Behind the Rise of China is the Centenary Aspiration of the CPC for a Great China

On July 1st, China celebrated the Communist Party’s centenary with a grand ceremony in Beijing where Chinese President Xi Jinping who is also the General Secretary of the CPC made a key-note address to the public. Recalling the “intense humiliations” China suffered for a century before the CPC triumphed against foreign aggression and domestic chaos, Xi vowed that the CPC has and would never permit China to lose its raison d’etre again. One week later, on July 6th, Xi held talks with more than 500 political parties from over 160 countries and the entities to discuss the questions over “how to enhance the responsibilities of political parties to advance the people’s wellbeing.” On both occasions, echoing China’s rapid rise to a global power over the past four decades since 1980, he reiterated that the historic achievements the CPC and the Chinese people have made would not have been possible without the generous support of world peoples.

 What Xi has tried to speak out is more than a political token. China has formally realized the first centenary goal—to build a moderately prosperous society, and Xi’s sincere gratitude were also conveyed to political parties, peoples and friends all over the world who have supported and helped the CPC and the cause of revolution, development and reform in China. Given this, the CPC is expected to continue associating the future of the Chinese people with that of other peoples all over the world and advancing China’s development in line with common interests and prosperity of all countries concerned. Accordingly, it is necessary to grasp the essential role of the CPC during its centenary aspiration for a great China.

Historically when the CPC was founded in 1921, China had been humiliated for 80 years by foreign powers of the world—all major powers of Europe, the United States and a rapidly-rising Japan. In reality, China was subjugated under a system of the unequal treaties which could be abrogated by revolutionary means only. Chinese political elites, either the reformed-minded republicans or the conservative monarchists, were all inspired to regain national independence from foreign domination and political freedom out of domestic chaos and poverty. Yet, their efforts failed from time to time. Consequently, the Communists of China grew out of the context and determined to take up the mission. Although the ideology of communism by itself was introduced into China then from the Soviet Russia and Japan as well, it was necessary to try it as the last resort.

Built up on the model of the Soviet Union, the CPC opined three elements as its essential tasks to be achieved for China and its people by all means including forces. As one of the key founders of the CPC, Mao argued for the significance of armed force as he said, “political power comes from armed forces and strategic wisdoms rather than the ideological rhetoric.” Under CPC strategic guidance, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949 when Mao declared that China stood up, referring to political independence from foreign domination. Yet, the PRC was soon trapped into the Cold War since the world system was featured by the co-domination of the United States and the Soviet Union which remained to the early 1990s. China’s line with the Soviet camp was based on Mao’s words of “leaning toward the one-side” referring to China’s alliance with the Soviet Union. Yet, the ideological allies between China and the Soviet Union became the strategic reality only after the breakout of the Korean War in which China and the United States were engaged into direct fighting.

In fact, Beijing never lost the chances to have contacts with the West including the USA. Since 1955, China and the U.S. began the longest diplomatic talks for 16 years. In addition, China made all efforts to cultivate good relations with the non-allied states while maintaining its strategic links with the Soviet-led bloc. Yet Mao also admitted that the Soviet model was not an ideal one for China to follow economically and socially. In addition, China diplomatically approached all countries as long as they recognized the Beijing government as the only legal one of all China. By the last years when Mao and his senior colleagues had disappeared one by one from the politics of China, the country gradually became a major power such as nuclear weapon, veto power in the UN Security Council, and a relatively huge industrial system. Yet, according to the GDP in general and GDP per capital in particular, China was still a developing country although it has huge potentials—human resources, natural resources and a nation-wide educational echelon—to become a strong power in the near future.

Yet, the dilemma was obvious. On the one hand, China was one of the five nuclear powers in the world, on the other hand, it was also the only developing country among the “Big Five”. Given this, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping argued in 1978 that poverty could not be associated with China since its people had rights to enjoy the decent, comfortable and affordable lives like those of any country. Followed was the ambitious reform and openness of China to the world. Since then, the CPC has steadily advanced its second mission of national economic modernization which clearly aims to alleviate the poverty of the grass-rooted people of China and enhance its economic strength to the world level, referring to “making China stronger economically and socially”. By 2010, it is widely held that China has achieved its second mission when it was ranked as the second largest economies in the world.

For sure, among the reasons behind the rapid development of China is that the CPC insists on Chinese government to have intervened in the economy since the early days of the PRC. In addition to its famous five-year plans, the first of which started in 1953, the government developed several discrete plans explicitly focused on advancing its technological capability. To that end, the central government has issued a series of industrial policies that function as aspirational goals and combined targets as well. The turning point surely came with the implementation of China’s “medium- and long-term development plan for science and technology” in 2006. In stark contrast to its lackluster execution of previous industrial policies, the central authority has devoted substantial financial and administrative resources to the plan, including a development of 16 “megaprojects,” each under the mandate of a designated ministry, and directed $5 billion to $6 billion to these efforts every year. In 2010, China further unveiled another initiative which designated emerging technologies, such as electric vehicles and next-generation computing, as the drivers of economic growth.

The centerpiece of the Chinese state’s industrial planning apparatus is the “Made in China 2025” plan, which has sine 2015 highlighted ten high-tech industry segments in which Chinese firms should make breakthroughs, and it sets self-sufficiency targets in striking detail. One advisory paper specifies that Chinese semiconductor production ought to reach between 49.10 and 75.13 percent of the domestic market size in 2030. Such specific targets bring to mind the days of China’s planned economy, when the state micromanaged all industrial output. As a result, Made in China 2025 triggered a fierce backlash among many industrialized countries, which were wary of China’s efforts to dominate advanced technology. Having failed to anticipate this reaction, Chinese leaders subsequently tried to dismiss Made in China 2025 as an aspirational planning exercise developed by overly confident academics. But by then, the state had already released a stream of plans focused on advancing select technologies—such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence—as well as enormous proposals for direct subsidies, cheaper access to capital, and investments from public-private funds. Beijing has already showed its keen interests not only in catching up on the technologies but also beyond that. As Xi called on during the two major events: China, under the leadership of the CPC, has brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty, and is now marching in confident strides toward the third mandate goal of making China into a great modern socialist country in all respects.

In sum, the historic changes discussed above have made a powerful and far-reaching effect on the development of China. The CPC has acted in response to the evolution of the principal contradiction in the Chinese society, and has promoted coordinated economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological advancement. It has also shown firm resolve in implementing a wide range of strategies for invigorating China through science and education, the innovation-driven development, the rural vitalization agenda in terms of the sustainable development, and the military-civilian integration. This is the Chinese Dream which means a centenary journey towards economic prosperity, national rejuvenation, and peoples’ wellbeing. In light of this, any attempt to divide the CPC from the Chinese people or to set the people against the CPC is bound to fail.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.