The Chinese dream

Published : Nov 16, 2007 00:00 IST

President Hu Jintao speaks at the opening ceremony of the 17th congress of the Communist Party of China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 15. - JASON LEE/REUTERS

President Hu Jintao speaks at the opening ceremony of the 17th congress of the Communist Party of China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 15. - JASON LEE/REUTERS

The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China re-elects Hu Jintao as general secretary and amends the party constitution.

President Hu Jintao

CHINA is a rising global player with an expanding profile as an economic power and as a space-faring nation. A question that resurfaces in international circles in this context is whether Chinas existing political system is one that is best suited for these roles in the emerging era. In a sense, it is precisely this aspect that the long-governing Communist Party of China (CPC) has now sought to answer in a positive fashion.

The 17th National Congress of the CPC, held at the magnificent Great Hall of the People in Beijing in October, re-elected Hu Jintao as general secretary of the party and amended the party constitution in significant ways. Evident, indeed, was the imprint of Hus political ideas and preferences. Equally important was the measured finessing of the CPCs mission as a 73-million-strong party that would like to make the most of its monopolistic hold on state power for the benefit of all of Chinas 1.3 billion people.

The pride of place in the new amendment to the CPC constitution, adopted on October 21, goes to the Scientific Outlook on Development as the partys new political creed. It is enunciated as a sequel to, and also as a guiding principle in the same class as Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents. These four ideological orientations will continue to inspire the party as it seeks to intensify, in a totally robust sense, a new scientific animation of Chinas economic development. In making this abundantly clear, the CPC has now projected this and other aspects of the latest change in party statutes as just proper, not major, revisions. Viewed in this perspective, what has been undertaken now is the right-sizing of the CPCs political agenda and not the down-sizing of any earlier theories.

In the actual political domain, it is not really possible to assess whether each and every aspect of the CPCs constitution, as now amended, is the only way forward. The crucial test of pragmatism lies ahead. Unsurprisingly, Hu, at the end of the CPC congress, indicated his preference for a policy of putting people first while opening up new prospects for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The results of the latest CPC congress acquire importance in three respects: Hus political performance in the five years since he became general secretary and his pledges for the future; the intended impact of the new constitutional changes; and the partys vision of Chinas place in the emerging global order.

Outwardly, the most conspicuous outcome of the CPCs latest mega event is Hus political confidence as he seeks to lead the party into the future. Five years ago, he rose to the helm of affairs when the party scripted a crisis-free event of political succession with poise and precision. On November 14, 2002, the then CPC general secretary Jiang Zemin bowed out after an eventful tenure and, on the following day, the partys Central Committee elected Hu, who was 59 then, as the new leader.

Hu entered the centre stage of Chinas political domain on the basis of political consensus within the party. On the whole, his career graph in politics was already on an upward trajectory since October 1992, when he became the youngest-ever member of the CPC Polit Bureau Standing Committee. It was then that his talent to lead the fourth generation of CPC functionaries was not only spotted but also acknowledged within the party hierarchy by none other than Deng Xiaoping.

By then, Deng had established himself as the patriarch of Chinas post-Mao politics of reform and modernisation. As Chinas acknowledged paramount leader, Deng belonged to the partys second generation, and he had, in significant ways, refashioned the legacy of Mao Zedongs revolutionary era.

Hus immediate predecessor, Jiang Zemin, too, carved out a role for himself. Besides being the prime leader of the third generation, he came to be known, in Western perspectives, as Chinas Mikhail Gorbachev without, of course, the old Soviet reformers political failings and tragedies.

