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An Emerging China in Pursuit of Peace and Prosperity

CIIS Time: May 2, 2013 Writer: Qu Xing Editor: Li Xiaoyu

 By Qu Xing, CIIS President

     The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. At the time, China was synonymous with war and poverty. In 1960, China could be characterized by starvation. In 1978, Chinabecamea synonym for reform, and today, China has become synonymous with success. Many of you must be curious about how China has made such achievements. Namely, which detours has China taken, what kinds of challenges does China face today, and how is China going to take its next steps?      

Historically, China gave birth to a splendid civilization and abundant wealth. But since 1840, China started to deteriorate. China was defeated in numerous wars against foreign invaders and was forced to accept unequal treaties at the cost of its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied China, bringing China to the brink of disintegration.

       It was also at this low point that China’s elite began to try various ways to save and rejuvenate the nation. They tried to put different ideas into practice, such as constitutional monarchy, capitalism, nationalism, anarchism and syndicalism. But throughout the late Qing Dynasty and the Republican Era, China was constantly plagued by national divisions, armed separatism, foreign invasions and civil wars. Meanwhile, foreign powers rendered support to different political and military factions out of their own interests.

      In 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC), under the leadership of Mao Zedong, achieved victory in the Chinese Civil War, leading Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang party to flee to Taiwan. Suddenly, history entrusted the CPC with over 9.6 million square kilometers of territory and 450 million destitute citizens. If the CPC wanted to stay in power, it had to meet the aspirations of the people. So what were the major aspirations of the Chinese people in 1949?

The first and foremost was peace. The Chinese people, who had suffered through more than a century of foreign invasions and warlord conflicts, eagerly hoped to enjoy peace and be free from the scourges of war. After peace was democracy, a reason behind the Chinese populace’s backing of the CPC in the revolution. The Chinese people were hungry for more democratic rights. Thirdly, people wanted improved livelihoods. Roughly 450 million Chinese people wanted to live in peace and enjoy better lives.

      Therefore, the primary tasks of the CPC, now a ruling party instead of a revolutionary one, are how to prevent foreign invasion, national separation, ethnic conflicts and social unrest, how to enable the people to exercise more democratic rights, and how to rebuild the economy and make the people prosperous.

       In order to deter foreign invasions, the People’s Republic adopted a diplomatic strategy of forming alliances with major powers, i.e. the “leaning to one side” strategic alliance with the Soviet Union. China was involved in the Korean War in the 1950s and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In addition to ideological reasons, China felt that it was important to maintain the strategic security of its northern and southern borders so as to forge conditions for the peaceful construction of the country.

In order to prevent national divisions, the central government reshuffled regional military forces and cut off channels of foreign power that were promoting regional separatism in order to ensure the unanimity of national decrees, military orders and diplomacy. Central government orders were carried out by the regime’s grassroots across the country. In conducting diplomacy, the Chinese government made the “One China” principle a precondition for the establishment of diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

In order to prevent ethnic fighting, China established a system of regional autonomy in order to protect the religions, culture, customs and living habits of ethnic minorities. This legally stipulated that principal officials of all levels of governments in the ethnic autonomous regions should be from minority groups. China’s autonomous regions enjoy various preferential policies and any discriminative words or conducts are strictly banned and subject to legal punishment. The system of regional ethnic autonomy not only ensures China’s territorial integrity and national harmony; it also ensures that ethnic languages, cultural and religious heritage enjoy full preservation and further development.

In order to prevent social unrest, the Chinese government has tried hard to strike a balance between fairness and efficiency. In the first thirty years since the founding of the PRC, the government stressed the fair distribution of wealth to such a degree that a so-called “big pot” distribution system was formed. This meant that everybody ate from the same big pot regardless of their work performance. Such a kind of distribution system prevented social confrontations by eliminating disparity between the rich and the poor, but it stifled economic vitality as well. After 1978, the Chinese Government began to promote the idea of​​“letting some people get rich first” and “giving priority to efficiency with due consideration to fairness.” This policy released China’s economic vigor and became a major factor behind China’s economic takeoff. However, the widening income gap that followed this policy posed a new challenge to social stability.

