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Tuesday, October 08, 2019, 15:33
New Era, new confidence
By Andrew Moody
Tuesday, October 08, 2019, 15:33 By Andrew Moody

China’s 70th anniversary comes as the country plays a larger global role


As it marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country in its New Era plays an increasingly significant role on the world stage.

The Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are among the landmark projects set to have a profound effect on global infrastructure.

President Xi Jinping has also been a strong champion of the benefits of globalization as set out in his landmark address to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2017. 

His overarching philosophy for global cohesion is his concept of “a community with a shared future for mankind”, with countries working together to solve global problems.

China has played a leading role in bodies like the G20, hosting the summit in Hangzhou in September 2016; BRICS, staging its ninth summit in Xiamen in September 2017; and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, with Beijing welcoming African leaders for the organization’s third summit in September 2018.

Xi’s commitment to eradicating poverty is revered throughout the developing world.

The government is committed to ending extreme poverty ahead of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in 2021, when the country aims to be “a moderately prosperous” society.

China also works to set the agenda on climate change, with environmental technology to become a flagship industry. This is in line with Xi’s goal to achieve a “Beautiful China” by 2035.

Martin Jacques, British academic and author of When China Rules The World, believes the 70th anniversary comes at a time when China in its New Era plays a much more global role.

“China is now firmly playing on the global stage and providing global leadership with quite a lot of success,” he said.

“It is now a formidable player, economically but also increasingly politically, morally and ethically, too, and that is a very big change from before.” 

Rana Mitter, director of the University of Oxford China Centre, believes climate change is an area in which China’s global reputation will be tested.

“It has made major strides in addressing the climate change challenge by investing in technology. It is also the case because of the sheer weight of its own carbon burden that it is also incumbent on China to make a particular effort. 

“If it were to become the greenest economy in the world, that would be something of huge historical significance.” 

Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, the Beijing-based independent think tank, said the anniversary comes as China’s economic and cultural soft power is at an all-time high.

“This is why the thinking behind the New Era is so important. China has to reposition itself in terms of dealing with the rest of the world. The emphasis of a shared future for mankind where there are shared interests, prosperity and responsibility is the right course of action,” he said.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge promotes the development of the Greater Bay Area. (WANG SHANGLIN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Delivering results

Wang, also a counselor to the State Council, China’s cabinet, added: “You only have to look at the Belt and Road Initiative, which is set to be absolutely transformative in terms of filling the infrastructure gap around the world,” he said.

Jin Keyu, associate professor at the London School of Economics, said that as China celebrates its anniversary, the extent to which Chinese people have confidence in their own government is striking. This is in marked contrast to counterparts in the West, she added.

“That is the critical difference between China and the rest of the world. It is the belief that the utilization of State capacity can improve the economy and better people’s lives,” she said.

Jin added that Xi emphasizes the Chinese political system delivering results for the “grassroots and the masses”.

She added that in the West, governments are not seen as important actors, with their credibility weakened further by falling living standards after the global financial crisis. 

Kishore Mahbubani, former diplomat and distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, noted Xi’s speech in Jiangxi province in May, when the president said the Chinese must prepare for a new Long March. 

The first Long March between 1934 and 1936 laid the foundation for the Party’s eventual victory over the Kuomintang in 1949 and the formation of New China.

“The metaphor of the Long March is very appropriate because we are approaching a more difficult economic environment with global growth slowing, incomes not likely to rise as fast, and an altogether different and more difficult environment.”

Mahbubani, author of Has the West Lost It? A Provocation, believes Xi is right to boost ties with Africa, adding that “it is a natural partnership”.

“Europe, in particular, hasn’t woken up to the demographic explosion that is about to occur there (in Africa) and are not thinking strategically about its development,” he said, referring to forecasts that Africa’s population will more than triple from 1.3 billion now to 4.3 billion by 2100.

Bukola Ogunsina, editor of the Sunday edition of the Leadership newspaper in Nigeria, said initiatives like the Belt and Road and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation have had a significant impact on the continent.

“We can say that through the benefits brought about by these programs, roads have been constructed, and rail transportation developed, with others under construction,” the prominent African journalist said.

Ogunsina noted that Chinese investment and knowhow have had a dramatic impact on Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy — alone. She cited the Abuja Light Rail and the Abuja-Kaduna Rail Line, which have been major Chinese projects in the country.

Ogunsina said there has also been emphasis on training local people. The National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure in Nigeria sent 60 engineers to China for training, with 85 percent of the funding being provided by China.

Technology is another key area that China has transformed over the past 70 years. The once backward agrarian society now faces the prospect of being a global technology leader by 2035, an aim of the New Era.

Disruptive technologies

Edward Tse, founder and CEO of Gao Feng Advisory, a management consultancy, believes this is certainly achievable.

“Looking ahead 16 years, you can make a number of predictions as to what China is going to achieve in its New Era. You are talking about it becoming a leader in disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and also, of course, in 5G, where it has already established a lead.”

Tse, author of China’s Disruptors: How Alibaba, Xiaomi, Tencent, and Other Companies are Changing the Rules of Business, said China’s strength in technology lies in the central government driving it from the top down.

“Local governments then become the glue to central government directions, incubating startups and giving them funding and creating this vast ecosystem, which also includes waves and waves of talented entrepreneurs.”

Parag Khanna, an international relations specialist and author of The Future is Asian: Global Order in the 21st Century, noted the “growing confidence in government capacity”. 

“You have seen this over the past 10 to 15 years but particularly over the past five. This has happened while Western countries have turned inward and become more protectionist,” he said.

Jin at the London School of Economics believes that with the New Era, Xi has brought a new dimension to China’s role in the world.

“Before the New Era, China’s story (since reform and opening-up) was largely seen as an economic one. China now is much more clearly defined. The primacy of culture and national sovereignty has become much more clearly defined,” she said.

Wang at the Center for China and Globalization believes China’s global role today could not have been imagined in 1949.

“It is a country with a strong position on the world stage and which has led the way in so many areas, such as poverty reduction.

“In its New Era, it has a new confidence. It has demonstrated a commitment to globalization and wants to engage and partner with countries in a constructive but respectful manner.”


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