The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was began last week, a once-every-five-years gathering.
Speaking for three hours and 23 minutes, China's President and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered the opening report to the nearly 2,300 party delegates who represent China's
- 22 provinces;
- five autonomous regions, each with a designated minority group;
- four municipalities;
- two Special Administrative Regions;
- plus the central financial system, state-run institutions, the military and the police.
As usual, the American press struggled with its coverage of the 19th National Congress (however limited it was, which means very limited). Of course many American "journalists" couldn't even tell you how the government works that is responsible for the contents of their own toilet after its flushed, much less explain how government really works in China. And many bring to the subject of China's government a nationalistic bias of their own heavily colored by mid-20th Century views on communism and socialism.
Yes, the Communist Party of China provides the leadership of the state. However, to understand government in China one must understand this explanation from Wikipedia:
As with President Donald Trump, China's President Xi has no direct role overseeing local sewage systems. But unlike an American President, Xi is the General Secretary of the Communist Party in a de facto one-party state and holds ultimate, albeit indirect, authority over almost all government officials through the Communist Party.Due to China's large population and area, the administrative divisions of China have consisted of several levels since ancient times. The constitution of China provides for three de jure levels of government. Currently, however, there are five practical (de facto) levels of local government: the provincial (province, autonomous region, municipality, and special administrative region), prefecture, county, township, and village.
Since the 17th century, provincial boundaries in China have remained largely static. Major changes since then have been the reorganization of provinces in the northeast after the establishment of the People's Republic of China and the formation of autonomous regions, based on Soviet ethnic policies. The provinces serve an important cultural role in China, as people tend to identify with their native province.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that the governmental electoral system is pyramidal. Local People's Congresses are directly elected, and higher levels of People's Congresses up to the National People's Congress (NPC) are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below. The political system is decentralized, and provincial and sub-provincial leaders have a significant amount of autonomy.
The most recent post here in this blog - in May - was about President Xi, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, and the California-China Business Summit during ChinaWeek.
The Belt and Road Forum was President Xi's opportunity to lay out a broad foreign policy with an emphasis on creating a 21st Century China that could replace the United States as the world's preeminent economic power - much like the United States replaced a floundering Europe in the 20th Century.
This past week's 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China sets the agenda for the future of China beginning with that all-important three-hour “work report” speech by Xi.
To provide insight into President Xi's zeal to assure a strong future for his country, it is important to remember that on February 11, 2009, while visiting Mexico, then Vice-President Xi spoke in front of a group of overseas Chinese noting that China's task was to keep "its 1.3 billion people from hunger."
And regarding the 2008 financial crisis affecting the Atlantic oriented world filled with complaints about Chinese foreign trade: "There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us. First, China doesn't export revolution; second, China doesn't export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn't come and cause you headaches. What more is there to be said?"
This week President Xi Jinping reaffirmed that Beijing will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion "no matter what stage of development it reaches" and that "China will never pursue development at the expense of others' interests and its development does not pose a threat to any other country."
Since the 18th CPC Congress in 2012, in which Xi assumed his current position, China's "two centenary goals" were to
- build a moderately prosperous society by 2020, one year before the Party's 100th anniversary in 2021, and
- develop China into a "fully modernized, socialist nation" by the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in 2049.
- comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society (put forward at the November 2012 18th Party Congress),
- comprehensively deepen reform (put forward at the November 2013 3rd Central Committee Plenum),
- comprehensively and strictly govern the Party (put forward at the early October 2014 summary meeting of the Mass Line Campaign), and
- comprehensively advance the rule of law (put forward during the late October 2014 4th Central Committee Plenum).
This week Xi offered in his report a plan to "build on the foundation created by the moderately prosperous society" by implementing "a further 15 years of hard work to see that socialist modernization is basically realized" from 2020 to 2035, and then from 2035 to the middle of the 21st century "work hard for a further 15 years and develop China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful."
But Xi warned that it would be "no walk in the park. It will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there."