      In addition to economic and social policies, the most important thing the government must do to maintain social order is to strengthen democracy and the legal system. The CPC learned the lessons of modern Chinese history and established an electoral system and a political party system that not only embodies the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law, but also has Chinese characteristics. Namely, it established the people’s congress system and the multi-party cooperation and political consultation system.

Under the framework of the people’s congress system, any citizen with suffrage has the right to vote for representatives of the people. It adopts a five-tier progressive system of elections. For the people’s congress at the grassroots level, representatives were elected through universal suffrage. For those at the county, municipal, provincial and national levels, elections are conducted in a step-by-step manner to elect government officials at all levels. The competence of candidates is not judged by their campaign speeches in election seasons, but on their performance in previous positions. If an official does not perform well as a county chief, they will never become candidates for regional position. If they did not achieve anything as a regional chief, they will never run for provincial position. If they were unable to prove themselves to be competent governors, they will never be candidates for national leadership. In this sense, the election process begins early and lasts long. If you cannot do a better job than your colleague at the same level, you may never enter the next round of elections. Any official who wants to be a candidate for higher position usually has to work certain tenure in several different lower positions. The latest power transition in China has just completed, and it was conducted in peace and order. It brought a number of young officials with abundant political experience, strong administrative competence and professional expertise to national and provincial-level positions. This ensures the optimized operation of the local and national governments in China. Policy is reformed with consistency and reform is also characterized by consistency. Therefore, China’s national governance can be free from the vicious circle of “negation upon negation.”

There is an institution in China’s political system that Americans and Europeans may not be familiar with called the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It is a system that safeguards multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership the CPC. It coexists with the People’s Congress at all levels, but it is distinct from the Senate. The CPPCC is not selected through election, but rather by the nomination of candidates by different political parties, sectors, ethnicities and religions. The CPPCC have mechanisms to ensure that each member can make recommendations concerning the government’s work, and get timely responses from relevant institutions. Comments made by the CPPCC members in the political consultation have immunity from legal prosecution. Whenever the CPC makes major decisions, it has to engage in consultations with the other political parties. If no consensus can be reached, the decision will not be implemented. In this kind of political party system, the inter-party relationship is characterized by cooperation and consultation instead of a zero-sum game. We call it “deliberative democracy.” This system helps avoid the setbacks that occur when national interests are overridden by partisan interests, when reform is blocked and development opportunities missed due to the zero-sum game between the ruling and the opposition parties. The CPPCC that was formed last month has members from 34 sectors, including eight non-Communist parties, and two of 25 government ministers are from non-Communist parties.

China has also taken detours exploring its political system in line with China’s national conditions. For example, during the Cold War era, China’s alliance with the Soviet Union was harmful to her independent foreign policy and even national security, and this finally led to the breakup of the alliance. We have also experienced economic setbacks such as the “Great Leap Forward” and political turmoil such as the “Cultural Revolution.” The above-mentioned “big pot” distribution system has also restricted economic vitality. But from a general point of view, China has found a successful road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Now is the first time in modern history that China has enjoyed a lasting peace of neither foreign invasion nor civil war, marking an economic development that has attracted world attention and brought about remarkable improvements in the people’s livelihoods. In 1978, China’s per capita income was 190 US dollars, while in 2012 it reached 4,700 US dollars. According to reports from the World Bank and the IMF, the Chinese economy accounted for 1.8 percent of the world economy in 1978; it reached 14 percent in 2012 and will reach 18 percent in 2016.

