The Mission of Xi Jinping –
Book Review of “Governance of China”
by William Jones
Hardcover: 515 pages
Publisher: Shanghai Press (February 17, 2015)
The world has yet to await a comprehensive English-language biography of the Chinese leader, who came on to the world stage unknown by most people, but who has already made it known that his term in power in a rising China will be absolutely crucial for his nation and for the world. And yet the decision to name him as the General Secretary of the CPC and China’s President was no surprise to China, but rather the result of the rather thorough, albeit somewhat opaque, process by which Chinese leaders are chosen. He appeared at a critical moment in the three-decade period of China’s history known as the “reform and opening up,” in which the startling growth of China’s economy must now seek new paths on which it might continue its course. Already, President Xi has shown himself to be a man prepared to do what is needed to bring the Chinese economy - and with it the world - onto the new path of development opening before it.
While the rest of the world had to do a quick study to learn the nature of this new leader, he was far from unknown to the Chinese public. In fact, in his short time as General Secretary of the Communist Party and as President, he has to have won the hearts of the Chinese people. His characterization by the Chinese citizens as Xi DaDa, literally Xi BigBig, but more colloquially translated as Daddy Xi, clearly indicates his unique ability to connect with the “common man” in China. But also on the international scale, world leaders have been quite taken with the new style of Chinese leader that Xi represents.
While the Western media often refers to figures like Xi, whose father was a leading member of the Communist Party and the PLA since the legendary Long March, as “princelings,” this rather derogatory characterization is highly misleading. Conditions for families in the Chinese political leadership since the Long March have often been far from comfortable or “princely”, and sometimes quite oppressive and dangerous.
Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, had indeed been a protégé of Mao Tse-tung and a friend and protégé of Zhou Enlai. He held key posts in the Chinese Government, initially responsible for the western Shaanxi province and the area of Xian, one of the major regions along the old Silk Road in Xinjiang province. This is where young Xi Jinping spent much of his childhood. In 1959 Xi Zhongxun was appointed Vice Premier, the youngest person to ever hold that position. But then he was purged in 1962, probably because of his close relationship to Peng Dehuai, who had been PLA Commander of the northwest district where Xi Zhongxun had earlier served, who in turn was also thrown out of the leadership during that tumultuous period. Xi Zhongxun spent the Cultural Revolution working at a factory and young Jinping was sent to the country for his own “reeducation.” During this time he suffered public humiliation and hunger, experienced homelessness and was even on one occasion held in custody. The young Xi volunteered to serve in his native Shaanxi Province in the Loess Plateau, performing all sorts of hard labor, carrying manure, hauling a coal cart, farming, and building dykes. Through his conscientious work and his dedication to the villagers, the young man won their trust, and was elected village Party chief. He later served in a variety of leading posts in Hebei, Fujian, Jiangsu and Fujian provinces and served as vice mayor of Shanghai before being transferred to Beijing for a more central posting. Everywhere, he won the respect and love of the people he served.
With the demise of the Gang of Four in 1978, Xi Zhongxun was called back to Beijing to help Deng Xiaoping reconstitute the social fabric of society after the devastation wrought by the Gang of Four. Even before the decision to initiate the “reform and opening up” as a nation-wide policy, Xi Zhongxun was sent by Deng to Guangzhou where he began the first experiment with economic liberalization. Largely due to the success of the Guangzhou experiment, Deng was able to initiate the reform on a national scale, leading to the rapid economic evolution of China as the world’s foremost manufacturing center. The record of Xi Zhongxun also clearly indicates the tremendous affection in which he was held by the people he served as chief of Guangdong.
Pictures of young Xi Jinping standing next to his father on many of his visits and meetings indicated that these were perhaps the important “study visits” which have helped inform his views on China and its problems, its capabilities and its future prospects. It was no doubt symbolic in many ways that Xi Jinping’s first visit as Chinese president was to Guangdong in Guangzhou Province, the first experiment in the “opening up” and the region where his father had made his reputation as a reformer.
