RECENTLY in a speech to the Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia Investors’ Forum in Hong Kong, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, pointed out that when China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), some people thought the country would begin a process of economic and political convergence with the West. This was clearly not going to happen, he said. From Bannon’s own words, we can see he was actually admitting that in the past, the West largely misjudged China.
However, with regard to present-day China, his opinions deviated much from the reality. In an interview with The New York Times early this month, Bannon said, “China right now is Germany in 1930,” which was a very improper comparison. Germany in 1930 was facing the emergence of Nazism while China today is a socialist country engaged in a peaceful rise.
Bannon’s misjudgment of China is not an isolated one. During a September 18 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer criticized China’s “mercantilist” approach to commerce. “The sheer scale of efforts to develop their economy and subsidize, to create national champions, to force tech transfers, and distort markets in China and throughout the world is a threat to the trading system that is unprecedented,” Lighthizer said.
Obviously for Western countries accustomed to the hundreds-year-old capitalist system, it is very difficult for them to understand China’s socialist path. When these countries found that a fast-developing China has not been incorporated into the capitalist order, they criticize China for state capitalism or mercantilism. Nevertheless, this kind of criticism ignores the fact that socialism, which suffered huge setbacks in Europe, has enjoyed prosperous development in China.
It is the socialist theory and path that have propelled China to its current status as the world’s second-largest economy. In the future 10 or 15 years, the socialist path with Chinese characteristics is likely to make China become the largest economy.
Socialism is the choice of the Chinese people and the choice of history. In the last century, the basic problem China faced was survival and state building.
How can the Chinese nation, after suffering imperialist invasion, oppression and humiliation through modern times, realize revival? How can old China be converted into a modern country?
Learning from Western civilization was the trend at that time. Nevertheless, it was only after the arrival of socialism in China that the country found the way forward for its survival. In practice, Chinese people started to recognize that only Marxism and socialism could help the nation realize independence and free it from the threat of invasion. Owing to this awareness, the year of 1921 saw the birth of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Although the CPC recognized Marxism, born in Europe, as its guiding ideology, it did not totally rely on Marxist theory or simply duplicate theories and practices from the Soviet Union. Instead, China integrated the universal truth of Marxism into concrete practice across the country.
In December 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC was held, marking the beginning of China’s reform and opening-up. This session was a momentous turning point with far-reaching influence in CPC history, announcing the country’s exploration of the socialist path with Chinese characteristics. After the session, the outdated planned economy gradually subsided in China, to be replaced by a socialist market economy playing an increasingly important role in economic development. Through decades of exploration, the theory and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics was basically formed.
Gaining insights into the nature of modern China needs a clear understanding of the nation’s historical process over the last 40 years. In its reform and opening-up, China did not adopt Western checks and balances or multi-party elections but instead insisted on a socialist system under the leadership of the CPC.
In the economy, the country practices a basic economic system with public ownership as the mainstay and joint development of diverse forms of ownership, maintaining socialist principles of fairness and justice. In sum, the difference between China’s development path and the Western mode lies in socialism. Socialism with Chinese characteristics was the basic feature of the country’s development. For a thorough understanding of China, one must learn much about this country’s socialism.
[The author is director of Shangdao Institute for Social Research and a research fellow of the Chinese Institute, Fudan University. [email protected]]