Understanding China Through the Writings of Xi Jinping
The fourth volume of Xi Jinping’s collected speeches and written works entitled The Governance of China is now available. It always surprises me to see and hear so much idle speculation on the intentions and desires of the People’s Republic of China, particularly so under the presidency of Xi Jinping. Western observers continue to look for “hidden meanings” in his words or a “secret agenda” to subvert Western society. The claim is made that for China there is “no transparency.” While there is still no authoritative biography of the CPC General Secretary available in English, the four volumes give a fairly clear picture of Xi Jinping’s ideas, objectives, and general mode of thinking. It is a surprising record of an individual who has had such a tremendous impact on the world around him.
His pride in China – its rise and development – and his whole-hearted commitment to “the common man” and his clear intention to use the power of China to advance the condition of humankind, all radiate from these works. From the Belt and Road Initiative to poverty alleviation, and to the notion of common prosperity, we see clearly that this is a man of broad vision, who is simultaneously – in the words of the great German poet Friedrich Schiller – a patriot as well as a citizen of the world. We can also clearly garner from many of his comments the deep source of his thinking about China and the world from his time in Shaanxi’s villages to his time at Zhongnanhai. There is a clear “red thread” that carries through these transitions in his life. And being in the top leadership, he continues to remain close to the people and his speeches carry a clear message to his compatriots in the Chinese government and in the Communist Party of China (CPC) that they must also have the people’s welfare as their primary concern.
The fourth volume of this work distinguishes itself by the fact that it was written at an extremely critical time – after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the geopolitical reverberations that came in its wake. It was in this period that the issue of a rise of a new country to a position of influence in world politics really came to the fore. And it did so with a vengeance when the U.S. first began to describe China and Russia as “rivals” rather than partners. The attempt by the U.S. to try to isolate or “decouple” China from the rest of the world has thereby created a new dynamic in China’s development which could not be ignored.
This reached a critical mass during the Trump administration when President Trump was convinced to use the debacle in the United States of the COVID-19 outbreak to drive a wedge against China, pushing massive trade tariffs against China, and even blaming China for the pandemic. Trump’s “America First” policy was in fact continued by the Biden administration, but with a slight “twist” in an attempt to reel in the rest of the “Western” nations on board against China and Russia, which were labeled “autocratic states.”
The threat that this could entail for China’s pursuit of development resounds throughout the fourth volume. During the COVID-19 period, China adopted a policy of stopping the epidemic in its tracks through stringent measures in the worst afflicted regions, a policy that proved itself very effective given the smaller loss of life suffered by China compared to other countries, in particular the United States with its over one million dead.
Some observers tried to describe China’s COVID-19 policy as one that neglected the need to maintain the economic life of society. The comments made by President Xi in this respect contradict this claim, where Xi makes very clear that the purpose of the measures taken were in fact to restore the economic life of the areas affected in the shortest possible time by quickly stemming the spread of the disease. “We should always be confident in our response strategy,” he said, “…pursue progress while ensuring stable performance, and promote economic and social development while containing the disease.”
There is much discussion in this volume about the new development policy. Faced with vicious attempts to cut off China from global markets and supply chains, the new development policy uses the strength of the enormous domestic Chinese market to maintain the growth impetus of Chinese industry without abandoning its outward direction. Similarly with the increased emphasis on creating an “innovation society,” President Xi is intent on advancing the technological capabilities of the Chinese economy to internally develop many of those “cutting edge” products that may be put under restriction by Western attempts to slow down China’s economic development.
In his speeches, Xi also underlines the need for caution in the face of unpredictable financial crises, a permanent danger in the “wild West” operations of the international financial markets. One significant aspect of the socialist market economy in China is that there is a watchful eye of a far-sighted government guarding against the possible vagaries of the world market. It is also characteristic of the Chinese economy that they are ever vigilant in watching for growing disparities between rich and poor, or the growth of the inordinate power of a single player on the market who might dominate a field of economic endeavor to the detriment of the public good.
Since 2020 was the year in which China achieved the alleviation of absolute poverty, that and the related policy of rural revitalization play a major role in Xi’s concerns. And in a world in which geopolitics is again threatening the global food supply chains, he underlines the absolute need to ensure China’s agricultural production, maintaining food security for China under domestic control.
There are important comments on the need for allowing Chinese culture to bloom as an important contribution to world culture. Most telling, however, are his comments to Party cadres and to those attending the Party school, where President Xi outlines the need for Party members to always stand for the good of the people. The strength of the CPC, he notes, is in its total commitment to the people’s livelihood.
As in the other volumes, Xi uses numerous quotes from dozens of ancient Chinese thinkers, giving the readers of this volume an interesting retrospect over the writings of ancient and modern Chinese scholars and writers, eager to showcase the depth and scope of that 5,000-year-old Chinese culture which is largely unknown to most of the world, and which President Xi most ardently would like to make known to more people.
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