The publication by the Chinese Government’s Foreign Languages Press of a compilation of President Xi’s speeches, under the English title of “The Governance of China,” while not a biography, gives some insight into the mind of the man and into his intentions as the leader of the most populous nation in the world. In a speech given at a press conference at the National Congress of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party at which Xi Jinping formally took power, he gives an early introduction to his view of where China has to go. “We are taking on this important responsibility for the nation,” Xi said. “Ours is a great nation. Throughout 5,000 years of development, the Chinese nation has made significant contributions to the progress of human civilization. Since the advent of modern times our nation has gone through untold tribulations and faced its greatest perils. Countless people with lofty ideals rose up for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, but each time they failed. After it was founded in 1921 the Communist Party of China rallied and led the Chinese people in making great sacrifices, forging ahead against all odds, and transforming poor and backward China into an increasingly prosperous and strong nation, thus opening completely new horizons for national rejuvenation. Our responsibility is to rally and lead the entire Party and the people of all China’s ethnic groups in taking on this task and continuing to pursue the goal of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, so that China can stand firmer and stronger among the world’s nations, and make new and greater contributions to mankind.” The concept introduced by Xi of the Chinese Dream is meant to encapsulate that sense of rejuvenation.
One year later at the National Congress, the 18th Central Committee also presented the program of continued reform which had, after careful study and under the direct leadership of Xi Jinping, been decided upon as the direction China would travel. The demise of the export markets in the West due to the prolonged and deepening financial crisis in the dollar-based financial system had deprived China of much of its export earnings. At the same time, the policy of raising the level of the Chinese working force with an emphasis on increased productivity through technological innovation had also brought a large portion of the Chinese working force out of the realm of “low-wage manufacture”. The new situation, or “new normal” as it was called, required a change of emphasis. While the “opening up” of the Chinese markets would continue and an increased reliance on “market mechanisms” to better allocate resources, there would also be a major revamping of the State government structure to make it more effective in giving overall direction to the Chinese economy. “We should make good use of both the market, the ’invisible” hand, and the government, the ’visible” hand,” Xi told a study session of the CPC Politbureau in May 2014, “to promote sustained and sound social and economic development.”
The “opening up” has always carried with it certain risks as there are forces within the bloated London-New York financial system which could wreak havoc on the Chinese economy if they were given free rein. In his speeches, President Xi has continually warned of the dangers existing in the present crisis-ridden financial system. “Although we have a generally positive analysis of China’s economic and social development,” Xi told non-Party members at a symposium held by the CPC Central Committee in November 2013, “we must not underestimate the risk and challenges facing us now and in the near future. We must be aware that the pace of world economic growth will continue to be slow, the problem between sluggish demand and over-production capacity continues to grow, and domestic companies are troubled by rising costs and weaknesses in their capacity to innovate.”
Creating a Knowledge-Based Society
At the same time, the situation required major changes in the functioning of the Chinese economy, which had to radically transform its mode of production in order to respond to the changing world situation. “As extensive and profound changes are taking place domestically and internationally, China’s development faces a series of prominent dilemmas and challenges, and there are quite a number of problems and difficulties on its path of development,” Xi said. “Unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development remains a big problem. We are weak in scientific and technological innovation. The industrial structure is unbalanced and the growth mode remains inefficient. The development gap between and rural areas and between regions is still large, and so are income disparities. Social problems are markedly on the rise…Some people still lead hard lives. Formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance are serious problems. Some sectors are prone to corruption and other types of misconduct, and the fight against corruption remains a serious challenge for us. To solve these problems, the key lies in continuing the reform.”
