News Overview 2014

The PRC at 65: Where Is China Heading under Xi?

On October 1, 2014, the People’s Republic of China celebrated its 65th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the Robert Bosch Stiftung used its “Engaging with China” series to ask what direction President Xi Jinping wants to take the country in. In front of an audience of 80 invited guests, Zeit journalist Matthias Naß spoke to Huang Jing, director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation and a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. In 2014, Huang Jing was made a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy.

Although Beijing had hoped that the world’s eyes would be fixed on China’s 65th anniversary celebrations, events in Hong Kong dominated the headlines. For a whole week, enraged citizens blockaded the downtown area to demonstrate against the local administration and demand that their voices be heard. Since then, the Occupy Central movement has largely dwindled. Was this simply a brief outburst of dissatisfaction or should the government in Beijing be seriously worried? Sandra Breka, Head of the Berlin Representative Office of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, used this question to get the ball rolling at the podium discussion.

In Huang Jing’s opinion, the root causes of the protests are frustration about insecure economic growth and the failure to implement political reforms in Hong Kong. "But even the organizers of the protests were taken aback at their success," he said. Although he argues that the protests passed without serious consequences and with hardly any violence, he believes that the government will stick to its policy of "one nation, two systems." "Hong Kong is permitted to have a separate system, but Beijing will decide how different this system is allowed to be." He therefore predicts that the city’s population will continue to be denied a say in the selection of political candidates.

65 Years of the People’s Republic – Mistakes and Achievements

Zeit reporter Matthias Naß had the following question for Huang Jing: "What are the key accomplishments since the PRC was formed and what has yet to be achieved?" Jing criticized the fact that there is still no democratic system in place 65 years after the state was established. "The Chinese people also deserve political freedom, a voice, and human rights." Overall, however, he argues that most people have seen their lives improve considerably: 250 million people have escaped from poverty and many of them can now even afford foreign travel. He believes it all boils down to how you see things: Is the glass half full or half empty?

Huang Jing maintains that two people were particularly influential in shaping the PRC: Mao Tse-tung and Deng Xiaoping. While he expressed harsh criticism for Mao, the country’s founding father, he also emphasized the need to see him in the historical context of the time. "He set China on its current path and had a vision. Despite the cultural revolution, many Chinese still hold him in high regard as a result." In Huang Jing’s opinion, however, Deng Xiaoping is the real architect behind the rise of China. Starting in 1978, he adopted a market economy, passed political reforms, and promoted the economic development of the individual. Nevertheless, Jing points out that Deng Xiaoping has to bear some of the blame for the brutal suppression of the 1989 student movement.

A Strong President

"And how strong is the current leadership of President Xi Jinping?" asked Matthias Naß. Huang Jing is confident that he will go down in history as a strong president. Jing argues that the key factor will be how Jinping utilizes and reins in his authority over the years to come. "It’s a lot easier to concentrate power than it is to cede it again," said Jing. "I think that things are moving in the right direction, as he emphasizes the importance of the rule of law and admits that power has to be limited." The rule of law is also one of the key topics for discussion at the upcoming plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party in mid October.

Chinese Dream

The "Chinese Dream" was also identified as a key issue for Jinping. "Whereas the American Dream is all about the individual, Jinping seems to be referring to the nation as a whole," said Matthias Naß. Huang Jing agreed that the president really is trying to capitalize on a feeling of national identity. "There is a real craving for strength and the revival of a great nation," he said. But with economic growth, people are demanding more and more individual rights; they want to take part in political decision-making. "As a result, the government and the people sometimes expect different things from the Chinese Dream," commented Huang Jing.

He also warned of a risk for the entire region in the event of China and other nations taking their nationalism too far, highlighting the possibility of negative consequences for international peace if an economic crisis were to take hold. He pleaded for China to be treated fairly in a scenario of this kind. "All emerging powers have made a show of their military strength as they have developed." He also argues that China would not even be able to conduct regional wars – let alone wars on a global scale.

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