Led by the Communist Party of China (CPC), China realized rapid growth as its political system came under the spotlight of other countries. View from abroad, especially those of the West, have in turn affected many Chinese people. So I’d like to share some of my views about China’s system, in particular the leadership of the CPC. Most of what I’m going to talk about is from my experience traveling around the world as a reporter.
What role has the system led by the CPC played in China?
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the country has made many more achievements than mistakes. This is without doubt. But someone might say that China’s modernization is far behind that of the US and Europe. In fact, when the People’s Republic of China was founded, the situation it faced was radically different than that of the US and Europe in mid-20th century. It’s not fair to compare China with the US and Europe.
As far as modernization is concerned, the US and Europe have a clear lead that China cannot match. But China obviously leads the other two in the speed of development. The gap between China and the US and Europe was huge in 1949, but it has reduced considerably in the past decades. In some fields, China has even made the West feel “threatened.” Given that China is a country that had a delayed start to its journey to development, rapid growth is necessity.
People who are fond of calling the Chinese mainland’s system a laggard have always cited Taiwan as an example, arguing that the island, where residents are also Chinese, has developed faster.
Taiwan indeed started developing earlier than the mainland, but the difference of living standards across the Straits is narrowing. The island still has its advantages, but many of Chinese mainland’s achievements in industrialization have made the island impressed. It has been predicted that it won’t take long for Taiwan to drop from the list of China’s top 10 provinces when it comes to economic development.
Of course, such comparison is not convincing. We should view the example of Taiwan from a larger perspective.
Taiwan was one of Asia’s so-called four little dragons — the other three being South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong — whose development was appurtenant to the strategic layout of the US and other Western countries during the Cold War.
The US was at the peak of its economic glory at the time and was keen on helping partners that could do its bidding. The four little dragons were thus given a chance to rise. They were really lucky as such opportunity never reappeared after the Cold War. The current total population of the four countries and regions is merely more than 80 million, which is roughly equal to that of East China’s Jiangsu Province. The example of the four little dragons can be used to argue for the sake of arguing, but it barely proves anything.
More important comparisons to China are the Soviet Union, the Eastern Europe bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and South Asia. The Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe bloc had populations of hundreds of millions, vast territory, and a political system once similar to China’s. The ASEAN has close economic and cultural ties with China. And the total population of South Asian countries is about the same as China’s and the region was once neck-and-neck with China’s economic development.
In comparison with these three big groups, China’s development is outstanding. China has far exceeded the ASEAN and the South Asia in comprehensive growth. The Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe bloc dissolved after the Cold War with some of their previous member states – about 100 million people – joining the European Union and NATO, enjoying steady or improved living standards, while the remaining more than 200 million people saw their living standards stagnate.
The history of the People’s Republic of China should be viewed together with earlier historical periods. The end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) brought about long-term disorder, when foreign intruders took the chance to wreak chaos. The CPC ended that turmoil and took over a very poor and underdeveloped country. Since 1949, China explored different ways of development for about 30 years, during which the country went through twists and turns, made achievements in industry, consolidated military power, and became highly independent. Afterward, China embarked on a high-speed growth trajectory that shocked the world and became the second largest economy. The quality of life in China has fundamentally improved.
In my opinion, this is an important way to figure out what the system led by the CPC has brought to China.
What does the CPC’s strong leadership mean to China today and in the future?
It is not very hard for a country to realize high-speed development for a period of time. The real difficulty is to sustain long-term stable growth. Economy of many countries was once booming. For example, Brazil had already been quite developed before the World War I. Pakistan once welcomed groups of visiting delegations from South Korea and had also exported advanced management experiences to China.
I haven’t carefully studied these countries’ history of modernization. I suppose they have been through ups and downs in development and swam with the tide during world’s great political changes.
Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines were once performing better than China. But the financial crisis in 1997 knocked them out. The Soviet Union was once so powerful and competed with the US in comprehensive aspects. It beat the US in the space race by building the world’s first man-made satellite and sent the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, to space. Not to mention that it defeated Nazi Germany in the WWII.
Soviet Union’s problems could have been fixed to let the country survive: Its industrial structure was skewed in favor of military and heavy industries, leaving weak agriculture and light industry sectors. The situation could have been redeemed, but the Soviet Union eventually chose to give up its party and relinquish the system, ditching the entire path of development.
The strategic suppression Russia is facing today, posed by the US and NATO, are the aftereffects of the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the result of its resistance against suppression, Russia is now undergoing joint sanctions slapped by the US and Europe, which led to depreciation of the Russian ruble and seriously affected livelihood in the country.