One of the key elements in the “new normal” is to increase productivity in the Chinese economy through technological advances. These advances can only come through technical innovations, the result of human creativity. Therefore Xi’s continual emphasis on innovation and the “knowledge-based economy” and on education. “Our scientists and engineers should bravely shoulder their responsibilities, overtake others, and find the right direction, to which they should stick,” Xi told engineers and scientists in June 2014 at a General Assembly of members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. “They should have the courage and confidence to blaze new trails, overcome difficulties and seek excellence, and audaciously make world-leading scientific and technological achievements,” Xi said. He also looked at the problem, as he is prone to do, from the longer historical point of view. “I have been wondering about the reason why our science and technology gradually lagged behind from the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Studies show that Qing Emperor Kangxi was very interested in Western science and technology. He invited Western missionaries to give him lectures on astronomy, mathematics, geography, zoology, anatomy, music and even philosophy. More than 100 books on astronomy were introduced to him. When did he study these subjects, and for how long? He continuously studied them for two years and five months sometime between 1670 and 1682.” Xi then asked why this infusion of knowledge did not lead to a scientific renaissance in China? The problem, he said, was that, while the scholars learned a lot, “they did not apply what they had learned to social and economic development. Rather they simply talked about the knowledge.” “To solve this problem, we must further scientific and technological system reform. Change mindsets and remove institutional barriers hindering scientific and technological innovation, properly handle the relationship between government and market, and better integrate science and technology with social and economic development. We must open a channel through which science and technology can boost industrial, economic and national development. We must spur innovation with reform, accelerate the construction and improvement of a national innovation system, and let the well water of innovation gush out fully.”
Some of the results of this have been seen in the tremendous progress China has made over a short span of time in their space exploration program, including manned space exploration. It is also represented by the importance placed on the development of nuclear fusion by China. President Xi has visited the Chinese nuclear fusion program at the Chinese University of Science and Technology in Hebei twice since he took office. And previous to his appointment, he had also visited the facility.
In connection with this, President Xi has also stressed the need for education, especially in the sciences. In a speech to a group of outstanding students on May 4, 2013, the anniversary of the May uprising in 1919, Xi said, “You young people must orient yourselves to modernization, the world and the future, have a sense of urgency in updating your knowledge, study with great eagerness, lay a good foundation of basic knowledge while updating knowledge promptly, assiduously study theories while enthusiastically developing skills, and constantly enhance your competence and capabilities to meet the development needs of our times and the requirement of our undertaking…Innovation is the soul driving a nation’s progress and an inexhaustible source of a country’s prosperity. It is also an essential part of the Chinese national character. This is what Confucius meant when he said, “If you can in one day renovate yourself, do so from day to day. Yea, let there be daily renovation. Life never favors those who follow the beaten track and are satisfied with the status quo, and it never waits for the unambitious and those who sit idle and enjoy the fruits of others’ work.”
Lighting the Lamp of Wisdom
Xi often sprinkles his comments with sayings from Confucius and Mencius and other ancient Chinese thinkers, which he has also incorporated in his own mental picture. He feels that this also represents the real greatness of China, which instills pride in the younger generation and provides the basis for that “dialogue of civilizations” which he has called for in his pursuit of helping his neighboring countries, both far and near, to achieve their own prosperity and greatness. Speaking to a study session of the CPC Politbureau, Xi said, “During its 5,000-year history, the Chinese nation has created a brilliant and profound culture. We should disseminate the most fundamental Chinese culture in a popular way to attract more people to participate in it, matching modern culture and society. We should popularize our cultural spirit across countries as well as across time and space, with contemporary values and the eternal charm of Chinese culture.” And again in a speech at UNESCO headquarters on March 27, 2014: “‘A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden.’ If there were only one kind of flower in the world, people would find it boring no matter how beautiful it was. Be it Chinese civilization or other civilizations in the world , they are all fruits of human progress.”
This general philosophical approach is no better symbolized than in the dramatic proposal for constructing th e “One Belt, One Road.” China’s emergence over the last few decades as a major world power, breaking the post-Cold War monopoly of the United States position as the chief arbiter of international disputes, has unsettled many countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. China is, of course, aware of the fact that they are the most powerful country in the region and that this has engendered some concerns among its less powerful neighbors, concerns that have been driven to a fever pitch by the Obama Administration’s reaction to China’s rise by strengthening military commitments with countries in the region, in particular, Japan, which is least inclined toward any new global role for China.
