Different from the West. China on the verge of a great transformation. Interview with Bogdan Góralczyk

04.07.2018

China is not just a state, but rather a separate continent and civilization that has already existed in the times of the Roman Empire. That’s why the last 200 years of the Western domination are just a short historical aberration from their perspective. Now the Chinese are returning to their rightful place as the global leader. Among people in the army, security services and departments there is a belief that China already is a superpower ready to challenge the current hegemon directly. 

The year 2021 is about to mark the end of the process of building the “moderately prosperous society”, based on a strong middle class and the economy of modern technologies. It is the year 2049 which is planned to be the turning point of the “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” – the third “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in the history of China, when the Communist Party of China may turn into the Confucian Party of China.

Bartosz Brzyski and Jakub Kucharczuk talked with Prof. Bogdan Góralczyk to find out more about the ongoing political, economic and social transformation of China, Russia (China’s natural resource vassal which also provides Chinese males wives), and Barack Obama (who in China wouldn’t even become  a head of province).

 

What was the motivation behind the change made by the chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, who moved away from the principles of the decentralised state authority that the famous Deng Xiaoping introduced, and decided to concentrate the power in his own hands?

There is no single answer to this question. Three potential explanations have been formulated among experts who observe the Chinese politics.

The first hypothesis focuses on the fact that during the first term in office, Xi Jinping conducted an anti-corruption campaign on a scale previously unheard of in China. This way, however, he violated a whole lot of individual and group interests. He threw people from the political tops – the anti-corruption purge included several hundred military members and important politicians, including Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, people previously responsible for security services. They are in prison now, but if Xi Jinping loses the chairman’s seat, the situation could quickly change, swapping the occupants of the cell – letting go of these gentlemen, while closing Xi behind the bars.

The second school of thought seeks answers in historical processes. According to its supporters, since the 1990s, one can notice a growing trend proclaiming the slogan of returning to the roots of Chinese civilization, deeply rooted in  Chinese tradition. Its enthusiasts consider it necessary to reach for the legacy of Confucianism and depart from following the Western philosophies. The tradition teaches us that Tianzi, the Son of Heaven and new Emperor, must eventually appear on the stage.

The third approach underlines the importance of the political strategy. According to the supporters of this explanation, myself included, Xi Jinping rejected the legacy of previous leaders developed by Deng Xiaoping. Instead of the collective management and policy of keeping a low profile (taoguang yanghui), assuming modest and gradual strength, we get the concept of more determined and assertive governments that set ambitious goals. Some people in China say that Xi Jinping is aiming too high.

The rumour said that that the decision to lift the limit of two terms for the office of the President of the People’s Republic of China was not taken unanimously. This change gives Xi Jinping the theoretical perspective for long-term or even lifelong governments.

There is still a generation of people in China who remember Mao Zedong’s “accomplishments” and his cultural revolution. Concerns about the potentially dramatic consequences of autocracy were a guide for Deng Xiaoping, who created a system of collective power governance, one that Xi Jinping is currently dismantling. These concerns, however, have not disappeared and are present in Chinese intellectual circles – not only those opposed but also those related to the government.

The stability of the system is at stake.

It is a hazardous step. I understand it, but I disagree with him. In the short run, it may be effective, but we don’t know what the consequences will be in the long term. History does not provide us with too many examples of autocratic, one-man power systems, which did not degenerate eventually.

If we assume that Xi Jinping is not a “bad emperor”, and that he cares about building a powerful state and prosperous society, then he must have some strong reasons to make such a radical decision.

The premises are stronger than ever. Since 1991, when the USSR broke up, China has been carrying out the political testament of Deng Xiaoping. Its basis was the so-called “doctrine of 28 characters”, which assumes masking one’s capabilities and intentions. For the last 20 years, this strategy has not been undermined. At this time, China gradually gained internal power while not being too much involved in the international arena. This success is a product of the real genius of political economy Zhu Rongji, a combination of Balcerowicz (Milton Friedman) and Kolodko (Joseph Stiglitz), if one can put it that way, who for 12 years managed the Chinese economy.

What exactly was his genius about?

When Zhu Rongji was grabbing the steering wheel of the Chinese economy for the first time, he called that economy Stalinist. His ambition was to give it a more market-oriented structure. The list of his achievements makes a great impression, and it’s no wonder that today’s Chinese universities are creating departments and courses dedicated to the analysis of his philosophy, politics and achievements. It was Zhu Rongji who smoothly carried China through the Asian financial crisis in 1997. He is also the architect of China’s entry (in December 2001) to the World Trade Organization. It was Zhu who enabled Chinese companies to compete globally. Having previously settled matters in China, e.g. by building a modern tax system or effectively combating inflation, it was possible to create global brands such as Lenovo and Huawei.

