them to heart.

Our conversation went on, after I indicated that I actually have all of Comrade Xi’s writings (thus far).

The first crucial virtue is obviously a focus on the common people (laobaixing), but the second is his integrity – zhengzhi, which includes the senses of honesty, uprightness, decency and fair-mindedness. Old communist virtues, but also ones that run deep in Chinese culture.

How does this integrity show up in everyday consciousness? More obvious is the most thoroughgoing anti-corruption campaign in living memory, on which I have written elsewhere. For this person, it is the focus on honesty and integrity that comes through most strongly in the campaign. The feeling is that China is back on the right track.

The other example of Comrade Xi’s integrity was somewhat of a surprise: he is not a ‘philanderer (huaxin)’ like Donald Trump. For this woman, the fact that Trump is dealing with multiple accusations of chasing porn stars is a sign of his lack of integrity. By contrast, Chairman Xi’s personal life is also an example of integrity. Honesty, kindness and faithfulness are key virtues in this domain as well.

Examples of such conversations could be repeated time and again. It is one thing to quote international opinion surveys and ‘trust barometers‘, which indicate that up to 87 percent of Chinese people approve of and are confident of the direction in which China is heading. It is another thing entirely to talk with people and get their sense of deep appreciation of what Xi Jinping is doing.

Codes and Conspiracies, or, Trying to Understand the Infantile Disorder of ‘Left-Wing’ Communism

From time to time, I try to understand those who believe that China has made or is still making a transition from socialism to capitalism. Earlier, I explored the orientalist dimensions of this belief, as well as the reliance on a ‘betrayal narrative’, but here I would like to focus on the need to rely on codes. In brief: all of the statements by the CPC, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, function as a code. They say one thing but actually mean something else. So what one needs is the key to the code, after which one can set to work deciphering the various statements.

What is the key to this code? According to those who believe in the code, the key is a conspiracy: from Deng Xiaoping onwards a vast conspiracy has been unfolding, which is nothing less than the transition from socialism to capitalism. I will not go into the details here as to why this conspiracy theory arose, based as it was on selected interpretation of events in the 1980s and even 1990s. Instead, I am interested in how the need for a code arises from the conspiracy theory.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is through a few examples.

There are more obvious examples, such as the hypothesis that the ‘reform and opening up’ (celebrating 40 years in 2018) is not so much the necessary process of reform after a communist revolution (already clear from Lenin’s work), but simply a code for the passage to capitalism. Or the ‘socialist market economy’ is a coded way of speaking about capitalism with government ‘interference’ – neglecting the historical fact that a capitalist market economy is only one form of market economies.

But there are some more intriguing examples. To begin with, Deng Xiaoping famously said that if one wishes to cross a river, one must feel each stone on the river bed at a time with one’s feet. The obvious meaning of this statement is that the passage to socialism, and then communism, requires careful attention to each problem, each fact, which requires analysis and solution. But no, for those who believe in the conspiracy theory, he was speaking in a code: crossing a river entails going from one bank to another. Since China was socialist at one point, they believe, the other bank must be capitalism. A bit of a stretch, given that Deng made it clear China was in the preliminary stage of socialism.

More recently – 2017 at the nineteenth congress of the CPC – Xi Jinping famously announced a new primary contradiction that would guide government policy. This contradiction is between uneven and unequal development and the people’s desire for a better life (meihua shenghuo). Apart from drawing straight out of Mao Zedong’s major essay, ‘On Contradiction’, Comrade Xi made it clear that a ‘better life’ meant not only a ‘moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui)’ by 2020, but a ‘strong modern socialist country’ by 2050, which would be achieved through socialist modernisation. At the core of all this is Marxist political economy and the construction of socialism.

But what do our conspiracy theorists make of this? The desire for a ‘better life’ is a code for the full transition to capitalism.

Now we come the obvious problem of this use of a code. The more Xi Jinping makes Marxism central to China’s project, the harder one must work to fit it all into the code. Anomalies appear, much thought is devoted to working the many pieces into the code … so much so that even doctoral theses are devoted to deciphering the code (outside China). A waste of energy.

I am reminded of someone who taught me biblical languages many, many years ago. She believed that the New Testament was a massive code that really talked about specific events at the Qumran community (which wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, as many hold). I recall her coming into class on some days full of excitement: she had cracked another part of the code that had been bothering her. Do not get me wrong: she taught me Hebrew, Syriac and Coptic very well indeed. The discussions about her code-cracking were held around the edges of class time. But the experience has made me acutely aware of how much time and energy people devote to deciphering codes after they have believed in a core conspiracy.