Of course, with these great changes in the international community and rapid developments in China, many new challenges have emerged. The most important changes in the global arena in recent years include the expansion of the western democratic model in developing countries, the pressure of the economic downturn caused by the global financial and economic crisis, the call for sustainable development due to rising awareness of global environmental protection, and the restriction of ruling powers as a result of a civil rights awakening in the internet society. Considering this background, China has to face many challenges and resolve numerous problems in the near future. These differences include divergences between China’s political system and the Western democratic model, the over-reliance of the Chinese economy on the external economy, the high environmental cost of China’s development, the aging of the population, a widening income gap, increasing social conflicts, the absence of effective administrative monitoring in food and drug safety incidents, and the grave corruption problems in certain fields.

During the 18thNational Party Congress in 2012 and the latest session of the People’s Congress in 2013, it was under this context that we not only summarized past achievements but also offered rational analysis of future challenges. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang gave their own proposals for how to face these challenges and solve related problems. Their basic idea is to push China’s development forward in a scientific way by promoting economic, political, cultural, social and ecological construction at the same time.

The first point I will touch upon concerns economic development. The key is to restructure the economy, transform the mode of economic development, reduce overdependence on foreign trade by increasing domestic demand, and make China’s economic growth driven by domestic demand instead of foreign trade. The breakthrough point is to promote the urbanization and integration of urban and rural construction. This idea is highly feasible. In developed countries, urbanization rates are generally above 75 percent, while in China it was 43 percent in 2005 and 47.5 percent in 2010. According to the 12th “Five-Year Plan,” by 2015, China’s urbanization rate will reach 51.5 percent. However, even at that time, if we want to reach the average level of the developed countries, China still needs to raise urbanization rates by at least 20 percent. This means that about 350 million rural citizens will enjoy the living standard of urban populations in the next 30 years, almost equivalent to moving the entire United States population from rural to urban areas. The demand for housing, transportation, roads, telecommunications, energy and other infrastructure construction will be astronomical. This will not only become a major driving force of China’s economic growth, but also create a huge demand for imported goods and services.

The second point concerns political construction, the key of which is to steadily push forward the reform of the political structure. Talking about the reform of the political structure, some European and American observers have a common misunderstanding. They judge China’s political reform in reference to a Western democratic standard. Actually, China does not disavow the accomplishments that democracy has brought to Western countries. More than that, China is willing to learn good practices from them. However, China does not believe that Western style democracy fits all countries. To be frank, China has its own perceptions about the great changes that took place in the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries 20 years ago. China does not believe that changes in Afghanistan and Iraq 10 years ago, changes in Egypt and Libya 2 years ago and changes in Syria that may take place in the near future will bring better lives to the people in these countries. As President Xi Jinping mentioned in his speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations last month, “only your feet know whether the shoes fit.” Of course, China fully respects choices by the people in the countries concerned. China stands ready to establish and has already established friendly relations with these countries. As for the development of democracy in China, it should proceed according to China’s national conditions. China was faced with a very important choice when big changes took place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In hindsight, if China had chosen the road pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev and supported by the West, it would never have been able to achieve today’s success.

Considering these facts, how will China proceed with its political structure reform? President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have the following ideas. First, they will strengthen the oversight function of the People’s Congress. Quantified criteria should be adopted. Congress deputies should be elected based on the same population ratio in rural and urban areas. Ratio of deputies from leading Party and government officials should be reduced in the People’s Congress. The proportion of the full-time deputies should be raised with better educational backgrounds and younger age. Second, they will perfect consultative democracy, which means making political consultation with the democratic parties an integral part of the decision-making process. In short, they will make consultations before or during policy-making to enhance the effectiveness of democratic consultation and turn it from something they do on their own initiative to a “must.” Third, they will strengthen grassroots self-administration. Fourth, they will strengthen the rule of law to ensure the independence of the judiciary, and the party must act within the limits set by the Constitution and laws. Fifth, they will strengthen power restrictions and supervisions by making the exercise of power more open and standardized and implementing all-around supervision mechanisms, including inner-party supervision, democratic supervision, legal supervision and public opinions, and strengthening the punishment and prevention measures aimed at corruption.

