Thursday Nov 23 2017

Amazing China: Thoughts from recent visits

Cars stand bumper to bumper in the evening rush hour traffic jam in central Beijing, China. File photo:. Reuters

China is moving on an unimagined speed of ‘rejuvenation’ of its zhongguo or ‘Middle Kingdom’ and realisation of the ‘Chinese dream’, based on the vivid memory of its ‘golden age’, on the advanced criteria of the Two Centenaries with an eye to become a leading global power by 2049. That would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the people’s republic.

Indeed, China is well on its way to take the centre-stage to ostensibly “build a (world) community with a shared future for mankind”, as was envisaged by Kong Fuzi or Confucius as a “way of the just and harmonious” world in response to the chaos of his times. China has never in its history undertaken expeditions to occupy foreign lands, nor does it relish any ambition to become hegemonic or concede to anybody’s hegemony. China remained determined not to let ‘barbarians’ unite against it; it rather preferred to let them fight among themselves. Ever since the Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), China preferred a compliant and divided periphery, rather than attempting to seek direct control.

Rooted in immortal Chinese civilisation and helped by market-socialism with exceptional Chinese characteristics, China is set to achieve the goal of “building a moderately prosperous society” – in Marxist terms, of a “primary stage of socialism”. Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Asian giant is determined to become a “moderately well-off society” without relative poverty by the year 2021.

China became the first nation in history to have achieved a GDP of $20 trillion in 2015. Now it leads the world in trade, outbound investments and reserves as the second largest economy in terms of nominal GDP and the largest in the world on Purchasing Power Parity terms of the GDP. It has become the largest hub of the manufacturing economy of the world and for exporters of goods. Still it lags behind in terms of per capita income basis – 71st by nominal GDP and 78th by Purchasing Power Parity of GDP. And this is not for the first time in history. China produced more wealth pr GDP as compared to any country in the world in 18 out of the last 20 centuries. In 1820, it produced 30 percent of the world’s GDP, far greater than western and eastern Europe and the United States put together.

Although the state-owned economy (SOE) is still dominant and allocation of resources is centralised according to the planned framework, the private sector in China is flourishing at a great pace, resulting in greater social stratifications and disparities in incomes and lifestyles. What is unique to the political economy of the Chinese model is that it has somehow achieved the best out of a unique combination of state-owned economy and non-state economy. That is why China did not become a victim of the anarchic and cyclical ups and downs of market forces that engulfed developed and newly emerging markets in recent times. Despite centralisation, the country’s provinces and autonomous regions are allowed relative autonomy to experiment with a variety of models and to address their peculiar challenges. Although the CPC is quite Stalinist in it approach towards ethnic minorities, it is undertaking huge steps to integrate them into the mainstream.

The CPC follows its own version of Marxism as a guiding ideology with a “people-centric philosophy of development” while aiming for “well-rounded human development and all-rounded social progress”. Yet the 19th Congress of the CPC has aptly identified the principal contradiction in its current stage of development in the following terms: the “contradiction between unbalance and inadequate development (in terms of regional and class disparities and worst ecological challenges) and peoples’ ever-growing needs for better life”.

The original mission of the Chinese communists remains to “seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. While following Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and the Deng Xiaoping Theory, the CPC has now incorporated President Xi Jinping’s ideas on “socialism with Chinese characteristics for the New Era”. On his election for the second term, comrade Xi Jinping has emerged as the most authoritative leader after the country’s founding leader Mao Zedong and reformer Deng Xiaoping. President Xi carries with him vast experience at the grassroots level and in the provinces as well as a reputation of honesty, hard work and dedication to serve the people. He is a consistent reformist and quite enthusiastic about openness as opposed to dogmatism and isolationism.

Xi has launched an aggressive campaign against corruption, led by his anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan and is now being handled by the new head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Comrade Xi’s rise is not accidental nor out of family connections. In fact, the whole Chinese leadership has to pass rigorous tests of performance before rising to the top in the old Chinese tradition of “literary scholar-officials selected by nationwide competitive examination”, as described by Henry Kissinger in his book, ‘On China’. Innovation and accountability are now the buzz words for Chinese leaders.

China is now opening up more and reaching out to the world, and has almost assumed the role of a new leader of globalisation with the grand plan of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative to connect Asia, North Africa and Eastern Europe. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important part of the greater OBOR. The corridor is now on its way to completing the first phase of addressing energy and infrastructure deficiencies and is expected to enter the next phase after the approval of the Long-Term Plan by the Seventh Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting held on Tuesday at Islamabad.

Energy and infrastructure projects worth $27 billion are now in the completion stage before both sides agree on the blueprints of Special Economic Zones and other pivotal projects, such as the $2 billion worth Karachi Circular Railway and $8.2 billion worth Main-Line-1 of Pakistan Railways. The next JCC is expected to firm up the loose ends of the next phase of the Long-Term Plan.

Pakistan’s relationship with China is graduating from a purely military strategic phase to much broader geo-economic terms. So should we be preparing to make it a real ‘game-changer’ in our best national interests? We should learn from China’s development model and benefit from its advancements in various fields to stand on our own feet, instead of perpetuating our dependency on external handouts. We should also not limit this promising partnership from the narrow prism of counter-balancing others in the region. Rather, we should engage all neighbours into the grand CPEC scheme.

The writer has visited China in June and November. All direct quotes are from the 19th CPC Congress.

The writer is a senior journalist. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

Originally published in The News