Follow @southasiaanalys

China: Can Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” Vision be realized?

Paper No. 5629                                       Dated 03-Jan-2013

By D. S. Rajan

Abstract:

Essentially, the “Chinese Dream” vision reflects the aspiration of the supreme leader Xi Jinping to transform the People’s Republic of China (PRC) into a strong and fully modernized nation by 2050, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) playing a leading role.

The paper finds that the situation in which reforms, a sure means to realize the vision, are progressing without a matching political liberalization programme in the country.  This may prove to be a major handicap to realization of the dream. It also traces the implications of the dream for the Chinese society, military modernization and the PRC’s foreign policy. –

“Realizing the Chinese dream of the great national rejuvenation would mean China’s becoming a prosperous country, a revitalized nation, and having happy people”
– Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party- CCP, 19 August 2013

The quote above captures the essence of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s vision of a ‘Chinese Dream’, which began to take shape soon after his take over as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief last year. A key question is whether or not the dream can be realised, that too within the officially declared time limit of middle of the current century? Prior to trying for an answer, a close look at the background to and evolution of the vision might be necessary.

Inspiration for the “Chinese Dream”

There seems to be some justification in believing that the ideas of retired Senior Colonel and former Professor in the National Defence University, Beijing, Liu Mingfu could have influenced the making of “Chinese Dream” concept of Xi Jinping. There is indeed a striking similarity between Xi’s postulates and Liu’s writings in his book called “the China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-America Era in 2010”. Liu said that “since the 19th Century, China has been lagging on the world stage. The “Chinese Dream” should be for a ‘strong nation with a strong military’. China should aim to surpass the U.S. as the world’s top military power”. Also being seen as influencing is an article entitled “China Needs its Own Dream”, contributed by Thomas Friedman[1] that wanted Xi to come up with a ‘new Chinese Dream’ in order to meet expectations of the people on prosperity and sustainable economy. A Xinhua publication ‘Globe’ described Xi’s “ China Dream” concept as ‘best response to Friedman’; Professor Zhang Ming of Renmin University, Beijing , viewed the concept as one used by Xi to improve China’s ties with the US[2].

Evolution of “Chinese Dream” concept

Speaking at the National Museum “Road to Revival” exhibition at Beijing, Xi announced (29 November 2012) his vision for the achievement of ‘great renewal or rejuvenation of Chinese nation’ which would reflect a “national aspiration for a ‘Chinese Dream’ about making the country stronger through development”. Significant has been his choice of the occasion which was meant to recall the humiliations suffered by China in the past, for contrasting a China to emerge after ‘renewal’ with the ‘status of weakness prevailed in the country for 170 years since the Opium War, subjecting China to bullying.’ [3]

Dwelling upon challenges to achievement of “Chinese Dream” goals,  Xi, in a major speech on 19 August 2013, pointed to ‘principal contradictions, many difficulties and risks, both predictable and un-predictable’ including environmental pressure and resource issues. The leader called for managing the problems emerging in social transformation, and described continuous social and economic development and continuously enhanced livelihood as ‘foundations’ of national rejuvenation and the Chinese dream. He emphasized that “we should guarantee people’s rights to equal participation and development and ensure social fairness and justice”. In his view, ‘ the Chinese dream is also small and detailed dreams of individuals for better education, employment, income, social security, medical care, living conditions and environment and will not come true unless individuals’ dreams are integrated into those of the country and the nation.

In his speech, Xi also stressed that  people must follow the CCP leadership and ‘pool the strength’, while working for national rejuvenation, as it is important for the party to play the role of leading political force for uniting hundreds of millions of people. He reminded the people that “we must be clear that 128 million Chinese people still live in poverty, China has a lower-ranking per capita GDP, the gap remains between us and developed countries in terms of science and technology, and urban and rural gaps as well as social injustice are yet to be solved” and said that “as the reform is not yet finished, we should further carry forward the spirit when we stand at a new staring point. Be it breaking mental shackles, shattering interest groups, removing obstacles to development, or releasing the bonus of reform and development, only when we carry forward the spirit can we have a brighter prospect”. He added that “to realize the Chinese dream we must pool the strength of the whole country, ie the strength of all ethnic groups across the country and the concerted efforts of the 1.3 billion Chinese people.” [4]