President Xi has been very clear that he understands the nature of these fears. Speaking to the Koerber Foundation in Berlin on March 28, 2014, Xi said: “As China continues to grow, some people start to worry. Some take a dark view of China and assume that it will inevitably become a threat as it develops further. They even portray China as being the terrifying Mephisto who will someday suck the soul of the world. Such absurdity couldn’t be more ridiculous, yet some people, regrettably, never tire of preaching it. This shows that prejudice is indeed hard to overcome. A review of human history shows that what keeps people apart are not mountains, rivers, or oceans, but lack of mutual understanding. As Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz once observed, only the sharing of our talents will light the lamp of wisdom.”
The “One Belt, One Road” policy, which had been mooted in its first manifestation 20 years ago by Lyndon LaRouche and Helga Zepp in collaboration with Chinese scholars, but had lain fallow because of the ensuing financial crises, was again taken up by the Xi government in 2013 and expanded to become the Number One policy issue for the Chinese government. The policy aims at providing needed infrastructural investment to the surrounding countries and helping bring the prosperity which China has achieved to the less well-off countries in the region and in the world. While the initiative has been originally focused on China’s neighbors in Central Asia and in Southeast Asia, it has through the BRICS cooperation, become a perspective that reaches far beyond the Asia-Pacific, to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Speaking on the topic at the opening ceremony of the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), Xi explained what the program involved for the Arab nations of the Middle East. He presented what he characterized as a “1+2+3” cooperation pattern: “‘1’ refers to ‘cooperation in energy as the core,’ ‘2’ to the ‘two wings – one being infrastructure and the other trade and investment.’ ‘3’ refers to ‘using three advanced technologies – nuclear energy, space satellites and new energy – as breakthrough levers in an effort to raise the level of pragmatic China-Arab cooperation.’” “The two sides may discuss the establishment of technology transfer centers,” Xi went on, “jointly develop training centers in the Arab states for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and launch programs to introduce China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System to the Arab state.” The latter element has been labeled the “Space Silk Road.”
But this new Silk Road, while emphasizing the connectivity of modern technology between the nations also hearkens back to the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, creating an understanding between different nations and different cultures of their common interests. Speaking at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University in announcing the Silk Road Economic Belt, President Xi underlined the broader cultural importance of this initiative. “Throughout the millennia, the peoples of various countries along the ancient Silk Road have written a chapter of friendship that has been passed on to this very day. More than 2,000 years of exchanges demonstrate that on the basis of unity, mutual trust, equality, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutually beneficial cooperation, countries of different races, beliefs and cultural backgrounds are fully capable of sharing peace and development. This is the valuable inspiration we have drawn from the ancient Silk Road.”
Later that year at the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), an organization proposed by Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, with the goal of bringing the countries of Asia together in collaboration and consultation in the security realm, President Xi proposed making this into a forum for the overall security of Asia, moving away from the coalition-building in the region which had been the hallmark of the Cold War era toward a policy of win-win cooperation. “Common security means respecting and ensuring the security of each and every country,” Xi told the CICA members. “Asia is a region of great diversity. The countries there differ in size, wealth and strength. They vary in historical and cultural traditions as well as social systems, and have different security interests and aspirations. However, we are all part of the same Asian family. With our interests and security so closely intertwined, we will sink or swim together, and we are increasingly becoming a community of common destiny.” “Security must be universal,” Xi said. “We cannot have the security of just one or a few countries while leaving the rest insecure, in no way can we accept the so-called absolute security of one at the expense of the security of others.”
While this remains a somewhat moot point while the U.S. frantically strengthens its own security alliances, it has been gaining strong support from Asian nations.
