Mohsen Shariatinia

Chinese Reforms Have Turned Forty: Any Shift in Paradigm?

Date of publication : October 29, 2017 22:51 pm
China's Communist Party holds a closing ceremony at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Oct. 24, 2017 for its twice-a-decade congress that shaped a structure designed to give leader Xi Jinping more power as he enters his second term

The 19th Communist Party Congress was held last week. The significance of the Congress and its outcomes lies in one point: the change or continuity in the reform paradigm. Understanding what is happening at the 19th Communist Party Congress is not possible without knowing what happened at the Third Party Congress meetings in 1978 which created a paradigm shift in the course of China’s development. The key question raised about the developments in the Congress is whether President Xi Jinping breaks with Deng Xiaoping’s reform path?
What has happened in China over the past 40 years (all that has been advantageous and disadvantageous) is the result of the reformists’ rule. In other words, China today is more indebted to Deng and the leaders who came to power after him and continued the path of reform than Mao or the conservatives. So the question is the same old question, which has always been posed after the death of Deng: will his path be continued?
President Xi Jinping’s opening speech in the form of a report addressed to the Congress about his activities over the past five years in which he outlined a perspective for China over the next five years and beyond is rooted in continuity, rather than a break with the past. In other words, he still cherishes the unwritten social contract that has been formed between the Chinese society and the reformists since post-1978 period. Within the framework of this contract, any advance in the economic development is in direct contrast with the domination of the party over the power block. In his speech, he emphasized on advancing economic reforms and providing wider welfare for the Chinese community, and considered them as the most important tasks for the Chinese Communist Party in the foreseeable future. President Xi Jinping also talked about the Chinese society’s transformation into a relatively prosperous society by 2035, and the creation of a developed and powerful country by 2050 - strategic goals that are fully in line with Deng’s and the early reformists’ aspirations.
Of course, he insisted that Chinese socialism or the Chinese reform has entered into new terms, and it requires new ideas, including that the Chinese community, after passing through the early stages of poverty eradication, has now a huge middle class that requires the rule of law, democracy and social justice, and the party must be able to respond to these needs. In addition, he also talked about the fact that the Chinese economy should pass from an economy based on the production of low-tech and medium-tech products to a creative economy, and that Chinese companies should become world-class companies, and of course, he said that the Chinese military force should have become a world-class military by 2050.
Deng Xiaoping had stressed that China should have never sought hegemony. President Xi Jinping reiterated Deng’s words, which are said to have been a guide in China’s foreign policy for more than forty years. He explicitly said that China, regardless of its amount of power, would have never sought hegemony. This emphasis has found more meaning now that China has become the world’s second largest economic power, and many call it the future leader of global economy.
Unlike domestic politics, it is very difficult to control variables in foreign policy, and China may be drawn to hegemony more by systemic pressures than its own hegemonic demands. The position of China today and its cautious behavior serve as a reminder of the US before the First World War; a country that had long been the world’s first economic power, but was reluctant to intervene in the course of events. What has turned the pre-World War I America to today’s America is more the developments that took place across the Atlantic than the choice of its own leaders. Perhaps President Xi Jinping is willing to remain loyal to Deng’s will, but the international system may lead him and his country to a new direction, especially in the time and place where the United States has chosen the “exit” strategy, and China has taken advantage of the globalization at risk more than others. In short, there is no sign of a paradigm shift in the reform process of China taken by the 19th Communist Party Congress, but the fifth and sixth generations of the reformists may, in spite of their desire, gradually move away from Deng’s mandate in the field of foreign policy.
© The International

Mohsen Shariatinia, an assistant professor at Shahid Beheshti University, is the senior expert on East Asia.
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