Xi has prescribed a time limit for  fulfilling  “Chinese Dream” – the middle of the current century[5] . Whether this is possible or not, assuming relevance is Beijing’s identification of a ‘double hundred’ growth target to be achieved in that time frame – (i) building of “moderately prosperous society in all respects” by 2020, the year around 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding, when in all provinces, the average income of the middle class, will reach international standards, China’s GDP of 2000 will be quadrupled to approximately $4 trillion with a per capita level of some $3,000. Military mechanization and major progress in informatisation will be achieved by this time, and (ii) establishment of an ‘affluent, strong, civilized, harmonious, socialist modern country’ by 2050, the year around the PRC’s 100th anniversary, when the annual per capita GDP can reach US$ 40,000, making China one among top 40 countries in the world’[6] . Full military modernization will also get completed by that time.

It was left to authoritative China scholars (like Professor Tang Chongnan, a researcher with the Institute of World History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Professor Zhang Yiwu of Peking University and Professor and Senior Colonel Chen Xiangyang of the Political and Ideological Work Department of Nanjing Army Institute) to come out with further elaboration of the meanings of the terms ‘renewal’ and ‘Chinese dream’. They commonly perceive the terms as meaning a ‘revival of Chinese glories of the past’, such as 5000 years of civilisation and history, the flourishing age in the periods of Qin and Han dynasties and top economic position enjoyed from the Ming period till final years of the Qianlong period during the Qing dynasty (1736-1796). They blame the ‘decrepit feudal system and plundering Western powers’ for China’s disintegration and humiliation in the modern era and find in Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream’ concept a continuation of the dream of older revolutionaries’ in Chinese history like Sun Yatsen. They compliment Xi Jinping for proposing the ‘Chinese dream’ which, as they claim, illustrates the CCP’s understanding of recent Chinese history and declare that road of ‘socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ is necessary to realize the ‘Chinese dream’. They admit that everyone in the country and people from various sections of the society like workers, army etc can have their own dreams, but they all should have an obligation to the country and combine their dreams with the national dream[7] .

The place of “Chinese Dream” in the party theory making

Is Xi Jinping’s formulation of “Chinese Dream” doctrine is on par with theoretical contributions of past Chinese leaders, like Deng Xiaoping’s “Reforms and Opening up”, Jiang Zemin’s “Three represents” and Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Outlook on development”? Chinese scholars like Professor Zhang Yiwu of Peking University argue that Xi’s doctrine is more practical than previous ‘theoretical slogans’. It is clear in any case that Xi has been able to project himself as a ‘visionary’ in his own right, which may help him in consolidating his political position in the country, especially in the current crucial phase when the CCP leadership is engaged in tackling serious internal issues – (i) ‘undesirable work styles ’ within the party; to bring the CCP closer to the masses, a yearlong ‘mass line’campaign has been launched by Xi, and (ii) high level corruption at leadership levels; personalities tried and being investigated include Bo Xilai, former politburo member, Zhou Yongkang, former Politburo Standing Committee member and former Security chief, Jiang Jiemin, a Zhou protégé, a CCP Central committee member, and head of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission and General Gu Junshan, former Deputy Director of PLA General Logistics Department.

“Chinese Dream” and Reforms

In the main, the dream is about reforms; to his credit, Xi identified (July 2013, survey in Hubei) problems in reforms –‘institutional barriers in major areas that are restraining growth’. He added ‘for this, needed are even more political courage and wisdom’. Later, he identified financial sector liberalization, support for corporate research and development, environmental taxes, as reform targets for China[8]. Admittedly, in connection with his dream, Xi did talk about managing the problems emerging in social transformation- “ (i) conspicuous rich-poor gap, (ii) irrational social structure; according to the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s middle-income groups account for about 23 percent of the population and (iii) as a result, continuing increase in social conflicts and social risks” [9]

