It is rare that any one short article can so accurately capture everything that is wrong with the western/liberal conception of China, but the Washington Post out did itself when it published a piece titled, “In the age of Trump and Brexit, China’s national hubris is on the rise”. The premise of the piece is that China’s increasingly visible role in international affairs, one that naturally falls to any superpower, is directly related to various electoral ‘crises’ in western nations, particularly the United States.
The reality is that China’s forward momentum in the 21st century is the result of the last 69 years of political, economic and social development–all of which has been accomplished without the help of external allies and in spite of internal political events in countries far from China.
While international experts remain flummoxed in respect of how to characterise Mao Zedong’s period of rule, in reality, the China of today owes a great deal to Mao’s reforms. The primary legacy of Mao’s rule was to transform a society still accustomed to old feudal ways into a modern country with a strong central government that created the educational and economic environment necessary to lay the important foundations for the industrial revolution which occurred after Mao’s death.
While photographs of China during the Mao era do not feature the breathtaking buildings of the 21st century, the China of the mid 20th century was well on its way to rapidly developing on its own terms. It is because of the ferociously independent model that Mao built, that China has been able to develop without foreign interference which almost always leads to the exploitation of the poor and the dilution of the collective culture. Mao’s commitment to sovereignty was clearly informed by the heroic role he and his partisans played in liberating China from brutal imperial Japanese occupation during the Second World War.
Mao took China into the modern age, one five year plan at a time and did so in such a way that prioritised China’s sovereignty above all. Mao’s Great Leap Forward helped to modernise the agricultural bedrock of the developing People’s Republic of China, thus forever breaking the last remnants of the regressive feudal system. Later, the Cultural Revolution helped to transform Chinese thought into a vigorous, patriotic and progressive phenomenon which prepared many young Chinese for future leadership roles. While both the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward were trying periods for China, they played a decisive role in shaping the Chinese future and breaking away from the past.
Mao never took the easy way out and in spite of the difficulties implicit in the redevelopment of a country in the aftermath of a devastating war, China today owes much to the hard-won reforms of the founder of the People’s Republic of China.
No man shaped the way China looks, functions and thinks about itself today more than Deng Xiaoping. While some scholars see Deng as the anti-Mao, in reality, he simply carried China through its next great leap forward which happened to be less materially difficult than the first. While there was hardship in the Mao era, it was these post-war struggles to recast China as a modern country that made it possible for Deng Xiaoping to introduce economic reforms which in the 21st century, appear to be the only economic philosophy that has not been severely discredited by the tumult of the post-Cold War era.
Deng famously said, “I do not care if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” and this pragmatic ethos became the hallmark of a refreshed China that would create an industrial, commercial and in its later stage, a consumer revolution that remains a towering example of a rapid rise of a nation out of poverty and into an industrial, wealthy, urban colossus which is the envy of the world in 2018.
Deng’s Market Socialism anticipated the 21st century collapse in confidence in the capitalist world, while also anticipating the mistakes of Deng’s Soviet counterparts of the Gorbachev era, who foolishly prioritised American style political reforms over economic renewal on a sovereign basis.
Deng Xiaoping Theory also anticipated the era of industrial automation insofar as the market socialist model is able to sustain a large population accustomed to high living standards even as high intensity labouring jobs become increasingly ‘in-sourced’ to robots and artificial intelligence. Because the market socialist model realises the importance of maintaining national wealth which is invested into infrastructure, the environment, as well as the development and happiness of the people, China will not experience a wealth drain due to the fact that modern factories are increasingly automated. The wealth generated by Chinese automation will be re-invested into the people in a manner that remains inconceivable in most neo-liberal economies.
Finally, Deng was able to preserve the internal peace of the country at a time when many Chinese became increasingly familiar with the political systems and philosophies of the outside world. Long before the phrase ‘colour revolution’ was invented, some Chinese politicians and so-called “intellectuals” became seduced by the political systems of the west, though without considering the deeper consequences of how such systems would have retarded the national progress of the Chinese people.