And thus in three hours and 23 minutes President Xi Jinping under the title Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era laid out his vision for the Chinese people. “The Chinese nation … has stood up, grown rich, and become strong – and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation … It will be an era that sees China moving closer to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”
Fortunately, the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, a ministry-level institution subordinate to the Chinese central government, provided this post-speech summary infographic:
It would be interesting to compare the Chinese President's hopes for his country for the next 30 years, plus the plans for his country to be implemented over the next five years, to those of the U.S. President.
It would be interesting if it weren't for the fact that the U.S. President's thinking is limited to 140 character tweets. It would be interesting if it weren't for the fact that the Trump Administration thinks in those deplorable American time frames described in the last post as "much of our business activity is controlled by a 5 to 10 week time frame and generally Americans struggle with a planning attention span of 5 to 10 days."
Even more troubling is the fact that key members of the Trump Administration are simply uninformed or misinformed about China.
Which brings us again to author and Forbes Contributor Wade Shepard. As noted in the previous post, Shepard is one of those rare American's who, in addition to being able to read and write well above a 6th grade level, is a China expert based upon his travels and study in China. In a post this past Thursday, Shepard wrote:
In a post the previous week The Real Reason Behind What's Driving China's Ambitions For A New Silk Road Shepard which describes a natural gas pipeline constructed at a cost of cost $7.5 billion under a 2007 contract negotiated by Xi's predecessor President Hu Jintao which this month will begin shipping natural gas to China.On October 3rd, US Defense Secretary James Mattis proclaimed at a congressional hearing, "In a globalized world, there are many belts and many roads, and no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating 'One Belt, One Road.'"
While the defense secretary was ultimately correct -- there are many different countries who are driving trans-Eurasian integration and China’s international infrastructural, economic, and political engagements do often overlap with other initiatives -- the style, scope, financial backing, strategy, and underlaying purpose behind China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) puts it in a category all its own, and should not be underestimated. We have perhaps never seen a program of geo-economic positioning quite like this before, and skeptically framing it in with known practices or established models is a mistake that political analysts, government officials, and even investors have been making -- even as they are encircled by the very initiative they write off or deny.
If you’re looking for an official, correct map of where China’s Belt and Road actually goes, good luck. If you’re looking for an official explanation of what it really is, a list of approved projects, the amount of actual funding, where this funding is really coming from, what entities have the authority to engage projects under its name (and what entities don't), or even a run down of what countries are officially a part of it, you’ve just jumped down into a very deep hole of misinformation, no information, and all out propaganda.
This is an initiative for which there are no publicly-stated KPI [Key Performance Indicator], no overarching institutionalization, no formal membership protocols, no founding charters, and a timeline for development that is not measured in mere years, but decades.
It is obvious that Xi sincerely hopes for a moderately prosperous China by 2020, a fully modernized China by 2035, and a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful China by 2049. It is also obvious that he is proud of what China is achieving in the 21st Century....China’s appetite for this energy source is growing at an impressive clip, and is expected to rise 8.1% annually until 2030, which is far above the 2.1% global annual growth rate.
If we looked at the entire BRI in terms of China increasing, bolstering, and securing their energy supply lines alone — without any of the rhetoric about global prosperity and “win-win” partnerships — it would still make sense. The economic powerhouse that is China requires energy to run, and this is something the country has not been able to handle on its own since at least 1993.
Diversifying the sources of foreign oil and gas has been of tantamount importance to Beijing for well over a decade. In 2006, the Brookings Institute pointed this out in no uncertain terms:"The Chinese government recognizes that the diversification of China’s oil suppliers and import routes can enhance the security of the country’s oil supply. In terms of oil suppliers, China has sought not only to expand the number of countries and regions from which it imports oil but also to limit its dependence on the Persian Gulf, which in 2005 provided China with almost half of its crude oil imports… In terms of import routes, China wants to reduce its dependence on the sea lines of communication through which almost 90% of the country’s crude oil imports travel because of their vulnerability to disruption on the high seas by various modern navies."At this time, the focus of this diversification was mainly on the array of new China-bound oil and gas pipelines that were being dug across Russia and Central Asia. What could not be foreseen then was the attempt to create no less than three multimodal transport corridors that China would spearhead under the premise of the BRI to enable energy shipments from the Middle East and to enter the country while bypassing the heavily US Navy-fortified Straight of Malacca. These three prospective corridors extend overland from the ports of Bandar Abbas in Iran, Gwadar in Pakistan, and Kyauk Pyu in Myanmar up to China, enabling energy shipments to go partway by sea and then the rest of the way by pipeline or potentially even rail.