The third plenary session of the 18th CCP Central Committee (Beijing, 9 to 12 November 2013) was expected to finalise a blue print for future reforms. In the comments (Beijing, 26 October 2013) of Yu Zhengsheng, a Politburo standing committee member, the Plenum would “principally explore the issue of deep and comprehensive reforms and that reforms this time will be broad, with major strength, and will be unprecedented.” The Chinese state-controlled media on their part foresaw the plenum moving towards the state passing control over major sectors to civil society in the interest of fairer competition for all enterprises. Reducing the government control over the economy was a theme which dominated the Pre-Plenum atmosphere. Terminologies like ‘new round of reforms”, “comprehensive”, “unprecedented’, “historic turning point”, ‘transformation of growth pattern” etc were used officially in China prior to the session. But the outcome of the plenum was contrary to expectations; the occasion failed to take any bold step including on reform of State -Owned Enterprises. The only notable measure adopted in the Plenum has provided for creation of a Leadership Group to spearhead reforms process. A communiqué issued at the end of the session said that the markets would play a “decisive role” in allocating resources; this marked a departure from the usage in the past of the terminology of ‘basic role’. It also mentioned that the farmers migrating to cities may be allowed to sell their lands in rural homes[10] .

The foregoing shows that the aim spelled out in the “Chinese Dream” formulation remains vague, giving rise to chances of different interpretations. More importantly, the reforms, a sure means to achieve the goals of the dream, are still to attain a definite character; much would depend on what the Leading Group , formed of late, is going to do.

Societal and Global Impact of “Chinese Dream”

The focus in the “ China Dream” idea on China having been a victim of colonial aggression in the past and the need to regain past glories, may turn out to be a fodder to the rise of ‘nationalistic’ feelings in the Chinese society. Already, there is a high level of public anger against Japan’s position on the disputed Senkaku islands, as being seen through micro blogs. Several ‘hawkish’ military generals, albeit with tacit approval of the authorities, are more and more adopting a ‘nationalistic’ position on issues concerning the country’s sovereignty. Xi requires to be careful about any ‘resurgence of nationalism’ in the country which if not properly handled can assume forms with potential to destabilise the regime itself. Only for this reason, the Chinese authorities have so far kept the level of anti-Japanese protests in the country under control.

A significant development is that Xi’s “Chinese Dream” vision addresses the aspirations of the military, an important interest group in the country. Visiting the Naval detachment on board Haikou, a guided-missile destroyer that has patrolled disputed waters in the South China Sea, he said (December 2012) that the ‘Chinese Dream can be said to be the dream of a strong nation. And for the military, it is a dream of a strong military. To achieve the great revival of the Chinese nation, we must ensure there is unison between a prosperous country and strong military.” Xi also made inspection visits to several army, air force, space and missile facilities in his first 100 days of his office, when he exhorted the military “to fight and win wars’, laid emphasis to adherence to the CCP principle of “Party Commanding the Gun” and warned against any ideological deviation by the party as happened in the case of former Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Importantly, Xi is reported to have taken personal command of the CCP group designed to deal with military operations against Japan on the Senkakus issue . On 1 August 2013, the day of PLA founding, Xi promoted six senior military officers including Cai Yingting and Xu Fenlin, commanders respectively of Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions to the rank of full general. All these could be pointers to Xi’s drive to consolidate his position within the Chinese military, the support of which is crucial for the regime survival.

It is possible that the ‘neo-liberalist’ elements in the country questioning the one-party system in China, favouring a constitutional government for the country and pleading for ‘democracy and freedom of expression’, can try to take undue advantage of the “China Dream” idea which theoretically allows each one to have their own dreams with a caveat that they should be integrated with the national dream. As instances, an article in the Southern Weekend journal (January 2013) has stressed the need for ‘constitutionalism’ in China. A Chinese academician Tong Zhiwei of East China University of Political Science and Law has demanded a fuller implementation of China’s constitution and a way to “prescribe a limit to the party’s power.” Another scholar Zhang Qianfan of Peking University has estimated that more than three-quarter of Chinese population associate the “China Dream “concept with the dream of “constitutionalism” .[11] This being so, it should be noted that at no point, the ‘Chinese Dream’ idea indicates any tolerance to ‘neo-liberal’ thoughts in the country. As evidence to the intentions of Xi Jinping regime to crush such thoughts, Xi has avoided mention of the word ‘constitutionalism’ in his speeches. Party journals have accused those indulging in the ‘secret mission of constitutionalism talk’ of attempting to “abrogate the CCP leadership and to overthrow the socialism regime” [12] , while asserting that constitutionalist systems “only belong to capitalism and bourgeoisie dictatorship and not to socialist people’s democracy”[13] . In addition, the authorities have of late identified pro-market ‘neo-liberalism’ one of the ‘seven perils’ before the society in one of the party circulars called “Document No.9”[14]. The other perils included were Western constitutional democracy, promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civil society and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