The third point concerns cultural development. This point encompasses four aspects. The first is to construct the socialist core values system with Chinese characteristics, which include prosperity, democracy, civility, and harmony, uphold freedom, equality, justice and the rule of law and advocate patriotism, dedication, integrity, and friendship, among other values. The second is to improve civic morality in an all-around way by intensifying education in public morality, professional ethics, family virtues, and individual integrity. The third is to enrich people’s intellectual and cultural lives. The fourth is to enhance the overall strength and international competitiveness of Chinese culture. Reform of the cultural system should be deepened so as to liberate cultural productivity. Rapid development and an all-around flourishing of the cultural industry and cultural services should be promoted. The overall objective of Chinese cultural promotion is to enhance the soft power and international influence of Chinese culture.

The fourth point deals with social development. First, better education shall be delivered. Priority will be given through bigger investments and better equality. Overall financial investment in education should account for 4 percent of the GDP. With China’s GDP growing at a high ate, budget allocation for investment in education should keep pace. More educational resources should be channeled torural, remote, poor and ethnic minority areas.Children of migrant workers in the city should enjoy equal educational opportunities. Second, better jobs will be provided in creating employment. In the last five years, over 58 million jobs have been created and close to 50 million farmers have migrated into cities. This year we are targeting the creation of over 9 million jobs and the registered unemployment rate in urban areas should be less than 4.6 percent. Third, individual income will grow at the same pace as national economic growth and annual salary increases should be no less than 7 percent. The Government has stated that the fruits of development should be shared by the country’s people. Reform of the income distribution system will be deepened with the objective of narrowing income gaps. Fourth, social security systems in rural and urban areas will be promoted in a coordinated manner. Generally speaking, the entire Chinese population is covered by basic health insurance programs. It is envisioned that the rural social pension program will cover the whole population by 2012 and that the social security system will cover the whole population in 2020. Fifth, health and medical services will be further strengthened. Community health services in cities and medical networks in rural areas should be improved. Development of private hospitals is encouraged. Safety supervision over food and drugs should be strengthened. One of the important measures in the government institutional reform plan recently announced at the National People’s Congress session is the establishment of a General Administration of Food and Drug, which will have supervisory functions integrated and consolidated that were previously scattered among different government departments.

The fifth point deals with the promotion of ecological progress. Measures to be taken are numerous. First, there is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is envisioned that by 2020, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 40-45% from 2005levels. Second, there is the optimization of energy structure. By 2020, the proportion of renewable energy including water, wind, solar, nuclear and others should grow from current level of 9 percent to 15 percent. Third, there is the increase of research and development investment. By 2015, R&D investment at the national level should grow from its current level of 1.75 percent to 2.2 percent, in terms of its share of GDP. Fourth, there is the promotion of forestation. Forest cover among the national land area should grow from 18.2 percent in 2005 to 21.66 percent in 2015. Fifth, arable land should be preserved at an area of no less than 120 million hectares (1.8 billion MU), which is a compulsory goal to be resolutely implemented.

The final point concerns China’s foreign policy. We are now faced with a foreign policy challenge – how can we make the international community feel comfortable with China’s development? To address concerns from big powers, China is willing to establish a new type of major power relations. It is commonly asserted that throughout the history of international relations, emerging powers are bound to seek hegemony. We believe that China can break this logic and seek mutual benefits through cooperation. To address concerns from neighboring countries, China has always stood for direct negotiations among the countries concerned to seek solutions based on mutual understanding and accommodation. It was on the basis of mutual understanding and accommodation that China resolved over 90 percent of the territorial disputes with its neighbors through peaceful negotiations. As long as the countries concerned are willing to sit down for talks, we are confident that there will be solutions to China’s maritime disputes.

President Xi Jinping has mentioned the idea of a “China Dream” on a number of occasions. The fundamental connotation of the “China Dream” is that each ordinary Chinese citizen has an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. Only with equal opportunities for citizens can it be possible for the country and the nation to materialize its dreams. The purpose of China’s implementation of the Five-Pillar Overall Development Plan is exactly to create such equal opportunities for every citizen.