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The 21st Century finally has begun: the "New Era" for China and the world

By Evandro Menezes de Carvalho (People's Daily Online)    17:04, October 26, 2017

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), speaks when meeting the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 25, 2017.

President Xi Jinping's report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China echoed worldwide. In announcing the emergence of a "New Era" because of the "great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics," Xi is making history in the 21st century. The West watched his speech with a mixture of awe and admiration.

For Xi, this New Era means, first of all, that, “The Chinese nation, with an entirely new posture, now stands tall and firm in the East.” The era of humiliation to which the Chinese were subjected to in the 19th century as a result of innumerable foreign invasions and the Opium Wars, and the era of internal strife for the consolidation of Chinese territory and people's sovereignty in the 20th century, are now history. China of the 21st century, as a result of the successful process of reform and opening up led by the Communist Party, is preparing itself to stand high on the podium of the world economy. China “has stood up, grown rich, and become strong; and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation,” Xi said, recalling the inspiration that motivates his government to carry out his mandate of realizing the Chinese Dream from day one. In this New Era, Xi further sees China “moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.” In this statement, there is the expression of China's confidence in its future and, at the same time, the affirmation of its commitment to the future of humanity. And in this sense, Xi’s speech was received worldwide with admiration.

The government is aware that this New Era depends on the realization of the two centennial goals, the first one being the construction of a "moderately prosperous society" in 2020, and the second one is to build a "great modern socialist country" by the middle of the 21st century. Faced with the uncertainties of the international scenario and the challenges of the domestic economy, the targets are audacious. However, the political will of the CPC leaders to see these goals realized seems to be even greater than the obstacles they will face. And there is enough reason to believe in it. China's GDP is currently 11.2 trillion dollars and the country contributes more than 30 percent to the global economic growth. The prognosis is that China will become the world’s largest economy by 2025.

For all this, the international press has surrendered to the evidence that, at the present, the most influential man in the world is not the US president, but the president of China. Of course, Donald Trump's erratic, narcissistic, and isolationist style contributes to that perception if we compare him with the discreet and trustworthy style of Xi Jinping, reinforced by China’s efforts to support multilateralism based on "mutual benefits." From the Western perspective, the signs are totally changed. As the US pulls back from the world, China continues to open up. This fact, by itself, can be considered evidence that we are, in fact, entering a "new era."

But President Xi's statement of greatest global impact was that one through which he introduced socialism with Chinese characteristics as "a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization." And he went even further by offering "Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problem facing mankind." China shows itself to the world as an alternative model to be followed, thanks to its model of governance and the cultural and historical heritage it possesses, but with a fundamental difference in leadership style compared to that one exercised by the Western powers: “It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence." Thus, China commits itself to respecting the choices of each State, that is, it promises not to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries.

It is worth remembering that in the 1990s it was believed that the model of Western democracies would spread throughout the world as the only model worthy of being followed with the end of the Cold War. But the subsequent facts have shown that it was not the end of history, but that the end of the Western narrative. Larry Diamond, in an article written for Foreign Affairs under the title "Democracy in Decline," admitted that "democracy itself seems to have lost its appeal. Many emerging democracies have failed to meet their citizens’ hopes for freedom, security, and economic growth, just as the world’s established democracies, including the United States, have grown increasingly dysfunctional." The fact is Western democracies are suffering a legitimacy deficit, aggravated by the economic crisis of 2008 that had US as its epicenter. Since then, we have witnessed an increase in poverty, violence, religious and racial intolerance, and xenophobia in Western democracies.

The main question is to know which one of the models - whether Western democracy or socialism with Chinese characteristics - is capable of providing citizens with the economic and social well-being they wish. Earlier this year, Oxfam (Oxford Committee for the Fight Against Hunger) published a report which shows that only eight people have wealth equivalent to that of the world's poorest half of the population. It means that eight people accumulate wealth equal to 3.6 billion people. Six of those world's wealthiest individuals come from the United States, one from Spain and the other from Mexico. In Brazil, where I live, six Brazilians concentrate wealth equivalent to half of the Brazilian population. The social abysm between the super-rich and the poorest threatens not only the social stability of the country, which is marked by inequality, but also world peace itself. The democracies that embraced capitalism without State have failed. This is the fact. It’s enough to ask the opinion of those 3.6 billion people about this topic. Only the wealthy Westerners will not agree. It is the concentration of income and the posture of the Western wealthy people that are driving democracies to decline. This is the central problem.

President Xi Jinping is aware of the risks to China with the increase of social inequality. This is the reason why he states that "the principal contradiction facing Chinese society ... is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life." Socialism with Chinese characteristics will be tested in this aspect. Unlike the “American dream,” which is driven by excessive individualism, the Chinese dream is guided first and foremost by the collective interest. The main critique made by capitalists against socialism is that this model does not stimulate innovation and creativity. And capitalists use it as an example why the Soviet model failed. But current capitalism is finance-based and no longer based on production. Moreover, the idea of meritocracy, a key concept to the capitalists, is an illusion in the face of the hereditary transmission of wealth and gains often obtained by illicit means. Fighting corruption is an important part of the Chinese model and it will avoid this type of dysfunctional system.

If Chinese socialism recognizes and rewards citizens in favor of others rather than for individual success at the cost of others, then we will have definitely begun a New Era. Green, ethical, collaborative, and shared development may be important values of this new era and they are concepts compatible with Chinese socialism. This project of society is worthy of engagement. After all, the world cannot exist only for the benefit of eight people.

The author is the Head of the Nucleus for Brazil-China Studies of Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Law School (FGV Direito Rio), Coordinador of the Nucleus for BRICS Countries Studies at Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

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(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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