China’s the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and the election of Xi Jinping as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee have the West working itself up into a crescendo of Xi-bashing and Sinophobia. But are all their fears real? What does General Secretary Xi actually want? What direction is China now heading?
To answer these momentous questions, it is necessary to debunk some persistent Western myths.
The 24-member Politburo and the 205-member Central Committee of the Communist Party of China see a large proportion of highly educated and experienced individuals, many with doctoral degrees, representing a wide field, including finance, nuclear sciences, aeronautics, precision engineering, ecology, and minority affairs. They can’t be lumped into a catch-all of “Xi’s men” as portrayed in Western media.
No, Beijing is not fixated on taking Taiwan by force anytime soon. Immediately following the ill-conceived Nancy Pelosi visit, Beijing published a third white paper on the Taiwan question, stressing that the priority is peaceful reunification. At the same time, a highly coordinated, apparently prefabricated all-theater military exercise was immediately launched, demonstrating Beijing’s military capability to blockade the island if push comes to shove. The ball now is firmly in the court of Taiwan and the United States, not to continue pushing the one-China-principle envelope to the breaking point.
However, reunification remains a key part of the Chinese Dream repeatedly articulated by General Secretary Xi. As Taiwan and the US seem bent on turning the island into an anti-China military “porcupine”, we are likely to see a quickening momentum of economic and other pressures for early negotiations for peaceful reunification.
About 1 million Taiwan people live and work on their businesses on the mainland. More Taiwan people may eventually come to realize that peaceful reunification on terms even more generous than those for Hong Kong may not be a bad thing.
Even if it becomes the world’s largest economy by the early 2030s, China does not want, nor does it have the full global capacity, to supplant the US as world hegemon, militarily, monetarily and diplomatically.
At the 18th Party Congress in 2012, General Secretary Xi talked about the three existential traps China faced — the “Tacitus Trap” of potential mistrust, the “Thucydides Trap” of superpower rivalry, and the “Middle-Income Trap” before becoming a moderately well-off nation. In 2017, Harvard Professor Joseph Nye added a fourth — “The Kindleberger Trap” of lacking capacity for global governance.
The entirety of the 2022 Party Congress is about taking the well-being of the Chinese people to a higher plain, building a more-advanced socialist nation by 2035, and a “wealthier, stronger, more democratic, more civilized, more harmonious and more ecologically beautiful nation by 2049”, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China.
Xi stresses that the Party’s future depends entirely on the support of the people, defined as all peoples across all sectors. This contrasts with tilting toward vested interests and voters for the winning political party in Western adversarial democracies. No wonder Harvard Kennedy School’s recent Ash Center Study Report finds that the Communist Party of China ranks as the most-supported government by its people, multiple rankings above the US.
However, even if China’s successful developmental experience may be shared by some developing nations, China’s ideology is not about to be embraced by many countries in preference to the West’s popular liberal and democratic model.
No, China is no longer undermining the environment. Still the world’s largest carbon emitter in aggregate terms, China has per capita emissions only a fraction of that of advanced democracies. What is more, China is now leading the world in renewable capacities, including solar, hydro and wind energies. American electric-car giant Tesla has also contributed to turning China into the world’s largest electric-car market.
Neo-McCarthyism is driving America’s strategy of decoupling from China on all fronts, especially critical technologies. Maximizing such decoupling appears more and more counterproductive. According to a Forbes report in December 2021, indiscriminate trade and immigration decoupling from China have backfired, hurting American businesses’ profitability and innovative talent pool, and pushing China to become more self-reliant and attractive as an investment destination. A comparable example is China’s exclusion from the US-led International Space Station from the very start. China is now successfully building its space station entirely on its own, stressing magnanimously its future openness to all nations.
Anti-China decoupling is also exacerbating an American societywide inflationary spiral, coupled with the Ukraine war’s energy and food disruptions, resulting in interest rate hikes harmful to the global economy, including America’s own, not to mention hurting the midterm election chances of US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party.
No, China is not reaching its peak and becoming desperately aggressive, as Hal Brands and Michael Beckley claim. In the face of worsening demographics, many Chinese factories have been fully automated. Large tracts of America-styled farmland see fully mechanized tractors and giant harvesters. More staff-less stores, supermarkets and hotels are appearing on the scene. In addition, mankind’s largest and fastest urbanization drive is afoot, with urban centers of over 200,000 inhabitants being connected by the world’s largest high-speed train network of 35,000 kilometers (more than the rest of the world combined), doubling to 70,000 km by 2035. This will drive productivity increases and double China’s consuming middle class to 800 million citizens.
An August 2021 report by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology projects that by 2025, Chinese universities will produce more than 77,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) PhD graduates annually, outnumbering US counterparts more than 3-1, excluding international students, well-positioned for the 21st century Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by 5G, big data, digitization and the internet of things.
China’s “common prosperity” drive is no Robin Hood. The Party Congress makes plain that China is no longer fixated on sheer GDP growth, opting instead for balanced, quality growth, creating a more-level playing field for small businesses, bringing about more fulfilling jobs, the good life for everyone, and a more-inclusive, innovative and dynamic society with higher productivity and a better environment.
Indeed, the Party Congress extends “common prosperity” to the vision of a more-inclusive, cooperative world under the United Nations Charter, where each nation, big or small, is able to follow its own development path and ideology, free from interference or coercion by stronger nations. With its own impressive economic track record lifting 800 million Chinese people out of poverty, Beijing does not subscribe to a single “Coca-Cola formula” of democracy, or to a simplistic mantra turning healthy competition between nations into what some critics call an all-out-war between “democracy and authoritarianism”.
Clearly, China and the CPC are being seriously misread, misjudged and misrepresented. With a rapidly rising China deeply intertwined in the world’s dynamics, this false premise is distorting the US’ and its Western allies’ every move — military, political, economic, financial, technological, diplomatic and geopolitical — rattling world peace and stability.
As hegemon for global stability, the US is long overdue to gain a much deeper understanding of China’s and its people’s aspirations and to come up with a more-balanced modus vivendi for the world’s two largest economies to coexist, compete healthily and work together for a better world.
The author is an international and independent China strategist; he was previously the director-general of social welfare and Hong Kong’s official chief representative for the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, Russia, Norway, and Switzerland.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.