Generally, a country will maintain its development momentum as long as its overall environment does not change. Internal and external problems together can derail development, leading to a worsening situation. China is endowed with the benefit of size, which is an advantage, but it can be a drawback as well. Our development is only half way through, and China has already become the world’s second largest economy, just after the US. China ranks first in the world in mobile phone and automobile sales. Thanks to its scale of economy, China now has large internationally competitive corporations such as Huawei, Alibaba and Tencent. But the world views China’s development through a geopolitical lens. Bringing China to its knees has become the aim of the elites of some countries.
Is it easy to bring down a country? Facts have proved that it is not so hard. If a country has overwhelming military advantage, controls the global financial system and internet system and is also the world’s biggest consumer market, it can bring down any country in whatever way it wants, without worrying about retaliation. It can destroy Japan’s economic drive, squeeze Russia’s strategic space, impose harsh economic sanctions on small and medium-sized countries and launch military subversion against them. Countries that fall foul of it will suffer extensive damage.
The collapse of currency is the sign that a country is being torn down. The ruble depreciated to a hundredth or even thousandth of its value during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In August 2018, the Turkish lira fell 30 percent in a few days amid a downturn in US-Turkey relations. Before May 2018, the Iranian rial went into a tailspin with over 40,000 rials against one US dollar. After the US renewed sanctions on Iran on May 8, 2018, the real exchange rate once plummeted to over 100,000 rials to a dollar.
In 2018, the largest-ever trade dispute broke out between China and the US. Ordinary countries may be frightened out of their wits when faced with the economic might of a giant. Although they may stay apparently calm, the plummeting exchange rates will make them increasingly anxious. Considering the US pressure on China in 2018, it was possible that the Chinese yuan came down to 10 or 15 against the dollar, and it even touching 20 would not be a surprise. But it is really surprising that the Chinese yuan has remained steady.
This is a miracle indeed. In fact, many Chinese people were also anxious in 2018. The value of the yuan dived sharply, but it stabilized quickly. Trade disputes have not affected the value of the Chinese yuan. Why? Economists would give all kinds of answers. But in my opinion, the most fundamental reason is the CPC’s strong leadership.
The CPC Central Committee has a strong and powerful core. Its political resolve has encouraged Chinese people at the crucial moment, and boosted Chinese society’s confidence in overcoming difficulties. In other words, China survived the most serious geopolitical impact and stood steadfast in its position with only a slight sway. By sticking to its fundamental principle, China can cope with the situation no matter what other countries do. Chinese society demonstrated its power accumulated through over 40 years of reform and opening-up in dealing with the challenge, disappointing those who hoped US will have the upper hand and have quick victory in the trade war against China.
Undoubtedly, the US has vastly underestimated China’s resolve and ability to withstand pressure. They did not realize the power of the CPC in social mobilization and risk control. After the trade conflicts, I believe some people must have developed a new understanding of China’s strong and steady system.
China is a super-sized society. Its social development is driven by people’s demand for a better life. Chinese people, who endure hardships and are capable of hard work, are not satisfied with the status quo. This drives development. It is the Chinese people who are promoting China’s economic development. Decades ago, they wanted color TV, refrigerator and washing machine, so China’s GDP has been ranking higher and higher in the world. It is because Chinese people want cars and better housing, China became the world’s second largest economy. Now Chinese people also want better education, health care, greener environment and longer vacations, and these wishes are pushing China forward. The country has no other choice.
In history, the second largest powers had to face many risks, and few of them ended well. In my opinion, under normal circumstances, there is a 50 percent probability that China will sail through this perilous period and become the world’s largest economy. That is to say, there is also a 50 percent probability that international politics does not accept China as the largest economy. We may fail half way during national rejuvenation due to all kinds of unexpected reasons. So is there a key factor that can improve the probability of China’s success to 51 percent or higher?
I believe there is. The key factor is the CPC’s leadership.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union wavered at the crucial moment. Many countries are easily intimidated. China may encounter much complicated challenges in the future. But it is already a nuclear power with the most complete industrial system in the world, and is becoming the world’s largest market in many areas. We have the basic condition to firmly stick to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Next, the most important thing is whether China can stay calm and rational, and keep steadily forging ahead in the long run. The CPC is most capable of taking on uncertainties and challenges, which has seriously frustrated some members of the radical Western political elites. Many other systems have already failed, and it is time to test the Chinese system that is led by the CPC. Chinese people’s destiny is related to the big test, and we have to support the CPC in creating history.
