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.

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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), education, 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 and 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 2000s 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.

Xi Jinping’s Boao Forum speech: key ideas

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.

The benefits of lifting the presidential (and vice-presidential) term limits in China

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.

China’s multi-party system: ‘a great contribution to political civilisation’

The all-important ‘two sessions’ (lianghui) are underway in Beijing. These are the National People’s Congress (NPC), the highest law-making body in China, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which provides advice and recommendations to the NPC. You can watch a brief video about the two sessions of 2018 here. These two sessions are perhaps even more important this year after the landmark 19th congress of the CPC in November of 2016.

During the first session of the CPPCC, Xi Jinping and others met with representatives from other political parties, those without party affiliation and returned overseas Chinese. Among other items, Xi stressed the following (quoting from Xinhua News – see also a later piece in the People’s Daily):

President Xi Jinping Sunday called the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity.”

It is “a new type of party system growing from China’s soil,” said Xi …

Xi said the system is new because it combines Marxist political party theories with China’s reality, and truly, extensively and in the long term represents fundamental interests of all people and all ethnic groups and fulfills their aspiration, avoiding the defects of the old-fashioned party system which represents only a selective few or the vested interest.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, because it unites all political parties and people without party affiliation toward a common goal, effectively preventing the flaws of the absence of oversight in one-party rule, or power rotation and nasty competition among multiple political parties.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, also because it pools ideas and suggestions through institutional, procedural, and standardized arrangements and develops a scientific and democratic decision making mechanism.

It steers away from another weakness of the old-fashioned party system, in which decision making and governance, confined by interests of different political parties, classes, regions and groups, tears the society apart, he said.

Fitting China’s reality and fine traditional culture, it is “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity,” he said.

Xi said upholding the CPC leadership was not meant to do away with democracy.

Instead, it aims to create a form of democracy that is broader and more effective, he said.

The CPC-led system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation stresses both the CPC leadership and socialist democracy which features political consultation, participation in the deliberation of state affairs, and democratic supervision, he said.

 

CPC Central Committee proposes changes to the constitution

In preparation for the two sessions of parliament, the CPC Central Committee met to discuss – among other things – changes to the constitution. It is useful to see these in the wider context, since some international commentators have been making a bit of noise about the removal of term limits to the presidency. As you will see, what the document actually suggests is that the terms for president and vice-president be the same as delegates for the National People’s Congress.

And it turns out that Xi Jinping Thought (in full: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era), meshes rather well with my project on ‘Socialism in Power‘. Xi Jinping Thought has already been written into the constitution of the CPC, fostered more than 100 university research centres and entered into the school curriculum.

Here is the full list of proposals from the Central Committee, made public the other day:

The proposal, raised to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), was made in accordance with the new situation and practice of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

— New thought

The CPC Central Committee proposed writing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the country’s fundamental law. The Scientific Outlook on Development was also proposed to be included.

According to the proposal, under the leadership of the CPC and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the Chinese people of all ethnic groups will continue to adhere to the people’s democratic dictatorship and the socialist road, persevere in reform and opening to the outside world, steadily improve socialist institutions, develop the socialist market economy, develop socialist democracy, improve the socialist rule of law, apply a new vision of development and work hard and self-reliantly to modernize the country’s industry, agriculture, national defence and science and technology step by step and promote the coordinated development of the material, political, cultural and ethical, social and ecological advancement, to turn China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful and realize national rejuvenation.

— United front

The CPC Central Committee proposed including patriots devoted to national rejuvenation as part of the patriotic united front in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, in the long years of revolution, construction and reform, there has been formed under the leadership of the CPC a broad patriotic united front which is composed of the democratic parties and people’s organizations, and which embraces all socialist working people, all builders of socialism, all patriots who support socialism, and all patriots who stand for the reunification of the motherland and devote themselves to national rejuvenation. This united front will continue to be consolidated and developed.