Orville Schell, head of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations and a veteran China expert who has been studying Chinese politics since the late 1950s, noted that Xi's "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is a viable counter-model to the presumption of western liberal democracy and capitalism. In a sense, what Xi is setting up here is not only a clash of civilization and values, but one of political and economic systems."
Xi could comfortably note how China had "taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change." He added: "Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face!"
Xi could also note: “No one political system should be regarded as the only choice and we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries. The political system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a great creation.”
He could say this because he and those in his administration know that with the election of Donald Trump the United States has...
- a Republican President who by a large margin lost the popular vote (for the second time since the year 2000);
- a Senate in which 60 of the 100 Senators with 60% of the vote in the Senate represent less than 25% of the population, while 18 of the 100 Senators with only 18% of the vote in the Senate represent the majority of Americans, and despite the fact that more votes were cast for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates in the last three Senate elections, Republicans control the Senate;
- a House of Representatives in which Democratic candidates received a nationwide plurality but the Republican candidates won a majority of the House seats; and
- a nationwide justice system that randomly injures, kills, or imprisons large numbers of non-white American citizens without a trial, creating the highest incarceration rate in the world with about 22 percent of the world's prisoners in a nation that has about 4.4 percent of the world's population.
China is facing challenges which if covered by balanced reporting in the U.S. would seem familiar to Americans. Today, nearing the end of the 19th Congress, the Minister of Education Chen Baosheng, Minister of Civil Affairs Huang Shuxian, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Yin Weimin, Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development Wang Menghui, and Minister of National Health and Family Planning Commission Li Bin held a joint news briefing.
Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Yin Weimin noted that despite the 3.95% registered unemployment rate in China's urban areas at the end of September "raising the capacity to employ workers overall still faces large pressures."
"We need to create 15 million jobs per year," Yin said, singling out China’s more than 8 million new university graduates that enter the job market each year as one group in need of additional employment.
Yin also said the low unemployment rate in the face of an overall slowdown in the economy was largely due to the new internet economy and entrepreneurship, adding that the ministry would actively support startups to help them “thrive”.
He reported "We've helped 8.8 million people in strained circumstances find jobs," adding that the total number of rural migrant workers increased from 263 million in 2012 to 282 million in 2016.
At the two-hour briefing held partly to address what President Xi called China’s “principle contradiction” between the country’s unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing need for a better life, the ministers outlined some of what they consider to be the biggest achievements of the last five years. Among those achievements is the expansion of basic medical insurance to cover 1.3 billion people and educational opportunities for 90 percent of disabled children.
With 230 million people over the age of 60, making up nearly 1/5 of the population, the challenges grow. Minister Huang Shuxian said they are making progress in providing better facilities for those senior citizens noting “28,000 elderly care homes with nearly seven million beds have been registered across the country. Elderly care service facilities are available in all urban communities and in over half of China’s rural communities.”
Minister Chen Baosheng noted the continuing unbalance of educational resources between urban and rural areas, and even among different districts of individual cities. “The basic focus of our policies is to provide benefits to rural areas, to poor performing schools, to less privileged areas, and to people with economic difficulties,” Chen Baosheng said laying out goals for 2020: an 85 percent gross enrollment rate in three-year kindergarten, and 90 percent in high-schools.
While this was a press briefing, not a new conference, the following CGTN America coverage on YouTube provides a video context though it does have to be pointed out that CGTN is the collection of international language news channels run by the China's government-owned broadcaster China Central Television:
In terms of the goals of China's government, this week provided a good opportunity to learn so long as one recognizes in this context that "short-term" means five years while the year 2049 looms on the Chinese culture's visible horizon.
The year 2049 looms on the California culture's visible horizon also. We might want to give some thought to how China's goals might impact us as we cope with economic and environmental issues.
To learn more about China, its history and culture, watch the six episode Story of China at PBS.org.