What does a strong system led by the CPC mean for the country itself?
China is a country with a large population and vast territory. The Chinese civilization’s continuity lies in its profound culture and geographical environment. Chinese characters, Confucian culture, and great rivers with frequent floods, have all contributed to the cohesion of the Chinese nation. The pursuit of grand unification has undoubtedly been the main theme of the Chinese civilization for thousands of years.
In addition to inspiring national development and promoting social equity, the CPC has also provided strong political cohesion for the country with huge regional differences, multiple ethnic groups, and vast territory. The CPC is a political organization that transcends ethnicity, religion, and regionalism. With its strong ideology, it has built a common vision that truly belongs to the entire Chinese nation.
Numerous CPC members are deeply integrated with the grass roots under the strong leadership of the Central Committee. Penetrating tradition and history, the Party can reconstruct China’s politics across the country’s territory and society.
I met a senior US journalist when I was in Yugoslavia as a reporter in 1993. Due to rich work experience in Beijing and Moscow, he had become an expert on socialism. He once told me that China is quite complicated from all perspectives, but the CPC is the country’s uniting force. He said the disintegration of both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia stemmed from a split in their ruling parties — the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. Hence, the CPC’s leadership is decisive for China’s future. China must not weaken the CPC’s leadership, he said, otherwise, China will meet the same end.
The US reporter did not share the same beliefs or stances with the Chinese people. His observation and conclusion from an outsider’s perspective thus merits attention.
In 2014, I went to Ukraine for an interview when a new round of color revolution had just taken place. The country was in chaos. I met the then director of the Department of Foreign Policy and International Security, the National Institute for Strategic Studies, which provides analytical support to the president of Ukraine. I asked him what lessons could be drawn from the Ukrainian situation by the world, including China. He thought for a while, and answered: A country must not lose its ability to control during its transition from the Soviet-style traditional socialist model to the modern social governance system. And the CPC exactly has such capability to initiate and control reform.
In addition to cohesiveness, the CPC has also provided China with strong social mobilization to develop its society, and has helped design and execute the nation building plan. The CPC has significant advantages: It always seeks truth from facts, correct itself, and does not take extreme views.
Among all countries in the world, China must be ranking first in terms of efforts and achievements it has made to improve people’s lives. Take the targeted poverty alleviation policy. It has been regarded one of the three critical “battles” and implemented at the national level. No country has bent over backwards to reduce poverty.
Because of the purpose of serving the people, the CPC has concentrated its efforts on the people’s well-being, and the CPC Central Committee is well aware of the public’s attitude. Therefore, the CPC not only has the ability to carry out infrastructure construction projects, but also the courage to conduct major reforms.
Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, great efforts have been made to eradicate corruption, restructure the economy and promote military reform. Even one of such major changes may lead to a big mess in other countries. But China has simultaneously succeeded in all of them.
The fundamental reason is that the CPC Central Committee’s decision-making and the power to control reached new heights with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core. While continuing the economic miracle, China has also created a political miracle that ensures both comprehensive reforms and social stability at the same time.
The reform and opening-up has brought rapid changes to China. As various new situations and contradictions emerge, the strong system led by the CPC provides effective measures needed by the country and society. China seems to bristle with problems, but its capability and resources to solve problems are growing faster. Having been there for almost a century, the CPC has made great contributions to the people and the nation, even at the most dangerous and difficult times.
What do a powerful country and a strong system mean for the people?
I always see remarks online asking if an ordinary people’s life has anything to do with the country’s strength. To the Chinese public, a strong country means a lot.
As an old saying goes in China, “Heroes emerge in troubled times.” However, for the vast majority of ordinary people, a stable life matters most. The CPC has led China to become the second-largest economy, providing a basic platform for every Chinese to seek personal development and happiness.
The country is the outermost protective fence for one’s interests. This might be less visible in peace time, especially in the era of globalization. However, it does exist, with ubiquitous impact on the living conditions of most people.
Imagine a diligent middle school teacher of China doing the same job in the 1980s and today. Thirty or forty years ago, he would have been a poor wretch in the eyes of the world; but now, he is able to afford an overseas vacation. He may even find that the value of his house is the same as some houses in Europe.
In the past, studying abroad was a dream out of reach for most Chinese families. . Now it is possible for majority of China’s middle-class families. All such changes in ordinary people’s lives are reflections of China’s development.