One section of the “Governance of China” concerns President Xi’s campaign against corruption and his determined effort to reestablish within the Communist Party a whole-hearted commitment to the “people’s livelihood.” This has raised irate comments from a good number of so-called “China-watchers”, believing that China in this age of globalization will follow the path of the so-called Western “democracies.” Some malcontented Western commentators have gone to the absurd lengths of comparing the anti-corruption to Mao’s purges during the Cultural Revolution!
The rapid growth of the Chinese economy during the last decades has produced startling results. But it has also produced tremendous gaps between rich and poor. This was the risk Deng Xiaoping was willing to take when he agreed to the conditions offered to him: of entering the world economy as a low-wage manufacturing center and calling on people to “Enrich themselves.” While China has succeeded in working its way into a much more value-added notch of the world economy, it has had its price in the environmental devastation and in a growing income gap. And while the Chinese Communist Party has always prided itself on its egalitarianism and its concern for the “people’s welfare,” many individuals have been “bedazzled” by the sudden opportunities to accumulate wealth and to feather their own nests at the cost of the common people. And this included high-ranking members of the Communist Party. If that were allowed to continue, the Chinese Communist Party would be discredited in the eyes of the Chinese people, and effectively lose its raison d’etre. Given that the Party remains the one single entity that can keep China on the road to progress, President Xi is intent on tackling this problem head-on.
In a speech at the working conference of the Program of Mass Line Education and Practice held by the CPC Central Committee, he explained the nature of some of the problems that had arisen with leading Party cadre. “Some Party officials don’t understand or concern themselves with reality,” Xi said. “They are reluctant to go to areas experiencing harsh conditions, or help grassroots organizations and people solve problems; they prefer to having nothing to do with them lest there should be more trouble. Their duties are a game to them – they pass the buck or muddle through. They blindly launch expensive projects, walk away when they fail, and leave behind an unresolved mess; some curry favor with their superiors, and rudely order their subordinates around. People in need of their services find them difficult to access, hard to talk to and impossible to get them to act.”
While many party cadre have already been put on trial for gross malfeasance in office, President Xi is attempting to strengthen the moral fiber of those honest officials, who are seriously trying to do their job. And in doing this, he also adopts a Confucian standpoint. He underlines first and foremost the need for continual study by Party members. “If we fail to improve our knowledge in a wide variety of areas, if we do not take the initiative to learn about science and culture, if we are unwilling to conscientiously update our knowledge and improve our knowledge structure, develop the broadest possible perspective and broaden our horizons, we will not improve our professional competence,” Xi told members of the Central Party School. “Our ancient scholars commented that our aspirations should be as follows,” he said, “in politics ‘being the first to worry about the affairs of the state and the last to enjoy oneself’; as patriots, ‘not daring to ignore the country’s peril no matter how humble one’s position’ and ‘doing everything possible to save the country in its peril without regard to personal fortune or misfortune’” on integrity, “never being corrupted by riches and honors, never departing from principle despite poverty or humble origin, and never submitting to force or threat”; on selfless dedication, “dying with a loyal heart shining in the pages of history” and “giving all, till the heart beats its last.” “These maxims reflect the fine traditions and spirit of the Chinese nation, and we should all keep them alive and have them further developed.”
Obviously, the path that China chooses to realize its “rejuvenation” will be achieved in accordance with its own traditions, both old and new. The path it takes will be its own, indeed a path with “Chinese characteristics.” But given the role that China now plays in creating a new international economic and political framework in which nations can work together for the common good, the whole world must wish them success and offer them assistance in accomplishing their two main centennial goals: completing the building of a moderately prosperous society by 2020, and becoming a moderate socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049.
China wishes to cooperate with all nations in that endeavor. This has been reiterated time and again by President Xi and his colleagues. But it is up to people of good will in Europe, in the United States and in the rest of the world, to see that that offer is accepted and to make a global effort to pull mankind out of the tremendous crisis facing it today.