All of which brings me back to Lenin and his great booklet from 1920, ‘“Left-Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder’. Lenin’s immediate target may have been different, but the problem persists. Stalin faced the problem, as did Mao, Deng and indeed Xi Jinping today. Among the international Left one can find such ‘left-wing’ communists from time to time and they are keen to find the occasional person in China who is happy to pander to their desires. I find it both a lazy approach and one that faces immense problems to sustain not only the great conspiracy, but also to need to believe in a vast code that they must constantly seek to reinforce.

The Origins of the Belt and Road Initiative

A mountain cannot turn, but a road can (shan bu zhuan lu zhuan).

So goes an old Chinese saying.

And another: A friend made is a road paved; an enemy created is a wall built (jiaoge pengyou duo tiao lu, shuge diren duo du qiang)

I have begun with these sayings, since they indicate how the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) arises from Chinese tradition and culture. But this is not all, for it also emerges from Chinese socialism. Both are relevant in a creative interaction.

Before explaining, it is worth noting how others perceive the BRI. As the worldwide project became evident and as it was officially launched in 2016, some began deploying old categories, derived from Europe. ‘Creditor colonialism’ is one, first coined in India, where British colonialism has left a deep and lasting impression. That is, a piece of infrastructure is built in a country, with a long-term debt incurred. More generally, some have suggested that the Belt and Road Initiative is just another form of colonialism per se, in which China is seeking to influence and dominate more and more places throughout the world. On this matter, it is worth recalling an old (Danish) saying: a thief always thinks everyone else is a thief. In other words, if one comes from a background of international colonialism, then one views the activities of others in the same light.

All of this is quite unhelpful, so let us try another angle or two. The first concerns Chinese tradition and culture, which can be somewhat two-edged. The key example concerns the expeditions of the mariner, Zheng He, in the fifteenth century. His fleets set out with ships equipped to use the monsoonal winds to their advantage, voyaging to all corners of the China seas, if not further afield. Importantly, his ships were not festooned with guns – as European ships were not so long afterwards – but with treasure. The idea was to give this treasure as gifts to all that he would meet. On a more negative side, this approach entails an assumption that one’s own culture is superior. Thus, gifts for those less advanced was the best approach. On the positive side, it meant that he came offering gifts, not pointing guns. Zheng He’s voyages ended too soon, subject to the vagaries of the court in Beijing, and not long afterwards Dutch ships would appear in China’s part of world, full of cannon and the search for financial gain in areas they could colonise.

What has all this got to with roads and belts? Let us go further, recalling the sayings I quoted earlier. A road turns, it can find a way through. It enables one to meet and make friends, so much so that a new friend is like a paved road. In China, where I spend a good deal of my time, the poverty alleviation campaign – focused on lifting the last 40 million people (850 million so far since 1978) – has as one of its main concentrations the building of road and rail to remote areas. A significant reason for poverty is that some people live in inaccessible areas. These areas may be mountainous, they may be distant from regional centres. Build a good road, a major bridge, a high-speed rail link, and one finds access to the wider world and the opportunities in provides.

Let me give one example. Recently, I travelled from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in the far south of China, to Beijing. The whole distance is 2600 kilometres. Although I have a love for older and slower trains, I took the high-speed rail line (gaotie). It travels at 310 km per hour in full flight. Through Yunnan and the neighbouring Guizhou province, it stopped at a number of regional stations, in the mountains and remoter areas. But once it joined the trunk line, it stopped at only provincial capitals. The whole journey took twelve hours, from the far south to Beijing, in the north. The train was full all the way. This experience can be replicated again and again throughout China, whether it is a winding mountain road to remote areas, or yet another rail link across the breadth of the country.

So much for roads (and rail), but what about belts? The crucial character for ‘belt’ is dai (带). This character has a rich semantic field indeed. Its basic sense is a belt or girdle, but it also connotes a range of meanings: a zone or area, and, as a verb, to take or bring, to bear or have something attached, to lead or teach, to look after and nurture, if not also to spur on. When this character is used, it invokes this rich range of meanings. Perhaps I can put it this way: when a lover – short-term or life-long – wishes to give an appropriate gift, he or she gives a belt. Why? A belt means intimacy, closeness and commitment.

One Belt, One Road, or, the Belt and Road Initiative, has a significant pedigree in Chinese tradition.