— Harmonious relations among all ethnic groups

Harmonious socialist relations among ethnic groups were proposed to be written into the Constitution.

Socialist relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony have been established among the ethnic groups and will continue to be strengthened, according to a proposed revision to the preamble.

The State protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minority groups and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony among all of China’s ethnic groups, according to a proposed revision to a clause of Article 4.

— Community with shared future for humanity

The CPC Central Committee proposed writing building “a community with a shared future for humanity” into the Constitution.

The expression that China will “adhere to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up” should be added to the preamble, read the proposal.

China’s achievements in revolution, construction and reform are inseparable from the support of the people of the world. The future of China is closely linked to the future of the world, according to the proposal.

The proposal read that China consistently carries out an independent foreign policy, adheres to the five principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence, adheres to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up in developing diplomatic relations and economic and cultural exchanges with other countries, and works to build a community with a shared future for humanity. China consistently opposes imperialism, hegemonism and colonialism, works to strengthen unity with the people of other countries, supports the oppressed nations and the developing countries in their just struggle to win and preserve national independence and develop their national economies, and strives to safeguard world peace and promote the cause of human progress.

— CPC leadership

A sentence stressing the Party’s leadership was proposed to be added into the Constitution.

“The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” read the proposal.

— Core socialist values

The addition of core socialist values into a clause was also in the proposed package.

The proposal read that the State advocates core socialist values, and the civic virtues of love of the motherland, of the people, of labour, of science and of socialism.

— Oath of allegiance

The CPC Central Committee proposed inclusion of pledging allegiance to the Constitution into the fundamental law.

All state functionaries shall take a public oath of allegiance to the Constitution when assuming office, read the proposal.

— Chinese President and Vice-President

The CPC Central Committee proposed revising the clause “The term of office of the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China is the same as that of the National People’s Congress, and they shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” to “The term of office of the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China is the same as that of the National People’s Congress.”

— New cabinet function

The CPC Central Committee proposed to list ecological advancement as a new function and power of the State Council, or cabinet.

Apart from economic affairs and urban and rural development, the State Council also has the function and power of directing and administering ecological advancement, according to a proposed change to a clause under Article 89.

— More cities with legislative power

Chinese cities, with subordinate districts, would be granted the power to make local laws and regulations under the proposed constitutional amendment.

The people’s congresses and their standing committees of these cities would be able to adopt local laws and regulations under the condition that they do not contradict the Constitution, national laws and regulations, and provincial laws and regulations, according to the proposal.

The local laws and regulations would take effect after being approved by the standing committees of provincial-level people’s congresses.

— Supervisory commissions

The CPC Central Committee proposed listing the supervisory commissions as a new type of state organs in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, supervisory organs will be listed together with administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the State, all of which are created by the people’s congresses to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised.

A new section about supervisory commissions is proposed to be added to the third chapter titled “The Structure of the State” in the Constitution.

The country sets up the national and local supervisory commissions, according to the document.

A supervisory commission will consist of one director, several deputy directors and a number of members. The director will serve the same term as that of the people’s congress of the same level.

The director of the national supervisory commission shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.

The organization, functions and powers of supervisory commissions are prescribed by law.

As the supreme supervisory organ, the national supervisory commission will oversee local commissions and answer to the NPC and its standing committee.

The supervisory commissions at higher levels will lead the commissions at lower levels.

Local supervisory commissions at various levels will be responsible to the state power organs that created them and to the supervisory commission at the next level up.

The supervisory commissions will independently exercise their power of supervision and not be subject to interference by any administrative organ, public organization or individual, said the proposal.

It also asked the supervisory organs to coordinate with judicial organs, procuratorial organs and law enforcement departments, and check each other in handling duty-related offenses.

The NPC will be given the power to elect and remove the director of the national supervisory commission, while the NPC Standing Committee shall supervise the national supervisory commission and appoint or remove deputy directors and members of the commission at the recommendation of its director.

Local people’s congresses at and above county level will elect and have the power to remove the directors of the supervisory commissions at the corresponding level, while their standing committees shall supervise the supervisory commissions at the corresponding level.

Members of the standing committees of the NPC and local peoples’ congresses at and above county level shall not hold office in supervisory organs.

In addition, supervision will no longer be a duty for the State Council and local governments at and above county level, according to the proposal.

Beijing Declaration on Human Rights

It appears there is no resting for the post-19th Congress CPC. First there was a forum to examine new modes of cooperation between the CPC and other world political parties (here and here), and yesterday the first forum on South-South Human Rights concluded. With over 300 delegates from 70 countries, it was a major event. And it has produced a major statement on human rights (copied below). A news report on the closing of the forum and its achievements can be found here.

Note especially the focus on universal and particular dimensions, collective and individual, sovereignty and that the ‘right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights’. These points come straight out of the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights, which I have discussed earlier. But they are also clearly the concerns of many countries in the developing world.

Beijing Declaration on Human Rights

(Copied from Xinhua News)

From December 7 to December 8 of 2017, the first “South-South Human Rights Forum” was held in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter. Mr. Huang Kunming, Member of the Political Bureau and the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, Minister of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, attended the opening ceremony of the forum and read President Xi Jinping’s congratulatory letter and delivered a speech. Foreign Minister Wang Yi also attended the opening ceremony and delivered a speech. The forum is jointly sponsored by the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, and is attended by more than 300 representatives from over 70 countries and international organizations in the world. The representatives actively participated in discussions on the development of human rights in the developing countries and the world.

The participants believed that the congratulatory letter addressed to the forum by President Xi Jinping pursues the value of putting the people first and the development thought centered on the people, insisting on the unity of universality and particularity of human rights, emphasizing cooperation for development, promoting human rights through development, and calling for joint development of a community of shared future for human beings, which would play an important leading role in the development of human rights in the developing countries and the world at large.

The participants stressed that President Xi Jinping’s proposal to build a community of shared future for human beings is a major concept which conforms to the trend of the times, fits the requirements of development, and reflects the pursuit of a new human social value. It has pointed out the direction for solving global problems, including human rights governance, and is a major ideological contribution made by China to promote the development and progress of human society.

The participants pointed out that in today’s world, the population of developing countries accounts for more than 80 percent of world population, and the development of the global human rights is inseparable from the joint efforts of the vast numbers of developing countries. Over the years, the human rights situations in the developing countries have been continuously improved, which has made a major contribution to the promotion and development of human rights in the world. However, due to the constraints and impacts of various factors, there are still many problems in improving the human rights protection of developing countries. Therefore, it is necessary for developing countries and the international community to keep on making their unremitting efforts.

It is noted that China develops human rights based on national conditions, with the right to subsistence and the right to development as the primary basic human rights. China adheres to a comprehensive and evolving view of human rights, making not only great achievements in the development of its own human rights cause but also significant contributions to the development of human rights in the world, offering China’s experience.

Around the topic “Building A Community of Shared Future for Human Beings: New Opportunities for South-South Human Rights Development,” participants had in-depth reflection and discussions and they jointly declared the following articles:

Article 1

In order to ensure universal acceptance and observance of human rights, the realization of human rights must take into account regional and national contexts, and political, economic, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds. The cause of human rights must and can only be advanced in accordance with the national conditions and the needs of the peoples. Each State should adhere to the principle of combining the universality and specificity of human rights and choose a human rights development path or guarantee model that suits its specific conditions. States and the international community have a responsibility to create the necessary conditions for the realization of human rights, including the maintenance of peace, security and stability, the promotion of economic and social development and the removal of obstacles to the realization of human rights.

