The Governance of China in a Changing World
Practical synergies mean that China and the rest of the world have more chance of pursuing progress if they work together, than if each country pursued development decoupled from other countries.
Exactly one year ago Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech in which he reflected on the exercise of power in the most populated country with the world’s oldest continuous culture on January 13, 2020. The speech is the last one of the 92 articles included in his work The Governance of China III. This third volume assembles President Xi’s speeches and texts delivered between October 18, 2017 and January 13, 2020 preceding the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the ideas in the book are clearly still valid today.
Several insights attract readers’ attention from the start. At the national level, Xi’s goal of realizing rejuvenation of the Chinese nation manifests itself in multiple ways, with the most striking one being the unleashing of the country’s vitality leading to the greatest economic growth in humankind’s history. During 2020, such vitality had not been subdued by the pandemic, but on the contrary, remained strong. Despite the still uncertain global economic outlook, the World Bank projected that China’s GDP growth will accelerate to 7.9 percent in 2021. At the same time, the pandemic also reinforces Xi’s assessment that the current world is facing changes unseen in a century.
In contrast with volatile international situations and the alarming domestic division in the United States, the world largest economy, also the representative of Western democracy, China’s incredible feats unfolding before our eyes make people believe that it will not be long before the country can realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Indeed, anyone who dispassionately observes the crisis in the U.S. Capitol, where hordes of vandals stormed the building encouraged by the sitting American president himself, against the backdrop of tens of millions of citizens who do not trust the mechanisms of their own democracy, knows that we are witnessing a major change with remarkable potential echo in international politics. U.S. democracy, seen as a model in the West for two centuries, is cracking dramatically due to internal causes.
In the West, it’s usually the case that politicians trumpet short-term goals to win over voters, while statesmen who think deeply or adopt a long-term approach are hardly recognized and seem to belong to the past. In such a context, it is completely novel to read a 650-page corpus containing the ideas of a country’s leader ruling a fifth of the world’s population and contributing to multilateralism and to global interdependence like no other. In style and content, Xi’s analysis is based on Marxism with Chinese characteristics, with clear language sometimes incorporating references to the country’s philosophical wisdom dating back 5,000 years, making it a unique flowing narrative. Also, in times that call for more international cooperation, it is worth noting that The Governance of China III can help readers of different continents to understand Xi’s motivations and the country’s achievements directly, without intermediaries.
How does a leader of a country responsible for a third of the world’s economic growth assess the course of the local and global economy? How does he evaluate the public policy mechanisms of the government that has managed to lift nearly 800 million people out of poverty in the last forty years? Which steps has China taken to achieve the status of a moderately prosperous society? What are the institutional merits of the country which can explain its successful fight against the novel coronavirus while most of the world is overwhelmed by the virus? What are the guiding principle and goals of the Belt and Road Initiative? What is the exact meaning of a community with a shared future for mankind? The answers to these and other fundamental questions are found in the book.
Regarding foreign policy, the reader will find explanatory references to a series of international initiatives, with China as an important player, that include APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, the G20, and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Centuries ago, some remarkable Western intellectuals studied China in search of wisdom about governance and a model of government. Over time we have learned that each country has its unique characteristics, and that, above all, it is not wise for a country to try to copy a foreign model without considering its own circumstances. China has been following its own path. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the country has been adjusting itself to the changing situations.
Today, the world is changing at an unprecedented rate. When the world’s most powerful country appears structurally divided and confused, the world needs to be reoriented. When CNN’s White House correspondent reported that the incumbent U.S. president, “is leaving America in a whirlwind of violence, disease, and death and more internally alienated than it has been in 150 years,” as global citizens we must wake up and readjust our perspective. The ancient Greek and Chinese classics already warned us that time is flowing, and thus we need resilience. This means that inspired by great thinkers, we must remain curious and seek the truth from facts, which is also a fine tradition of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the world’s largest political party.
Following the structural guidelines outlined in Xi Jinping: The Governance of China III, the CPC, concluded the fifth plenary session of its 19th Central Committee in October. To boost its economic development, China decided to further accentuate innovation, the real economy, a strong domestic market, the invigoration of rural areas, and green and sustainable development. And the emphasis is reflected in the CPC Central Committee’s proposals for the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2021-2025) and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035. Is there anything in these wide-ranging plans (which includes a vision of China and the world by 2049), that can also inspire us within the framework of a community with a shared future? Certainly, the answer is positive, and the answer is also an invitation to read the book so as to get an insight about the CPC’s guiding ideas and decision-making processes in governing the country.
When the ancient country translates its governance vision into a modernization drive, which will meet its goal in a time span much shorter than Western modernization had taken in the 20th century, it is time to reflect on the importance of the governance of China and on the importance of continuous and deeper interaction. Recent examples, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), signed among Asia Pacific countries including China, and the EU-China investment agreement, both sealed in the last two months, demonstrate that the notion of a community with a shared future for mankind proposed by Xi is a feasible path.
Practical synergies mean that China and the rest of the world have more chance of pursuing progress if they work together, than if each country pursued development decoupled from other countries. This is the central message to the world of the highly recommended Xi Jinping: The Governance of China III at the beginning of a new year.
Augusto Soto is director of Dialogue with China Project and representative in Spain of China Today.