In other words, China is becoming rich. Increasing elements of Chinese society rise with the tide. Ordinary people benefit from it, elites more so. Without the support of the rise of China, people like Jack Ma could not become world-class entrepreneurs. A growing number of elites from all walks of life have gradually gained international influence. Even dissidents have “benefited” from China’s development. International forces inimical to China have pampered the dissidents and have constantly given them awards.
Imagine if the CPC collapses, all Chinese people will be losers. We will certainly go through a sharp fall in the value of the currency, which would help us re-understand what inflation is. I have experienced financial turmoil as the currency depreciated every day. When I was a reporter in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, I experienced hyperinflation first hand. During those days, international telephone calls were quite expensive, but I could make calls to Beijing as long as I wanted. By the end of the month, I would get my telephone bill, which would be due in 15 days. Within 15 days, the local currency would depreciate at a speed of 20 to 30 percent per day. After 15 days, no matter how long I had spoken on phone the previous month, I only needed to pay one dollar. I would like to tell the Chinese people, that is inflation!
The Chinese people can freely deposit the Chinese yuan into banks. But in many countries, people only deposit dollars or euros to reduce the chances of their savings getting eroded once local currency loses value. Using the Chinese yuan to buy bonds and manage their finances, rather than changing the money to a foreign currency is a hard-earned right that Chinese people can now enjoy as nationals of a developing country.
Some people say they are not afraid of living in a divided country. If my country were as small as Switzerland or Singapore and as long as I can live happily, it doesn’t matter.
However, there are few countries like Switzerland or Singapore. I heard from someone from a Central Asian country which had just gained independence in the 1990s that they wanted to be the Switzerland of Central Asia. Years have passed, but it is still a small country in Central Asia.
China provides a big platform and a big market for ordinary Chinese people. In China, a migrant worker has more access to opportunities and facilities than those in most other countries. An enormous China expands everyone’s horizon, making the Chinese people easier to explore their position amid globalization and keep up with the times.
We always say Chinese people are tied to the land and are unwilling to move, but the Chinese society is now the most mobile in the world. Annual Spring Festival travel season shows how far the ordinary Chinese people have moved and how many other opportunities they have experienced before their current job. They do not go with the stream, they are making their choice and staying competitive.
In recent decades, the demographic structure of Chinese cities has changed dramatically. Many emerging cities have been totally populated by people who moved from other parts of China. The long-distance migration of Chinese people is really surprising. The enormity of China has shaped the unique lifestyle of modern Chinese society.
China is not only large, but is also becoming increasingly strong. Gaining strength was initially aimed at taking on enemies and has gradually developed into something that can support a safe and happy life for every citizen. The rule of the CPC is achieving progress which will go down in history.
The Socialist system pursues fairness and justice. With increase in China’s national power, this institutional commitment is gradually being put into practice. Fairness must be supported by abundant material resources, otherwise the quality will suffer. However, in today’s China, achieving fair play under market economy can be seen as a remarkable achievement among developing countries.
China is not among countries in which gap between the rich and the poor is very large, but Chinese public opinions attacks the gap in the fiercest way in the world. It appears that the socialist ideology and the traditional concept of fairness among the Chinese people are very strong and constitute the collective belief of the country. China is a socialist nation. The society has the final say, not capital. China’s development has been filled with twists and turns, but led by the CPC, China has never forgotten the fundamental purpose of the socialist system.
The CPC’s strong and powerful leadership has given the country a competitive character in the world. We are used to China’s pre-eminent position in the world and we don’t feel special any longer. Some people’s reference often goes wrong. They don’t compare the pace of development, but compare China’s current situation with best part of the developed countries, thereby creating an impression that China lags behind.
The strength of China’s system must have the ability to correct the misleading impression and build collective understanding of its public opinion, especially online opinion. When diversification has become the Chinese social reality, China’s constant opening-up makes Western values easier to penetrate, which is a huge challenge. But I believe being success is the most powerful evidence and there is no iron curtain that can hide the truth for a long time.
The CPC is leading more than 1 billion Chinese people toward modernization. The number of population is hundreds of millions larger than the total population of Western developed countries combined. Chinese people are busy as they need to make achievements in so many domains. It is interested in addressing problems, not competing. We believe every society has its beliefs and pride. Mutual respect and learning are the most advocated principles. However, if some people or forces are determined to stir up controversies or distort common sense, we won’t tolerate them.
(In association with Global Times. The author is editor-in-chief of the Global Times.)