What is the meaning of “Chinese dream” for China’s foreign policy? Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi said in his widely publicized article on “ Innovations in China’s Diplomatic Theory and Practice Under New Conditions”, that the “Chinese dream requires a peaceful and stable international and neighboring environment, and China is committed to realising the dream through peaceful development”. Also important are official references in China, which say that “the Chinese Dream is not the Chinese people dreaming of remaining behind closed doors, but a dream of opening up; a dream that China can collaborate with the world and achieve a win-win situation. The Chinese dream will benefit China and the world. It will remove ‘doubts and misunderstandings’ in the world about China’s rapid development” [15].

Looking objectively, stable world situation and peaceful periphery, have emerged as two main pre-requisites for the success of China’s modernization, sought to be completed by middle of the century; the target find a mention in the ‘Chinese Dream’ concept. Xi Jinping’s thinking on “New Type of International Relations” and “New Type of relationship between Major Powers in the 21st century” focusing on ‘no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation’, assumes significance in this regard, but it so far remains only on paper. There are yet no definite signs that there will be a quick end to Beijing’s strategic rivalry with Washington in the Asia-Pacific region.

The appeal in Xi Jinping’s “China Dream’ vision to the people to establish links with the rest of the world, seems to have two objectives – bringing benefits of globalization to the population and increasing China’s image internationally. At the same time, it should not be missed that Xi Jinping has taken a consistent stand that China while pursuing a win-win international relationship, will not compromise on protecting the country’s ‘core interests’. The result has been that in the face of unchanging assertiveness of China on all issues concerning perceived national sovereignty , nations abroad remain unsure about the intentions of a ‘prosperous China with strong military’ (Fu Guo Qiang Jun), to emerge by middle of the century as envisaged in ‘Chinese Dream’ concept. The neighbouring countries having boundary disputes with the PRC in particular are wary of China’s inclination towards territorial assertiveness, even through use of force. Especially, they may be worried about the idea of China regaining past glories, which is central to “China Dream” concept. They may wonder whether ‘regaining past glories’ would specifically mean China’s desire now to restore its external boundary as existed during Qing dynasty period; the historical maps published in the PRC in end eighties and in first decade of the century encompassed vast areas belonging to neighbouring countries[16]. No doubt, in an effort to address such worries, Beijing seems to be taking care to assure that “the Chinese Dream” concept will not imply repetition by China of past ‘imperialist’ mentality; the PRC will have an open attitude to the outside world and will try learning from it[17]. A key question arises – whether or not such assurances are going to satisfy China’s neighbours in the current context?

Global dimensions of the “Chinese dream” vision have also other aspects. The observations of Stephen Roach, Morgan and Stanley economist are noteworthy in that regard. He admitted that internationally the vision could have both positive and negative impacts. For e.g, the US which needs a new source of growth, may find in the emergence of the Chinese consumer a new important source of growth for its exports; China is America’s third-largest and most rapidly growing export market. So, that’s a big opportunity that China offers, the transformation in China and the Chinese Dream will offer the US. Roach at the same time pointed to a potentially negative impact on the US, arguing that by consistently running a high-savings economy, China has every year for the last 15 years invested a sizable sum of its rapidly growing foreign exchange reserves into treasury securities and other dollar-based assets. As China becomes more of a consumer, the surplus savings will be reduced, and the government’s demand for dollar-based assets will also slow down. And that could be a problem for the United States that  has become overly reliant on foreign capital especially Chinese capital to fund big budget deficits. ( China Dialogue: A conversation with Stephen Roach on Chinese Dream, Li Zhenyu, People’s Daily Online, 31 December 2013).