Secondly, China already had a billion residents at the time, with reserves of just under 18 billion dollars, which  is nothing for such economy. Fifteen years later, the reserves have exceeded the trillion dollar mark, and at the peak, in December 2014, they reached $4 trillion. It is the equivalent of a sum of six years of Polish GDP.

Let’s go back to Xi Jinping and his vision of concentration of power…

In 2009, China overtook Germany, thus becoming the largest exporter on the globe. Five years later, they won first place in the category of the “largest trading country in the world”, jumping in front of the United States in the volume of exports and imports combined. And most importantly, in that same year 2014, China has become the largest economy in the world if purchasing power parity is taken into account. Since then, their advantage over the US has only increased. Besides, the sudden breakdown of the Washington Consensus following the financial crisis of 2008 undermined the status of the United States as the only global economic superpower.

In these circumstances, Xi Jinping decided that the time had come to move away from the current conservative low profile policy and that the geopolitical and economic conditions push him to move beyond the political will of Deng Xiaoping. Hence the decision to announce the concept of the New Silk Road. China begins to behave like a global power, thus challenging the current hegemon.

I was in China at the time when Donald Trump was elected President. In Chinese public television, one of the well-known experts said that Trump is the President, during whose tenure China will become the number one in the world.

Chinese elites most probably don’t have much respect for Donald Trump…

For them, according to their meritocracy rules, you need to have a lot of experience to get to the top. Barack Obama would not have enough political experience to be able to hold even the position of the head of the province in China, let alone Trump. Besides, the Chinese point out that the state is not a corporation, and society is too complex to try to rule it like a CEO. In this approach, they see their chance to win the fight for global hegemony with the USA.

Americans, however, already seem to be aware of the upcoming competition. They don’t underestimate Beijing.

The key is the diminishing differences in military potential. Americans are aware that time is not working in their favour. Among their elites, there may be a temptation to provoke a conflict. And I’m not just talking about a trade war here.

Is China ready for such a clash?

China is investing in their army. Among the people in the military, security services and defence ministries there is a belief that China is already a superpower, ready to directly challenge the current hegemon. According to the latest data from the Swedish analytical centre SIPRI, in 2018, China will spend 8.1% more on their military than in the previous year.

It’s still a lot less than the US.

For China, it is still a massive change. SIPRI publishes annual reports on the expenditures of individual states on the army. In the 90s, China spent only one-fourteenth of what the US did and ranked out of the top ten. Since 2010, they have already jumped to the number two in the World regarding military expenditures. According to SIPRI, they spend almost a third of what Americans do.

We also should not forget that China would not be the first to attack.

In their civilisation, it is not an art to defeat an opponent in a fight, as Sun Tzu (Sun Zi) wrote. For this reason, they won’t attack the US or the neighbouring countries. But they won’t be military passive either. Beijing is active in the South China Sea, where it builds new radar stations and military posts. Its actions are not limited only to defensive moves. China annexes the disputed islands by establishing military outposts on them. According to the Chinese, the South China Sea is a purely Chinese sea. Of course, the Americans won’t allow them to behave in such a way, which means that in this area we will likely face a clash of the current hegemon with the pretender for the title.

In discussions about China, the thread of maritime competition comes to the forefront. What about the more “land-based” activity of Beijing in the region?

China operates here on three fronts. First of all, it’s about the RCEP – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The theme of the transpacific trade partnership emerged in the public debate when Barack Obama announced the US involvement in New Zealand’s TPP initiative. Meanwhile, no one paid attention to the fact that the alternative solution has already been promoted since 2012 by Xi Jinping. Today, nothing is left of the US presence in TPP, and Donald Trump is gradually starting to pursue the policy of economic nationalism. And China? Last year, at the Forum in Davos, Xi Jinping delivered a speech in honour of the free market. RCEP currently engages 16 countries such as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. The initiative assumes the creation of a trade zone in which three of the four freedoms building the single EU market will apply: the free movement of goods, capital and services. Only the free movement of people is not in plans yet. Surprisingly the Polish media are reticent about the whole initiative.

Element number two of this strategy is based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is the institutionalisation of the Sino-Russian cooperation and is continuously growing. Since 2015 India and Pakistan are also its members. Turkey has the status of an associated, intensely cooperating country. Among the members, we can also find Belarus, which is not being noticed in Poland. Meanwhile, the SCO is the first international organisation since the Second World War established without the participation of any of the Western powers. Robert Kagan and other geostrategists simply call it the “Anti-NATO”.

The third front is the CICA, the collective security system of Asia, founded in 1996 on the initiative of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan. The CICA, like the SWO, was established not only without the participation of the Western powers but effectively even against them, making it an entirely new venture worth our attention.

What role do the Russians play in this Chinese puzzle?

A subordinate one. For Beijing, although nobody formulates it so openly, Moscow is a vassal whose role is restricted to providing the necessary resources. Recently, this category also started to include wives [sic!] for Chinese men. Due to the policy of one child practised in China, a fundamental disruption of gender proportions in the country emerged. Statistics show that 16 out of 100 men have no chance of finding a wife, as there are just not enough Chinese women. One of the ways of solving this problem turned out to be the trips of Chinese men to the Zabaykalsky Krai on the Chinese-Russian border.

A drainage of resources and demographics, one could say. What about the New Silk Road? Does Moscow have a chance to win something here or will this project consolidate the asymmetric relations between these states?

Moscow prefers its alternative integration program called the Eurasian Union. Nonetheless, the ties and economic dependencies on China are so significant that the Russians, or at least President Putin, seem to push the principle: if you can’t defeat a rival, join him. Especially because it is useful in the fight against this third, the most critical opponent, that is, the West. How long will it such approach persist – we don’t know. The economic ties of China and Russia are strong, and the Russians don’t undermine the concept of the Silk Roads.

So far, we have reconstructed the external motives of the concentration of power by Xi Jinping. And what tasks does the new-old President put before China in internal politics?

Sam Xi Jinping formulated two primary “goals for the century”. The first in the perspective of the century of the Communist Party of China that is until July 1, 2021; the second for the centenary of the creation of the People’s Republic of China, which is October 1, 2049.

The first task, due 2021, is to create xiaokang shehui, a moderately prosperous society. According to this concept, the driving force of the Chinese economy will no longer be only forced investments and intensive exports, but a strong middle class and an extensive internal market. In such a large society it is a real Copernican revolution. It is also supposed to bring about a change in the character of the Chinese economy: from low-quality products to those saturated with modern technologies.

The second goal is even more ambitious. Until 2049, China is to conduct Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing, meaning “The Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People”. This rejuvenation is to be the third largest in the entire history of China. The first happened during the Han dynasty, when the Chinese characters-ideograms, which were the basis of the Chinese culture and civilisation, were refined. The second change occurred in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty, when an unprecedented development of literature and architecture took place. And what is important, it happened under the rule of the Chinese dynasty, not Mongolian or Manchurian.

What will the third “great rejuvenation” consist of?

It will not succeed as long as there are two organisms with the adjective “Chinese” in their name. Hence the peace plan of peaceful (because no one will gain in the war) unification with the Republic of China in Taiwan. It is a fundamental matter.

Why does Beijing need such a small island when they still have such huge undeveloped tracts of territory inside the country?

Taiwan’s return to the “matrix” has a higher priority in Chinese politics than the development of the economy or the fight against social inequalities. It’s as if Krakow or Gniezno, the two ancient capitals, were to be taken away from Poland. For the Chinese, Taiwan is an integral part of their national identity, which they can’t simply give up.

What, apart from joining Taiwan, does the third “great rejuvenation” entail?

A few months ago at the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, we could hear that by 2035 the Chinese are to become an innovative society. China has already become a challenge and an economical alternative to the West today. In 30 years, they want to become an alternative also at the technological level. Hence the slogans about building a new, green, carbon-free economy based on the concept of sustainable development. China is the largest producer of solar batteries and wind turbines in the world. We continuously hear about Tesla; meanwhile, six out of the top 10 manufacturers of electric cars in the world are Chinese, including the largest BYD Auto company.

For this reason, the fundamental challenge for the Chinese state is to carry out a real revolution in the public education system. Today it is based on memorising and reproducing rather than creativity.

At the same time, there is a degree of awareness that these bold plans may fall, because as Alexis de Tocqueville – known and read in China – noted, the authoritarian system during the reforms can easily “fall over”. This was the case in Gorbachev’s Russia. It is often used as another powerful argument for the authoritarian rule of the strong leader that the Chinese people see and accept.

Why did it take so long for the West to understand the specificity of the Chinese political system, which is not even thinking of liberalisation?

Some understood it, and some didn’t.  Already in 2003, we had two crucial publications that undermined naive optimism about China and Russia. I am talking about the Return of History and the end of the dreams by Robert Kagan and published Fareed Zakaria’s work about “non-liberal democracies”. Both positions indicated: “there’s no hope for liberalisation”. When in 2008 I came back from an embassy in Thailand and started to say similar things, everyone in Poland took me for a man who was out of his mind…

According to the Western political thought, a democratisation of the entire system must necessarily be followed by the strengthening of the middle class.

In the case of China, this is not true. In his book The Dictator’s Dilemma, The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival, Bruce Dickson showed that it is the middle class that is the core of the social support of the Communist Party of China, based on his surveys conducted in China and analysis of the Chinese middle class. China has its way and doesn’t look at the dogmas of Western political scientists.

The system may be accepted, but at the same time, it is not without the large-scale social control.

Once this control was referred to as hukou, which meant the attachment of a peasant to his land, but at the same time a particular kind of social security system. The only way of escaping was to leave one’s place of birth, which also meant a loss of the social benefits. Today we are dealing with a vast number of liudong renkou, which is the population that moves from villages to the urban areas. Estimated at 260 million, these masses are deprived of hukou, and consequentially they are a kind of a subclass without social rights and privileges. In 1979, 83% of the Chinese population lived in the countryside. In 2011, for the first time in Chinese history, more people lived in cities than in the countryside. Today, the percentage of the urban population stands at 57%, and the Chinese authorities want to increase the number to 70% by 2030. Hukou is only just beginning to follow these migratory processes.

The second mean of social control is the institution of the so-called block committee called danwei, a kind of village leader who keeps track of everyone’s behaviour and reports it to higher authorities. In Mao’s time, it was a totalitarian control, where not only the underwear but even the women’s menstrual cycle were the property of the collective. Nowadays, the former political totalitarianism has replaced financial control and the ideology of “mammonism.” Political totalitarianism has turned into full domination of money: you are only worth as much as rich you are, nothing else matters. Money has become the only value and measurement for a given man’s achievements.

Besides, there is a technological compulsion that is increasingly invading the social life of the Chinese. We like to introduce ourselves, in Poland, as leaders in non-cash payments, but it is China that is the real leader in this field. Not to mention the fact that the advanced cash flow management systems are Chinese owned, i.e. everything is under control of the government.

Meanwhile, in casual conversations, China usually still appears as a country of collectivism.

It’s a false image. Go to any Chinatown to see what this “collectivism” looks like in practice. One of Mao Zedong’s greatest blunders was the attempt to break the entrepreneurial spirit existing in the Chinese DNA. Deng Xiaoping’s genius was based on his clear statement: “Work and prosper, and the state has nothing to do with it until you start to contest the political system.” He didn’t have to repeat twice! It may be worth noting that one of the kings of Thailand in the 1920s wrote a pamphlet with a fascinating title: Chinese – The Jews of the East.

However, faith in communism was run over by tanks in Tiananmen Square. Since then, communism hasn’t played a significant identity role in the social life of the Chinese people. Although Xi Jinping tries to rebuild it and strengthen the unique solution called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

What are the roots of this Chinese personality?

It’s too easy to overlook the fact that China is not just another state, it’s instead a continent. It is an ancient civilisation that has already existed in the times of the Roman Empire! The Chinese themselves describe themselves as Zhōngguo – the Middle Kingdom. We are talking about a “kingdom” greater than the entire European continent with three times the population.

That’s the reason why its Chinese-centric logic guides China. Nonetheless, they have no problem with borrowing or importing solutions from other cultures, as long as they are used as a supplement to their own ideas. Initially, they appropriated the Marxist-Leninist ideas, then years later having them transformed into Maoism. They do that with everything. Today China is eager to find solutions in Singapore. There is no liberal democracy there as well, but a one-party rule, and at the same time the whole system works efficiently and effectively. It is a so-called model of a developmental state, in which the market mixes with economic planning, and although the market dominates the system the state intervention in the economy is common. What’s more, this is an area where nearly 80% of the inhabitants are Chinese. Therefore, Singapore is not considered to be foreign to China.

Such a strong “Chinese-centric” view of the world must have far-reaching consequences.

