A commentary on President Xi Jinping’s recent speech at a gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up in Beijing on 18 December 2018.
This speech can be seen as the continuation of a long line of grand proclamations in recent years concerning China’s rapid and large economic development, its well-known achievements in terms of poverty, health, social, security, etc, as well as the ‘China Dream’, role in world affairs and globalisation with the Trump-ian retreat towards protectionism.
Of course, the ‘costs’ of this massive development are not mentioned, be they labour exploitation, ethnic tensions, repression, pollution etc let alone disputes with its neighbours in the South China Seas.
The speech continued the line of assertions about the importance of not only the historic Dengist ‘opening up’, but also critically within this, the role of the CCP, Marxist thought and ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ in China’s remarkable economic renaissance. With this tone, it seems one aim Xi is trying to achieve is to remind people that it was the Party – and its ideology – that are primes inter pares in this success and have managed the change – that it was not just market forces and capitalism. Actually, we could take the totality of this perspective as representing the ‘China Model’: that without these political ingredients, the changes were necessary, but not sufficient. For example, “…leadership of the Communist Party of China is the most essential attribute of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and the greatest strength of this system” Xi said.
Indeed, President Xi seems to imply that China is also a transferable ‘role model’. For example as: “China’s development has provided successful experience and offered a bright prospect for other developing countries as they strive for modernization, representing a great contribution of the Chinese nation to the progress of human civilization” as Xi grandly put it.
The speech will be received officially by many, albeit not all, within China as rapturously and celebratory as ever – not least as with the constitutional changes he is the new ‘Red Emperor’. However, from abroad there will be a more realistic, realpolitik, even cynical, take on it.
It can be seen as yet another attempt at a raison d’être to shore up the relevance and continuation of the one-party state – and also as hagiography. This is especially when it comes to utopian claims like China serving world peace and development over the last 40 years and opening up wider to the world and promoting joint efforts to build a community with a shared future for humanity.
On whose terms will this be?
And is this a two-way process?
The giveaway and ‘sting in the tail’ in the speech was the bold, chilling: “No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done,” as Xi put it.
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Tourists at Forbidden Temple photo courtesy Sabel Blanco via rawpexel.com