Article 2

Human rights are an integral part of all civilizations, and all civilizations should be recognized as equal and should be respected. Values and ethics of different cultural backgrounds should be cherished and respected, and mutual tolerance, exchange and reference should be honored. All governments and peoples should work together to build a community of shared future for human beings based on the principles of mutual benefit and sharing, build a world of lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness, tolerance and cleanness, so that humanity is free from fear, from poverty, from disease, from discrimination and from isolation. The community of shared future for human beings represents the yearning of peoples of the world for peace, development and prosperity.

Article 3

The right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights. The main body of the right to development is the people. In order to maximize the overall interests of mankind, it is necessary to uphold the unity of the right to development at individual level and the right to development at collective level, so that all peoples have equal opportunities for development and fully realize the right to development. Developing countries should pay special attention to safeguarding the people’s right to subsistence and right to development, especially to achieve a decent standard of living, adequate food, clothing, and clean drinking water, the right to housing, the right to security, work, education, and the right to health and social security. The international community should take the eradication of poverty and hunger as the primary task, and strive to solve the problem of insufficient and unsustainable development and create more favorable conditions for the realization of the people’s right to development especially in the developing countries.

Article 4

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human dignity is not only related to human freedom, but also decisive to the all-round development of human beings. Human rights are the unity of individual rights and collective rights. The right to subsistence and the right to development, the right to peace, and the right to the environment are both important collective human rights and the prerequisite and basis for the realization of individual human rights. All human rights are indivisible and interdependent. The acquisition of civil and political rights is inseparable from the simultaneous acquisition of economic, social and cultural rights, which are equally important and interrelated.

Article 5

Human rights are inalienable, and all countries should make efforts to promote the legal guarantee of human rights. Restrictions on the exercise of human rights must be determined by law, and only for the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of other members of society (including freedom from religious desecration, racism and discrimination) and meet the legitimate needs of national security, public order, public health, public safety, public morals and the general welfare of the people. Everyone is responsible to all others and to society, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be balanced with the fulfillment of corresponding responsibilities.

Article 6

States should, in accordance with their national laws and international obligations, focus on guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of specific groups, including ethnic, national, racial, religious and linguistic groups and migrant workers, people with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees and displaced persons. States have an obligation to respect and protect religious minorities, and religious minorities have the same obligation to adapt to their local environment, and this includes the acceptance and observance of the Constitution and laws of their localities, as well as their integration into the local society. Everyone has the right to choose his or her own beliefs, including the choice of believing or not believing a religion, and the choice of believing one religion or another, without being discriminated.

Article 7

South-South cooperation is an important way to promote development and human rights progress in developing countries. The South-South countries should adhere to the spirit of solidarity, sharing of responsibilities and obligations, mutual help and win-win cooperation, and insist on promoting cooperation with unity, advancing development through cooperation, and promoting human rights through development, making efforts to achieve more adequate human rights protection. The international community should, in line with the principles of balance, inclusiveness and sustainability, actively support better development of developing countries and constantly improve the protection of human rights in those countries.

Article 8

The international community’s concern for human rights matters should always follow the international law and the universally recognized basic norms governing international relations, of which the key is to respect national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. All countries should adhere to the principle of sovereign equality, and all countries, big or small, have the right to determine their political systems, control and freely use their own resources, and independently pursue their own economic, social and cultural development. The politicization, selectivity and double standards on the issue of human rights and the abuse of military, economic or other means to interfere in other countries’ affairs run counter to the purpose and spirit of human rights. The relevant actions of the international community to protect human rights must be in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and should respect the views of the concerned states and regional organizations.

Article 9

The realization of human rights is never-ending and the development of human rights is always ongoing. In terms of human rights protection, there is no best way, only the better one. The satisfaction of the people is the ultimate criterion to test the rationality of human rights and the way to guarantee them. It is the responsibility of governments to continuously raise the level of human rights protection in accordance with the demands of their peoples. The international community should promote human rights cooperation through dialogue and exchange, mutual learning and mutual understanding and consensus-building on the basis of equality and mutual respect.