The 70th Anniversary of China is significant because it is a time to take stock where China has come from, which tells us something about their ability to get to their targets for 2022 and 2049.
My impressions of early China came from my father’s impressions from 1952, some 67 years ago.
His first visit was the Icebreaker Mission. It took him 7 days to fly to Hong Kong, three days in a very hot and humid Hong Kong, but very exciting, and then three days to Beijing.
Although he grew up in the poverty of London’s East End and a bath was a weekly visit to the baths at the town hall, he was totally unprepared for a war ravaged China still reeling from opium and many social diseases, epidemics were widespread, injured and starving people and widespread destruction from the war against Japan and the more recently concluded civil war.
His eyes were constantly filled with tears, and his emotions stretched to their limits. Any doubts he had had about his decision to respond to Premier Zhou’s request to lead a reopening of China’s trade with the West were quickly removed, but the scale of the work ahead did make him concerned.
The priority for the Leaders of China – the Communist Party of China – was to restore the nation which would take years. To rebuild the transport, the homes, and the hospitals and school would take two decades or more. He was impressed by the Party’s commitment to work 24 hours a day to deliver a new China. They meant it and they took very little sleep and rolled up their sleeves and worked in the ditches and in the buildings to rebuild the basics.
He met many heroes during this period and slowly the starving nation was rebuilt.
But when considering the 70 years one must not start in 1978 images but in those of broken and starving China of 1949.
By 1978 China had created a base from which to launch Reform and Opening Up in what was still a poor nation with the a population of 1.2 billion of which 90 percent were still peasants. It had been delayed from 1961 but that also gave them time to better prepare.
It is not well understood that the first priority of the leadership was firstly to move the peasants in poverty from the land and mechanise agriculture to substantially increase – double – yields in agriculture by 2022.
By then almost one billion will have been moved to urban life and China’s population will be reversed into 1 billion in manufacturing and services and 400 million left in the countryside, probably reducing towards 200 million by 2035.
The numbers are staggering and the feat beyond human experience. They did it by 2017 substantially. And they did it by positioning China in world trade. That was where the peasants moved to – supporting the exports of China from 1987 onwards.
And now China has spent the last 7 years moving to focusing on the domestic market and BRI as its area of concentration. The initial phase from 1978 of exports to the USA and Europe have reduced from almost 70pc to 33 pc. Trade with BRI is rising 2pc per year to just above 30pc and will rise, in my estimation to 65pc in the forthcoming years. The domestic market will be the main focus of China.
China is now a country that is doing well but the USA tariff war will have some effect. If the USA goes harder it will have more effect. China is 30 pc of the worlds growth.
But this is a moment in history and China is well prepared for its next push to become a modern economy and society , based on Chinese socialism – sharing not equality – by 2035 and 2049.
With BRI, and backed by its core principles of sharing with other nations and with its own people. China’s target by 2049 is sharing, not some vague concept of equality but a target of enough.
I am comfortable taking the flak for seeing an aspect of the future as my father did. The world can learn much from China and should not misinterpret China’s sense of the world without nations competing violently each other. They see the world managing its challenges of resources and climate warming by cooperating.
BRI is transformational as it moves hot spots from conflict to cooperation by spreading prosperity. Much of the infrastructure across continents is moving ahead. And the towns and cities will follow. Modern life is progressing across BRI.
If there is one story that sums up the 70 years it is the simple story below.
Why do I have high regard for President Xi? Because he is very intelligent and his instincts were formed in the caves in Shaanxi. He saw the poverty of the peasants and it is deep in his beliefs. And from what I know he must have seen much of the early tough years of China through his father’s eyes and experience. He would know of the hard struggles to make good decisions. He knows how to make tough decisions and uncomfortable decisions.
He will lead China for another 10-15 years through this difficult global phase and be sure of the stability of the new China focused economy, and the commitment to a healthy society based on respect for nature. That is his goal, and he is capable of achieving it. That scares others who fear their own demise. But Chinese history is deeply convincing that China helps others but does not march in others lands.
Yes there could be a bad phase in China’s future, but that is the reason for engaging with China on the Community of Shared Future.
China will not rule the world as Martin Jacques mused. It may lead for a few generations but then it will sit back within its borders and Asian continent. China’s future is as one of the Ancient Civilisations of the World who together see the future from the past.
This anniversary is a moment for China to renew its covenants, and for others to see China’s trajectory. Many nations have become realistic about China by signing up to BRI.
The discontented and the nervous will become reconciled and motivated.
That is my view from 50 years’ experience of working with China. I have seen the good and the bad. I see the good and the bad. I am not starry eyed. I do not behave like a Chinese. I can see that they will continue to grow and modernise as this delightful story relates.