Spending his initial years at the helm under the grand shadow of Deng, Jiang eventually steered the CPC into international limelight as a party that rose above Western stereotypes about the June 4 incident of 1989 at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

And, by the time Hu succeeded Jiang in 2002, the CPC was widening its representational attributes in a bid to extend its unchallenged political supremacy in China for the foreseeable future. For Hu, the timing of his ascension to the highest position in the party could not have occurred at a more appropriate time the beginning of the 21st century. The mystique of his orderly assumption of the high office, earmarked for him almost a decade earlier, was heightened by symbolism too. It was against the pictorial backdrop of the majestic Great Wall of China that Hu introduced himself as the CPCs new helmsman. The subtle message, contrary to the prevalent predictions of the time by Beijing-watchers such as Gordon Chang, was that the protective political wall of the CPC-led China would not collapse like the Berlin Wall.

This message has stood the test in the five years since Hu became the CPC general secretary on the strength of his credentials within the partys inner circles. As a technocrat expected to transform the state agenda over time, his work experiences as an ascending CPC functionary included meticulous service in the partys cause in the sensitive Tibet region of China. And, before succeeding Jiang, Hu even engaged the United States, and its President George W. Bush in particular, in the context of Washingtons new concerns and priorities after the terror strikes of September 11, 2001.

Before Hus ascension to the helm, Jiang had placed Chinas ties with the U.S. on a firm footing of engagement between two sovereign equals. This was considered a feat in the aftermath of the U.S. campaign against China over the Tiananmen episode of 1989. More importantly, Hu has, during his first five years as the CPC general secretary, navigated several turbulent phases in Chinas expanding engagement with the U.S. At one stage, the fluctuations in these ties over the Taiwan issue prompted Hu and the CPC to reassert Chinas final say over that non-sovereign territorys future through an anti-secession law. More recently, Hu has had to grapple with much U.S.-orchestrated turbulence, as distinct from full-blown crises, over such issues as the Dalai Lamas role in and relevance to China as also the safety of Chinese-made products, among a host of other questions.

With China now coming under laser-like international focus in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the CPCs slate is also increasingly dominated by domestic priorities peace, stability and economic development. Hus re-election as the CPCs supreme leader and the re-constitution of the Standing Committee of the Polit Bureau reflect political continuity in an ambience of national self-confidence and awareness of new challenges.

The Polit Bureau Standing Committee now has four new members, but the main outcome of the CPCs latest mega event is Hus governance vision. Having stamped his authority on Chinese politics by securing the CPCs endorsement of his Scientific Outlook on Development, Hu is intensifying efforts to emphasise the importance of harmony at home and abroad.

Hus overall performance since his political elevation in 2002 and his new pledges are integral to the ongoing China story of life and times under the CPC. Prior to the latest national congress, the CPC had enshrined, in its constitution, a series of strategic formulations as the partys guiding principles. These formulations received a renewed endorsement now.

Of these established theories of the Chinese state, Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought belong to the pristine eras of the global rise of communism as a system of governance. The Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Three Represents as an important line of thought are relatively more contemporary in scope and remain relevant to Chinas ongoing post-Mao political evolution.

The Deng Xiaoping Theory of economic reform and modernisation has introduced China to certain pragmatic practices that are designed to increase national wealth and improve social welfare. As a follow-up idea, Three Represents, formulated by Jiang Zemin, is another elaboration of Chinas emerging political destiny.

Delegates at the

The CPC, it is said, should represent Chinas advanced productive forces, an obvious reference to the benign elements of capitalist enterprise. Two other aspects of the CPCs three-dimensional character relate to the advanced cultural orientation of the country as a whole and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.

The idea of Three Represents has been dubbed by the CPCs Western critics as a capitalist manifesto in all but name a not-so-subtle play of sarcasm in relation to the (Communist) Manifesto associated with the bygone era of a global rise of communism. However, the CPC, proud of Chinas political anchorage in a long-established civilisation, tends to see Hus ideas in the overall march of history.

The Scientific Outlook on Development is projected as a pathway to a harmonious socialist society, whose establishment is also outlined in the latest amendment. The idea is to turn China into a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country. The amendment further stipulates that the CPC leads the people in developing the socialist market economy. A related mandate is that the party unwaveringly consolidates and develops the public sector of the economy and unswervingly encourages, supports and guides the development of the non-public sector.