How many people in Poland realise that there are five cardinal directions of the world in China? In addition to the north, south, east and west, there is also the term “Middle”, in which the central part, of course, is China. From the Chinese perspective, only their country lays under the “vault of the heavens” – the rest is the world of barbarians. “Barbarians” consequentially have only one way to join the heavens – they must adopt the Chinese culture. That is what enabled Mongol and Manchu dynasties to rule China. It is worth remembering that for the Chinese people to say that Genghis Khan was Mongol is an insult. For them, he is a Chinese emperor.

It looks like the sense of civilizational superiority is a crucial component of Chinese identity.

In the 1820s, right after the Napoleonic war, the British appeared in China and soon after started the opium wars. Some studies are showing that at that time the Chinese economy produced one-third of the global GDP. For the entire period between the birth of Christ to the opium wars, China and India were listed as the largest economies in the world. That’s why, from their perspective, the last 200 years of the US and Western domination are just a short historical aberration. They regard their current economic acceleration as an apparent return to the natural order.

Two opium wars, an incredibly bloody Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, the overthrow of the empire, the first and second Japanese aggression, the civil war between the Kuomintang and the communists – the entire period from 1839 until the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China one hundred years later is referred to in China as Bai nian guo chi (century of national humiliation). All these events led to a drastic decline in the share of the Chinese economy in the global GDP – from over 30% to just below 3.5%. Today, China has already made up some of the losses and is responsible for 17% of the global GDP (nominally), while the US makes up for 22%. Any moment, especially in the Xi Jinping era, China has a good chance of winning the “Game of Thrones” with the United States.

From what you’re saying it seems like the Chinese seem to have a very different perception of time and history to the Westerners. The historical horizon appears to be much broader from their perspective.

In China, time is a sense of distance and patience, a thing counted by the passage of generations. In China, you will not hear a question about what we want to do in a year or two. The Chinese ask what our children or grandchildren will do. A similar time horizon occurs in the political system, based on an extensive system of meritocracy, where strategic thinking, counted in decades, not in years is of key importance.

Talking about the specificity of a civilisation, one can not ignore the religion.

One of China’s civilizational foundations is the religious syncretism. The previously mentioned Confucianism is, first of all, a philosophical school and a code of ethics. The system of ceremonies is essential to it, but not those ceremonies of a purely religious dimension. The real religion is the Taoism, which – as an appeal to the idea of individual freedom – is an absolute denial of Confucianism. In addition, there’s also the imported version of Buddhism. Tibetan lamaism since the Yuan Dynasty (between the 13th and 14th centuries) had the status of the state religion. To this day, the most beautiful lamaist temple outside of Lhasa is located in Beijing, because Chinese emperors prayed there for centuries.

At the beginning of our conversation, you mentioned a political trend that wants to reach for Confucian traditions. What, in practice, can we expect, apart from strengthening the authoritarian one-person rule?

Since the 1990s, there has been a debate on the so-called Asian or Confucian values. It shows that when we in the Western systems primarily value individual freedoms, the Chinese system focuses on the collective responsibilities – towards the Family (and the Fatherland is nothing more than the extended Family broadly speaking), as well as older people and the ones of higher social class. We often undermine the hierarchies; they strengthen them, we do not value the authorities, they surround them with cult …

One of the pillars of the hegemonic position of the United States is their ability to “export” their political solutions beyond the borders of the country. In the case of China, can we also expect similar movements?

China will not export its system. They know very well that what they build is a specific, intrinsic and purely Chinese solution, that beyond the Chinese civilisation can’t be used in its entirety. However, some parts of their answers can be adapted by others. It is worth having a good look on them, as I’m arguing in my work titled Chinese renaissance, which will be released this summer.

The political system is one thing, and the economy is another one.

Zhu Rongji made a list of 100 companies that were to export and continue export until today to various Western countries. We could reach into the pockets of the French and Germans to see how many of them have Huawei smartphones. The first model of export is the export of usable technology. The second approach is fusions and takeovers, i.e. mergers and acquisitions. In this basket, the Chinese already have Volvo, Pirelli, Daimler or KUKA – the biggest German robotics company. Recently, this strategy is gaining momentum.

Poland does not seem to find its place in these changing geo-economic conditions.

For the first time in the long history of Chinese civilisation, China’s interest is to enter Poland. Unfortunately, our elites struggle to notice this fact. It’s evident that the Chinese don’t do this for altruistic reasons or admiration for Polish history. Being aware of Chinese intentions, we should, however, try to maximise the interests and benefits of both sides.

Meanwhile, instead of taking pragmatic actions, we push the Chinese people out, or we look at them still in the way we looked at those, who used to sell white T-shirts at the local market. For us, China is still a Third World country, a communist dictatorship that does nothing but breaks human rights. By creating a biased or merely false image of China for our peace of mind, we’re not making ourselves any favours. China could have been ignored 40 years ago, not today when it is a global power.

Our deficiencies are perfectly illustrated by the state of the Polish analytic environment. We can boast of a well-functioning Center for Eastern Studies; meanwhile, we’ve got no political institutes dealing strictly with Eastern Asia. We can see in the statistics how short-sighted it is – 60% of global GDP is already concentrated in the area of the Pacific Ocean, where we should look for the centre of the global economy as well the finance and technology centre soon.

In the recent years, I travel to China at least once a year. On the way back to European cities from Beijing or Shanghai, the Chinese make up 90% of people on board. It means that they are already here and doing business. And we are still stuck in the stereotypical belief that China is a country of cheap counterfeits.

The question is whether such a strong dependence on the volatile Chinese strategy is a good idea. Should we bet so high on the New Silk Road?

I do not see the risk of excessive one-sidedness in Poland, because currently, nobody is serious about China. At the same time, we’re doing a sort of diplomacy tourism. Fly to China? Yeah. Slip on the Great Wall? Yeah. Promise investments? Yeah. That’s as far as it goes.

For China, Poland isn’t the centre of the world. Germans and Western Europe are of real importance for them. The only thing is the road that leads to them goes through Poland. Viktor Orbán is doing all he can to make China notice Hungary and invest there. As a consequence, Chinese entities have already arrived in Budapest. The Chinese still want to invest in Łódź and locate their transhipment centre over there. It is a simple rule of geopolitics.

Why did they invest billions of dollars in Belarus and Lukashenka? Because it lies on the route of the One Belt One Road. They were not allowed to invest in Lódź so they signed an agreement with the mayor of Kutno. Chinese containers have already arrived in Kutno and in Lódź Chinese investors still, struggle to get the deal finalised.

The real problem is that in none of our political parties can we find the pro-China lobby. We can’t see how the global balance of power has changed and that makes us stay behind.

In our conversation, we can see a sharp image of China as a country on the threshold of great transformation, which can change the shape of the global order. What is the future of the Chinese state and society from the perspective of the coming decades?

The identity of contemporary Chinese is based on two main pillars.

Firstly, on nationalism, which returned in the 1990s and replaced communism. The Chinese authorities refer to the “century of national humiliation”, announcing the revival of the former Chinese power and regaining China’s status as a superpower. It is worth remembering that for China it is the United States, not Europe, that is the main point of reference. Hence, this nationalist shift is based on the desire to show the Americans what the Chinese really stand for.

Such a narrative is positively perceived, especially among the youngest Chinese generations. According to the PEW agency of the University of Georgetown, which for several decades has been investigating the popularity of governments in particular countries, the popularity of Chinese power remains consistently above 80%. This shows that successive governments are accepted. And this is not due to fear, as was Mao Zedong’s regime, but hope.

The second element of their identity, which appeared in the 90s, is the return to the roots: references to the long history of Chinese civilization and the heritage of Confucianism as a legacy in which one can seek inspiration in building an alternative order for Western liberal democracy.

There are many difficulties to overcome. A strong social stratification that can derail the entire economic machine; fast urbanization, which happens quicker than institutional solutions emerge; a completely degraded natural environment, that will take at least two generations to recover.

One of the most esteemed intellectuals in China and one of the protagonists of my upcoming book Zheng Yongnian – who has been teaching in Singapore for many years, also writes books in English, but publishes the most important of them in Chinese – a few years ago, he published a work titled The Three Steps of China’s Reform.

He argues that the first step happened between 1978-2008 – the successful period of building the power of the state. After that China entered into the next stage, which will last another 25-30 years. It will be the time of building the middle class, shaping a new model of a Chinese citizen who will not have much in common with his Western counterpart. Only after 2030 China will be ready for the third stage – real political reforms that will not turn towards the West either. On the horizon, we can nearly see a peaceful union with Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party turning into the Confucian Party of China. It is in the heritage of Confucius and other Chinese thinkers that the “Middle Kingdom” is to seek inspiration for building an alternative to the Western state and society. Even if this vision will remain only on paper, its very emergence shows how far Chinese thinking goes. That’s an entirely different level of politics.

Translation from Polish: Jędrzej Pyzik

 

 

This publication has been cofinanced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within “Cooperation in Public Diplomacy 2018” programme.
This publication reflects the views of the author and not the official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

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