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Tuesday, December 06, 2022, 01:08
What is the China-West rivalry really all about?
By Ho Lok-sang
Tuesday, December 06, 2022, 01:08 By Ho Lok-sang

There are some signs that the United States and several European countries are now warming up relations with China. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, during his recent visit to China, noted that the 27 leaders in the European Union agreed on the critical importance of the EU-China relationship, and that the EU wants to better manage EU-China relations.

Michel’s visit followed shortly after Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit, which brought significant economic benefits on all sides. US President Joe Biden, in his first meeting with President Xi Jinping in person since Biden took office, pointed out that the US and China share a responsibility for managing differences and preventing competition from turning into conflict. The two great nations need to work together to address urgent global issues. In particular, he stressed there would be no new cold war. On Nov 25, China announced it would extend tariff exemptions on a list of US goods for six months that were due to expire on Nov 30.  

Unfortunately, the “China Threat” narrative is still very popular in the Western press. A CNBC story posted on Nov 30 carried the headline: “China is a growing threat to national security, U.S. companies and American workers, U.S. Commerce Secretary Raimondo says”. Gina Raimondo was positive in saying that the US would like to “continue to promote trade, continue to promote investment” given to China’s vast market. But she was worried that China could “undermine” the US’ interests, values, national security, and economic security, and she promised to “[use] every tool in the toolbox” to protect the US companies and to counter unfair economic practices.

Raimondo and many US officials and commentators alike believe that the rivalry is about different value systems, in particular “democracy” versus “autocracy”. China’s political system is of course vastly different from America’s. But political institutions are not values. They are just different paths to seek the same values, which have to be respect, equality, freedom, human dignity, peace, and sustainable development. China is, like the US, seeking to establish good governance and accountability.  

Effective governance for a big country like China must require a shared vision among its people and especially among its officials. The shared vision is just a vision for a better tomorrow

In 2003, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) initiated the “China Governance Project” to share with China the expertise of its member countries on governance. This project was undertaken in the framework of the program of cooperation between the OECD and China, initiated in 1996. “It thus benefited from a relationship of mutual trust established between the OECD Secretariat and Chinese ministries and bodies in many areas.” A recent study published in the Policy Studies Journal acknowledges that “the system of governance and public administration remains top-down and centralized, however, with the center retaining considerable policy levers. This system holds some governing advantages for the people of China, as the management of the pandemic showed, but also some disadvantages as local and professional knowledge was overlooked and attempts to respond to the pandemic were therefore undermined.” But top-down does not mean autocratic, as the Chinese government often consults experts and also the public on most new policy initiatives. 

The fact that China does not allow multiparty competition to gain power also does not mean that the Communist Party of China (CPC) “monopolizes” power, since the CPC’s membership is open to anyone who agrees to serve the country and its people and demonstrates a willingness to commit to the Party’s ideals. Today, the Party has developed a rigorous selection process for its members. President Xi introduced such a tough admission process to ensure that those who are bestowed membership must be prepared to make sacrifices for the common good. This is not autocracy as it is typically understood to be. In China grassroots people rising to power is common. Selection for the country’s leaders has to be fair and rigorous.

All governments need to practice effective governance or they will fail to deliver. Effective governance for a big country like China must require a shared vision among its people and especially among its officials. The shared vision is just a vision for a better tomorrow. It does not specify how things are to be done. After all, late leader Deng Xiaoping had taught the country that labels are immaterial. Cats that catch rats are good ones regardless of their color. The country has written the Scientific Outlook on Development into its Constitution, and has stressed that the Communist Party of China has to stand for the development requirements of China’s advanced production capability, the direction of progress of China’s advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people. 

President Xi’s book on China’s governance has attracted a five-star rating from 61 percent of its readers on Amazon. One commentator observes: “The success of the People’s Republic of China can be seen in their labor laws (state-guaranteed vacation and 44 hour workweek), housing policy (rate of home ownership much higher than the US), property rights and land use policy (all land owned by government or collectively owned by rural farmers), technology (Chinese company Huawei holds the most telecommunications contracts in the world and is a worker-owned co-op), access to healthcare, the fact that the suicide rate is roughly half that of the US, and more. ... Fascinating country with inspiring leadership.”

Raimondo talked about having to counter unfair economic practices. China shares the same concern. But is the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 an example of fair economic practice? Americans certainly desire great leaders. If China’s leaders pose some competition so other countries will have great or perhaps even greater leaders, that will be a blessing for the world. China will certainly not consider that a threat. 

The author is the director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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