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Wednesday, March 20, 2019, 10:55
Nation takes giant strides into new era
By Andrew Moody
Wednesday, March 20, 2019, 10:55 By Andrew Moody

The launch of the country's new era, when President Xi Jinping delivered his report to the Communist Party of China's 19th National Congress in October 2017, was seen by many observers as a turning point in world history.

A number of experts now believe that the report, delivered by Xi in his capacity as general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, marked the starting point for a new, confident China to stride forward and play a major role on the global stage.

Now, 17 months on, during the second two sessions meetings held since then, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era seems to have even greater resonance.

It (China) is no longer an aspiring power, but a responsible great power in its own right and one that is not going to compromise on its own interests.

Yang Jiang, Senior researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen

Martin Jacques, the British academic and author of When China Rules the World, said Xi's ideas have shifted the debate about China and continue to do so.

ALSO READ: Xi Jinping: The man leading country's reform into new era

Jacques said the report was a solid defense of China's system, and stated unequivocally that the country was going to remain in a Marxist rather than a capitalist tradition.

"It signaled that China was no longer prepared to put up with being defined by what the West thought it should be. It was no longer going to be forced to live on the West's terms," he said.

Yang Jiang, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen, said a key element of the Thought is to underscore that China is now center stage.

"It is no longer an aspiring power, but a responsible great power in its own right and one that is not going to compromise on its own interests," she said.

Xi, however, is far from hostile to the West and has made a number of defenses of globalization, most notably in his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2017.

Since the 2017 Congress, Xi has remained steadfast in his commitment to an open global trading system, despite China facing trade conflicts with the United States.

Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, an independent think tank in Beijing, said Xi's commitment to globalization is an important and defining part of his thinking.

"The Davos speech was very much a turning point moment. No one had heard a Chinese president before place so much emphasis on the importance of globalization," he said.

Xi's ideas about globalization are not just economic or solely about trade, but on how countries work together.

Central to the Thought is the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind with countries working together to reach solutions to global problems, rather than being in conflict.

This concept is not new in the Party's thinking, but Xi has done more than anyone to articulate it.

President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People's Congress, at the closing meeting of the second session of the 13th NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. (XU JINGXING / CHINA DAILY)

The idea also has practical form in Xi's initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, which he proposed in 2013, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which began operations in 2016.

While China was the instigator of both, they are designed to allow other nations to participate and play their own roles to take them forward.

Jiang, at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said Xi does not want to overthrow the existing global order dominated by Western institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but to work within it.

What Xi has been successful at is clarifying the idea of rejuvenation and putting its pursuit in the context of not just China's but global development.

Li Haiqing, Professor of Marxist theory, Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC, China

"Xi has also consistently made the point that China wants to contribute to global governance and play a role in the reform of it in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary way," she said.

Li Haiqing, a professor of Marxist theory at the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC in Beijing, believes the community idea does, however, underpin new era thought.

"The world needs to work and develop together. It is inevitable that countries will have different problems and even conflicts, and the keys to solving them are negotiation and cooperation. A country cannot only care for its own interests and retreat from the world stage as it pleases," he said.

Much of the Thought centers on national rejuvenation. In his report, Xi reiterated China's goal to become a "moderately well-off society" in time for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021. With a GDP growth target of 6 to 6.5 percent set in the government work report on Tuesday, the country is now on course to achieve this.

Xi also restated China's aim to become a global leader in terms of both national strength and international influence by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 2049.

He also introduced a new interim goal for the country, under which by 2035 it aims to be a global leader in innovation as well as having increased soft power, better public services, improved living standards and to create what Xi called "A Beautiful China."

Li, at the Party School, said: "National rejuvenation has been China's dream and pursuit for a long time. It is something very important to Chinese people and what they inwardly want.

"What Xi has been successful at is clarifying the idea of rejuvenation and putting its pursuit in the context of not just China's but global development."

ALSO READ: Xi pledges wider opening-up as China celebrates 40th anniversary

Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta in Canada, said the emphasis on creating a Beautiful China by 2035 signaled that the country was to change its growth model and move from focusing on quantity of expansion to quality.

"In the period after reform and opening-up, there was a rush to industrialize and modernize, as people wanted a higher standard of living," he said

"Being the workshop of the world came with environmental consequences. Now the emphasis is on improving quality of life, and part of that is improving the environment. In terms of policy, we have seen this in China no longer being a center for recycling the world's waste."

There has been much discussion about the philosophical underpinnings of new era thought.

To illustrate his ideas, Xi regularly makes references to Chinese classical works in his speeches and writings.

Jiang said: "The Belt and Road is about connectivity and a shared destiny and is a modern-day revival of the old Silk Road. The inspiration for this is the tianxia, or "everything under heaven" system. Tianxia dates to the Western and Eastern Zhou dynasties (c. 11th century-256 BC).

"During that time, there were a lot of cultural exchanges and it was a time when China was prosperous and strong," Jiang said.

The China-Europe freight train for cross-border e-commerce waits to depart from Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan province, March 2, 2019.  The freight service is a crucial part of the Belt and Road Initiative. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Zhao Tingyang, one of the country's leading contemporary philosophers and a professor at the Institute of Philosophy at the China Academy of Social Sciences, said that while Xi does make classical references, his ideas are very much more in the Marxist-Leninist tradition.

"It (the Thought) is much closer to Marxism and its ideas of equality. Chinese philosophy is much more associated with realism and the order of beings," he said.

Li, at the Party School, said the Thought is an important step in the development of the Party's ideology.

"New Era is a new development of the Party's ideology, which will definitely call for new theories and guidelines. It is the guide to action for national rejuvenation."

READ MORE: One year on, China navigates new era under Xi

Li added that it is also a "very practical call to action".

He (Xi Jinping) has given China a new set of objectives and is giving it a new place in the world, and there is no better expression of this than in the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.

Martin Jacques, British academic and author 

"New Era means that we need new thinking about reform, new targets for development, a new level of opening up. It means that Chinese society has now entered a new phase and reached a new level."

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations and director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said China's New Era cannot operate in a vacuum and has already faced a number of challenges.

"China seemed to be emerging as a strong world power both economically and politically at the beginning of last year, but has since faced a number of challenges," he said.

Shi said it has become clear that China has to manage its relationship with the United States to avoid falling into the Thucydides Trap, named after the Ancient Greek historian and which refers to a situation where a rising power and an established one inevitably clash.

"There is always such a risk of a power clash, but I think we are still a long way from any real Thucydides situation. Yet where we are now is much more serious than it was, for example, six or seven years ago," he added.

Houlden, at the University of Alberta, who was a diplomat for 32 years and served in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan, believes that the Thought's influence is increasing globally.

"People might not pinpoint it down to the Congress speech, but there are parts of the world where it has extraordinary appeal. There was a time when American culture had this appeal for a very long time. People in the developing world, particularly Africa and Latin America, see what China is achieving and want some of the same success, " he said.

For Jacques, Xi symbolises that the West no longer has a monopoly on modernity and that China is presenting an alternative version.

"The West anticipated that China's political system would not survive, that it was unsustainable and that it would be replaced. What Xi has demonstrated is that China's system is legitimate, effective and very successful," he said.

"He has given China a new set of objectives and is giving it a new place in the world, and there is no better expression of this than in the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation."

Chen Yingqun contributed to this story.


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