Xi Jinping and the governance of China

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg. He recently penned an opinion article that first appeared in Voices 360 on 30 November 2020.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1948 through the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong.

Recently I read a book written by the Chinese President Xi Jinping titled The Governance of China Volume 3. I read the two earlier volumes and found them essential developmental blueprints that we can use to leapfrog development and usher in the fourth industrial revolution civilization. We can use this to tackle the problems of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. To understand President Xi, one needs to understand the history of China and its leaders.

China is an ancient country, and as Henry Kissinger put it, it is not just a country but also a civilisation. The Chinese culture gave us gun powder, papermaking, printing, and the compass. Chinese civilisation is so influential that Japan, Korea, and Vietnam’s economic successes cannot be understood without understanding China. More recently, China has created a productive economic system that produces goods that otherwise were traditionally very expensive but are now available at relatively cheap rates. This has improved the lives of millions of people both inside and outside China.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1948 through the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong. On the founding of the PRC, Chairman Mao had the following to say: “The Chinese people have stood up.” Indeed China has stood up and has emerged as the pre-eminent technological powerhouse. This has been achieved through the successful leadership of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping.

Mao Zedong Thought united China and expunged the warlordism that was widespread in China before 1948. When Deng came into power in 1978, China entered the modern world, and he introduced the theory of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. In introducing this theory, Deng used an old idea from the Book of Han, “seek truth from facts,” which was introduced to the Chinese Communist Party in 1938 by Mao to orientate China towards the policy of pragmatism. In this regard, Deng used the principles of demand and supply of the markets to build a modern socialist country. This explains why the Soviet Union faltered while China continues to thrive.

Jiang Zemin, an electrical engineer and a president of China from 1993 to 2003, came up with the Three Represents theory. According to this theory, the three drivers of development are the pursuit of an advanced economy, advanced culture, and political consensus. Jiang Zemin was followed by Hu Jintao, a civil engineer, who came up with the Scientific Outlook on Development.

President Xi Jinping, a chemical engineer, came up with the Chinese dream and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, and collectively, these are called Xi Jinping Thought. The impact of China under the leadership of President Xi in the 21st century is extensive. The Belt and Road Initiative is a land and maritime strategy that connects China to the rest of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. While the world becomes insular and ultra-nationalistic to the detriment of the global economy, China is opening up to the rest of the world, increasing interstate trade, and lifting the world into greater prosperity. President Xi has proposed the new civilisation of mankind instead of unilateralism and cultural imperialism in a diverse world. In this regard, President Xi said this at the College of Europe in Belgium in 2014 “We all need peace, multilateralism and dialogue, instead of war, unilateralism and confrontation.”

According to President Xi, the Belt and Road Initiative originated from China and, for the benefit of the world, had this to say at the Imperial Springs International Forum in 2018: “China’s Belt and Road Initiative is to build a new platform for win-win cooperation for the international community. This initiative originates from China but belongs to the world. It always adheres to the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, and strives to find a path of peace, prosperity, openness, green, innovation and civilization and bring new development opportunities to all participating countries. China’s foreign investment, production capacity, and infrastructure construction cooperation have driven the industrialization of relevant countries and promoted the improvement of local people’s livelihood and economic and social development.” He underscored that China hoped that all countries would join the Belt and Road partnership network so that the development of the Belt and Road will better benefit all countries’ peoples. Accordingly, President Xi proposed that the realisation of the “Chinese dream” will coincide with developing other regions. In this regard, China’s development is not a win-lose aspiration but rather aims at the win-win cooperation.

President Xi proposed that economic development is a human right. In this regard, countries that are not economically taking care of their people violate people’s human rights and dignity. Thus, President Xi’s objective is to make China a moderately prosperous country and eliminate poverty, unemployment, and inequality. In this regard, President Xi stated at the United Nations Office at Geneva that “China pursues a path of development in keeping with its national conditions. We always put people’s rights and interests above everything else and have worked hard to advance and uphold human rights. China has met the basic living needs of its 1.3 billion-plus people and lifted over 700 million people out of poverty, which is a significant contribution to the global cause of human rights.”

President Xi has emphasised caring for the environment and considers it an essential pillar for China’s new development phase as it is crucial for humanity’s collective destiny of humankind. He had this to say about the relationship between the economy and development “Economic development should not be achieved at the cost of the ecology. The ecological environment itself is the economy. Protecting the environment is developing productivity.”

The relationship between China and Africa is an important one for the economic prosperity of both partners. According to the most recent figures, some 81,562 African students are studying in China, accounting for 16% of all international students studying in China. By 2018, trade between China and Africa consisted of US$104 billion worth of Chinese exports to Africa and US$99 billion worth of African exports to China. On the Africa-China relationship, President Xi said the following in Rwanda in 2018, on his way to the BRICS Summit hosted in South Africa: “For decades, China and Africa have treated each other with sincerity and friendship. We are a community with a shared future and common interests, featuring solidarity and win-win cooperation. Going forward, China will continue to deepen communication, mutual trust, and cooperation with Rwanda and with other friendly African countries, based on the principles of sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith and the approach of upholding justice and pursuing shared interests.”

Going forward, let us strengthen the relationship between China and Africa. Let us dramatically increase the movement of people, knowledge, and goods and services between China and Africa. Let us enhance cultural cooperation and understanding. Let us learn from China’s success and implement the attributes that have made China successful in South Africa. These attributes include a focus on technical education, the special economic zones, pragmatic economic policy, and meritocratic culture.

• This article is based on the speech delivered at the launch of the book The Governance of China by Xi Jinping at the Pretoria Press Club.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.


prof tshilidzi marwala
Prof Tshilidzi Marwala Vice- Chancellor & Principal of the University of Johannesburg
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