Men like Zhao Ziyang in particular underestimated the dangers of western political infiltration at a time when the Soviet Union was hastily engaged in destroying itself through just such a process. Ultimately, through Deng’s patriotic guidance, China weathered a would-be western orchestrated insurrection in 1989 and thus restored internal peace and social normalcy. The alternative could have been the kind of poverty and war associated with allowing one’s nation to collapse under the pressure of foreign meddling.
Deng was able to open China to the world, while forbidding less than sincere global partners to eradicate the Chinese spirit and meddle in the sovereign affairs of the Chinese nation. Thus, Deng avoided what for Russia was the tragedy of the 1990s where oligarchs plundered the country’s wealth and US interference in domestic affairs made a mockery of the country’s political sovereignty.
The reforms of Deng continued into the era of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, as Deng Xiaoping Theory continued to guide China’s rapid progress in terms of industrial output. When Xi Jinping became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012, he readied China for its soon to be official role as the world’s leading economy.
Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era looks to fully eradicated poverty in China through the careful distribution of aggregate national wealth, at a time when India faces an ever widening wealth gap between the richest and poorest and many formerly great American industrial cities have been re-cast at the “rust belt”, where unemployment, depression and infrastructural decline abound.
Xi Jinping has set China on the course to not just be the world’s most efficient producer, but the world’s greatest innovator. Xi has declared that over the next five years “Made in China” will be transformed to “Created in China”.
Soon, Chinese innovation and international brand recognition will come to dominate the international marketplace, while the One Belt–One Road initiative will allow China’s wealth creating model to lift international partners into a new era of peace and prosperity, all the while allowing for sovereign internal political and cultural development. This contrasts with the American model which typically extracts major concessions in terms of a nation’s political, military and cultural sovereignty in exchange for doing business with American companies. The One Belt–One Road model of China offers a more harmonious alternative that will bind sovereign nations across the world together, making trade work for all partners and not just some.
This “Win-Win” model of Xi Jinping has already transformed how countries throughout the world view the prospect of international trade. One Belt–One Road allows nations to play to their economic strengths on a global stage while allowing inter-connectivity to help modernise areas of their respective economies that are in need of fresh development. While neo-liberal economics puts profit before development, One Belt–One Road will allow countries to maintain and enhance their leading industries, all the while granting them greater exposure to markets outside for any one global region. Likewise, One Belt–One Road does not make any requirements on a nation to automatically accept free trade with a wealthier partner, but instead allows bilateral relations to progress according to the specific needs of the specific partners at a specific time.
The rise of the Petroyuan and the yuan moreover as the world’s next primary reserve currency will also help nations escape the increasing volatility of a dollar based world economy that can often fall victim to aggressive US sanctions which put political meddling above the pragmatic needs of would-be partners. This is yet another triumph of Xi’s “win-win” model.
Success: Made in China
While Washington Post author John Pomfret calls China’s attitude one of “hubris”, this insulting term is a distraction from the reality that the Chinese government and Chinese people feel today. After decades of rapid development which continues to this day, Chinese are nevertheless able to breathe easily, knowing that their country is strong, influential, admired, wealthy and safe. China has worked harder than virtually any other nation in history to achieve this and all of it has been done without resorting to imperial exploitation or the making of war upon smaller nations.
Now what does any of this have to do with Donald Trump or Brexit as the Washington Post’s Pomfret would attest? The answer is that the refreshed confidence of modern China has only to do with China itself. While Chinese, like others, are naturally curious about events in all parts of the world, Donald Trump is generally viewed by China as a man who might be difficult to work with at times because of his zero-sum mentality, but one who still must be dealt with in such a way that works to achieve the closest thing to “win-win” that is possible for a man who is famously stubborn.
When it comes to Brexit and other European issues, for China, the key is to develop a new “win-win” relationship with Europe (whether EU or otherwise), as European leaders may be reconsidering their traditionally closed attitude towards China. Germany in particular, as the leading industrial powerhouse of Europe is increasingly looking for ways to create healthy inter-connectivity between German and Chinese economies, especially as the vast Chinese market is now the biggest internal market in the world for luxury European goods like Mercedes-Benz cars.
China is not laughing at political events in the west whose impact is often exaggerated by western journalists in order to make an entertaining story. China’s attitude is based on a history of rapid development that is eager for partners but never for slaves. China’s success story is her own and in 2018, success is made in China.