As reflected in the amendment, the Scientific Outlook itself has been defined as a multi-dimensional vision and the leading theoretical development in the five years since the last CPC National Congress. As for the highlights, the Party [the CPC] works to balance urban and rural development, development among regions, economic and social development, relations between man and nature, and domestic development and opening to the outside world. The Outlook would also help adjust the economic structure and transform the pattern of economic development. The CPC is dedicated to building a new socialist countryside, taking a new path of industrialisation with Chinese characteristics, and making China an innovative country and a resource-conserving [and also] environment-friendly society.

These economic and social aspects of the Scientific Outlook are matched by certain new political directives as part of the same vision. The new political orientation is also spelt out elaborately. The CPC respects and safeguards human rights [and] encourages the free airing of views. The party further works to establish sound systems and procedures of democratic election, decision-making, administration and oversight.

In this broad framework, the amendment stipulates that the CPC uphold the system of self-governance at the primary level of society.

No less important are the other political formulations now woven into the partys current statute which was passed at the 12th CPC Congress in September 1982. The CPC helps ethnic minorities and ethnic autonomous areas with their economic, cultural and social development, and ensures that all ethnic groups work together for common prosperity and development. Also adumbrated is the line that the Party [the CPC] strives to fully implement its basic principle for work related to religious affairs. The party will also rally religious believers in making contributions to economic and social development.

Besides mandating a work ethic of increase[d] transparency at all levels of the CPC, the amendment enlarges the scope of Chinas patriotic united front. All socialist workers and all patriots who support socialism or who support the reunification of the motherland are now being joined by all builders of the cause of socialism as the prime movers in politics, the economy and the social domain.

The overall objective of the amendment, certainly not the first such exercise since the founding of the party in 1921, has been identified as the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects. Hu indicated to the congress, attended by over 2,200 delegates, that efforts would be made to attain this goal by the year 2020.

The comprehensive amendment spans military affairs and foreign policy as well. The CPC, it is said, ensures [that] the Peoples Liberation Army [PLA] accomplishes its historical missions at this new stage in the new century. The party, in line with the new Scientific Outlook, gives full play to [the PLAs] role in consolidating national defence, defending the motherland and participating in the socialist modernisation drive. On foreign affairs, the amendment is categorical in spelling out that the CPC adheres to an independent foreign policy of peace, follows the path of peaceful development and a win-win strategy of opening up.

The intended impact of this broad-spectrum amendment is to place China firmly on course for stable economic progress and for a long-term role on the global stage as a power to reckon with.

Discernible beyond the substantive semantics of the amendment is a blend of what many Indians may recognise as a Nehru-like call for scientific temper and the Chinese penchant for thinking big and thinking deep. What distinguishes this new blend is the CPCs attempt to look at all aspects of governance through the prism of Hus Scientific Outlook.

On the global stage, China sits at the high table of several key fora that could determine the future course of international relations and shape the profiles of some emerging powers, including India, in the present circumstances. To sustain this leverage in global politics and to stay relevant into the future, China has, in recent years, emphasised its adherence to a doctrine of peaceful rise or its fine-tuned version the path of peaceful development.

Unlike George Kennan and Henry Kissinger, known as the exponents of strategies for the primacy of the U.S. at different stages of its ascendance in world affairs, Zheng Bijian, Chairman of the Beijing-based think tank China Reform Forum, has spelt out how the Chinese dream of a peaceful rise is different from other dreams. China, according to Zheng, does not aspire for the American dream of energy-use extravagance and other attributes. Nor is China seeking to attain for itself the old European dream of colonisation. The old Soviet Union dream of arms race, expansionism and hegemony is also not the stuff of the present Chinese dream.

While Zhengs exposition makes clear what the Chinese dream is not about, Hus latest political intervention at the CPCs 17th Party Congress turns the spotlight on what the Chinese dream is really about at this stage of the 21st century.

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