What about the Marxist tradition, especially as this has become interwoven with, and indeed transformed, Chinese culture? To understand this situation, we need to go back to none other than Stalin. There is a crucial phase in his thought (and consequent practice) that emerges especially in the turbulent and creative 1930s. This was the time when the ‘positive policy’ – or as some have called it, the ‘affirmative action’ program – in relation to minorities was first developed. They called them ‘nationalities’, a term I prefer (these days some like to call them ‘ethnic minorities’, but this designation has a host of problems). Given that the Soviet Union was the largest country in the world, it had many nationalities. Stalin sought to implement an old Bolshevik program: fostering the languages, cultures, education, political leadership and economic incentives of the many nationalities in the Soviet Union. It became the first and most advanced ‘affirmative action’ program in the world.

At a crucial moment, Stalin made a breakthrough: the model of ‘affirmative action’ within the Soviet Union also applied to colonised peoples throughout the world. In some respects, he argues, the Russian Revolution itself was an anti-colonial act, a freeing of a whole range of peoples from subservience to the colonial powers of Western Europe. But it also meant that the Soviet Union – as a ‘beacon’ and a ‘torch’ – would light the way to liberation from colonialism throughout the world. With this breakthrough, the Soviet Union began to foster anti-colonial struggles throughout the world. We find this taking place in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In this phase, the project entailed arms (think of the Kalashnikov), educations, logistics, education, funds and more.

Two implications follow. First, this support was the transformation of the global communist revolution into a new phase, focusing on the peripheries of the ‘global world order’ rather than its centre, as had first been imagined. Second, this focus led to one of the greatest transformations of the twentieth century, apart from the Russian Revolution itself: the success of one anti-colonial struggle after another, the vast majority of them supported by the Soviet Union (although it also generated tensions between socialist states, with some – like Cuba – at times criticising Soviet involvement in Latin America). By the 1970s, the world did not look the same anymore.

The question remains: what has all this got to do with China?

In many respects, the Belt and Road Initiative is fostering a new phase of the anti-colonial struggle. This may seem like a surprising claim, so let me explain: in the wake of the twentieth-century’s success in throwing off the old colonial yoke, a new yoke was found. This involved ‘foreign aid’, rendering many of the former colonies financially dependent of the powers from whom they received this ‘aid’. The process was streamlined and globalised through organisations such as the World Bank, which would give loans with heavy conditions attached – all the way from neo-liberal economic and social ‘reforms’ to implicitly forcing ‘regime change’. Essentially, these loans comprised another form of bribery: cash handed over to a local ruling class to as to keep them compliant in the global hierarchy. In other words, it was not the exception but the rule that substantial wads of cash ended up in the pockets of the local ruling class. What better way to keep them on side?

As a result, nothing much was built, no infrastructure – crucial for any country’s economy and society – established. As someone from Romania put it to me: in rich countries, corruption happens, but schools, roads, rail and so on still get built; in poor countries, corruption happens and nothing is built.

This is where the Belt and Road Initiative offers a very different model, developed out of Chinese experience. Any country with an infrastructural need is potentially eligible. In Africa, Latin America, the Pacific, Asia, project after project is being built by Chinese companies. So also in countries regarded as financial pariahs within Europe, such as Greece or Serbia or Hungary. Even in Greenland, a Chinese company is in the final round of negotiations to build a new airport. Does China have an agenda? Of course, not least of which is enabling a shift from the ‘global world order’ that has dominated since the end of the Second World War. They prefer to call it a ‘global village’, without demanding changes to the internal structures of governance, economy and society. Why? The Chinese are keen indeed on sovereignty. In the same way that they make sure no other country interferes with their internal affairs, so also do they relate with other countries.

With all this focus on infrastructure, which neo-liberal economics typically finds a waste of money (as Marx already pointed in the third volume of Capital, why build something when you can speculate, making money form money?), China’s know-how has and continues to leap ahead. The signature example is high-speed trains. Initially, the Chinese drew on German and French expertise in order to build the ‘Harmony’ series of trains. But as they laid out thousands upon thousands of kilometres of track through deserts and soaring mountain ranges, and as they built hundreds and hundreds of trains, they developed the technology beyond what is found elsewhere. The new Fuxian train is the result, with longer life in its crucial parts, higher speed, smoother running and greater comfort. It travels the 2100 kilometres from Beijing to Guangzhou in eight hours. Crucially, the train was completely designed and constructed in China. This example could be replicated again and again. So when a Chinese company bids for an international infrastructure project, it is offering not cheap labour but the highest quality product.

To wrap up: I began with two Chinese sayings, so let me finish with another: Do not be afraid of a long road, but be afraid only of a shortage of aspiration (bupa luchang zhipa zhiduan).

Hold high the mighty banner of Xi Jinping Thought

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.