We’ve been to China six times since 2008, with the latest ones almost every year from 2016 to 2019.
We could have gone to Beijing as early as 1985 with a delegation of writers to reciprocate an earlier visit here by a group of Chinese writers, but were unable to do so as two of us were denied that opportunity since we were considered security risks, but that’s another story.
Those visits have allowed us to observe changes in China from up close, through briefings by government officials and entrepreneurs as well as tours of historical and cultural sites.
We were therefore interested in what Chinese President Xi Jinping had to say during the 20th Chinese Communist Party (CPC) National Congress. On this occasion, as the CPC’s General Secretary, Xi reviewed the key developments in the country during the past 10 years of his rule.
The theme of the 20th National Congress was quite comprehensive: “to hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese Characteristics, fully implement the Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, carry forward the great founding spirit of the Party, stay confident and build strength, uphold fundamental principles and break new ground, forge ahead with enterprise and fortitude, and strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects and advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts.”
Xi cited three major events in the past 10 years that had “great immediate importance and profound historical significance” for China: the centenary of the Communist Party of China, the new era of socialism with Chinese Characteristics, the eradication of absolute poverty and building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, thus completing the First Centenary Goal.
We can now see that China has become an economic superpower in the past decade.
Its GDP has grown to 114 trillion yuan (about $16 trillion) from 54 trillion yuan in the past decade and it now accounts for 18.5 percent of the world economy, up by 7.2 percentage points.
It has remained the world’s second largest economy and its per capita GDP has risen from 39,800 yuan to 81,000 yuan.
It ranks first in the world in terms of grain output, and its manufacturing sector is the largest in the world, as are its foreign exchange reserves.
According to Xi, the central task of the CPC will be to lead the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in an effort to realize the Second Centenary Goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.
The CPC seeks to accelerate socialist modernization from 2020 through 2035 and “build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful from 2035 through the middle of this century.”
The Chinese president also pledged to improve the people’s well-being and quality of life.
“This country is its people; the people are the country. As the CPC has led the people in fighting to establish and develop the People’s Republic, it has really been fighting for their support.”
China will also strive to improve the system of income distribution. by ensuring more pay for more work and encouraging people to achieve prosperity through hard work.
Xi said the government will promote equality of opportunity, increase the incomes of low-income earners and expand the size of the middle-income group.
Apart from these, China will do more to help those in difficulty find employment and meet their basic needs, and improve the social security system with expanded coverage of social insurance programs.
But what many observers were interested in was a key point in Xi’s speech that the CPC wanted to resolve the Taiwan question and “unswervingly advance the cause of national reunification.”
He said: “Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese…We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary.
“This is directed solely at interference by outside forces and the few separatists seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and their separatist activities; it is by no means targeted at our Taiwan compatriots.”
We’re sure that the Chinese president’s speech was closely followed by other countries, particularly the US, Japan and the members of the European Union and ASEAN as they do brisk business with the world’s second largest economy, and are interested in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Monitoring leadership and policy changes in Beijing is not only the business of independent China watchers but also government think-tanks.
That’s because the indubitable fact is that when China sneezes, world capitals invariably sit up and instinctively take notice.