Obstacles to realization of “Chinese Dream” goals

Among obstacles to accomplishment of ‘Chinese Dream’ goals, the foremost relates to the absence of political reforms. As economic liberalization deepens further, political expectations from the people are growing, to which the Xi Jinping regime is being forced to respond. But its ‘politically left and economically right’ policy platform remains unable to fill the gap. How this situation will develop in future, remains to be seen. Among other identified bottlenecks are the ‘rapid demographic transition’ and ‘staggering resource scarcity in China. In the words of Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth Lieberthal, the first one will produce an elderly population before China becomes rich in per-capita terms and an effect from the second will be extreme shortage of usable water in the North China Plain (“Experts Interpret the Chinese Dream, Wang Zhenghua, China Daily, 8 December 2013). Morgan and Stanley economist Stephen Roach described the “Chinese Dream” concept as ‘more of a slogan than a concrete programme’. He however complimented the Chinese government for its ‘seriousness about moving to a more balanced and sustainable economic model in China through combining the slogan with the 12th Five Year Plan and the policy outlined in the November 2013 Party Plenum’.

The bottom line is that nothing can be said definitely at this stage on prospects for China to realise the “Chinese Dream” by the stipulated time limit, i.e middle of the 21st century.

(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email: director.c3s@gmail.com)

Foot Notes

[1] Thomas L.Friedman.2012. “China Needs Its Own Dream”, New York Times, 2 October, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/opinion/friedman-china-needs-its-own-d... (accessed on 13 November 2013).
[2] The Economist. 2013. “ Xi jinping’s Vision: Chasing the Chinese Dream”, 4 May, http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21577063-chinas-new-leader-has-be... (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[3] Wu Gang and Yan Shuang.2012. “Xi Jinping pledges great renewal of Chinese nation”, Global Times, 30 November, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/747443.shtml (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[4] Staff Commentator.2013. “ Follow the Chinese Road with Confidence: On Realizing the Chinese Dream with Concerted Efforts, The Chinese Dream in the Final Analysis is the Dream of the Chinese People”, in 9-parts, People’s Daily, 25 September, http://en.theorychina.org/xsqy_2477/201309/t20130925_294204.shtm
[5] Xi Jinping.2013.” Full Text of Xi Jingping’s Speech at Opening Ceremony of Boao Forum”, Xinhua, 8 April,
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90785/8198366.html (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[6] Hao Tiechuan. 2013. “Xi Jinping’s Explanation of the Chinese People’s Dream”, China Daily, 16 January. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/hkedition/2013-01/16/content_16123041.htm (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[7] Xinhua. 2013. “China Voice: Salute builders of the Chinese dream”, 29 April, http://english.people.com.cn/90883/8230669.html (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[8] Xi Jinping.2013. “ How China May Lose a Chance for Reform”, speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit .Bali, 14 October, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-11/chinas-third-plenum-get-... (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[9] Chi Fulin. 2013. “ The Challenges and Trends in China’s Economic and Social Transformation”, China Business News, 8 July , http:// chinascope.org/main/content/view/5619/107/ (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[10] Simon Rabinovitch and Tom Mitchell .2013. “ China’s Leaders Poised to Unleash Market Forces After Plenum”, Financial Times, 12 November, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/673e3582-4bae-11e3-8203-00144feabdc0.html...
[11]Note No.viii
[12] Li Qi and William Nan.2013. “China’s Constitution Debate Hits a Sensitive Nerve”, Washington post, 3 June http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/06/03/chinas-cons... (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[13]China Copyright and Media. 2013. Quoting from Qiushi/Red Flag Manuscript . “ The Debate on Constitutionalism: Texts and Analysis”, 3 June, http://chinacopyrightandmedia.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/the-chinese-debat... (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[14] UPI. 2013. “ China warns of subversive currents in society”, 20 August, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2013/08/20/China-warns-of-subvers... (Accessed on 13 November 2013)
[15] Cai Mingzhao and Zhou Mingwei 2013. “Chinese Dream to Resolve Misunderstanding”, 30 August, Speeches on the occasion of launch of book on “The Chinese Dream – What It Means for China and the Rest of the World”, Beijing, 29 August, http://www.china.org.cn/arts/2013-08/30/content_29877350.htm (accessed on 13 November 2013)
[16]The Historical Atlas of China, 1982-1987 and History of China’s Modern Borders, vol. 1, 2007
[17] Han Baojiang, 2013. “China’s rise needs readjusted world views”, Global Times, 9 July, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/794918.shtml#.UoNuudbrY7s (accessed on 13 November 2013)

 

Category: 
Countries: 
Topics: