For those of us living in Western countries, or reading Western media, one would imagine that the recent removal of terms for the Chinese leader was all doom and gloom.
Western media, especially in trends following the USA, tends to focus on personalities and their personal style, taking the emphasis off policies. The colour of Trumps hair, the clothes worn by Clinton (H), etc.
But how is the leadership of China question viewed from Chinese eyes?
Jim O”Neill, is a former Goldman Sachs Asset Management and former Commercial Secretary to the UK Treasury. Oh, and an economics professor. He makes some very valid and interesting points. Firstly, about average income.
“In fact, a young Beijing-based entrepreneur I met recently estimates that at least 20% of Chinese – over 250 million people – are now making $40,000 per year. Besides the United States, no other country in the world has that many people generating that much individual wealth. Whether Westerners like to admit it or not, that is a remarkable achievement.”
“But even more remarkable is the fact that it has happened under a non-democratic system, and that Chinese citizens appear to be rather content. Although small-scale protests are not uncommon, even among those in the top 20%, they tend to be scattered and fleeting”
and the future? O”Neill assesses it is the hukou system which has the potential to bring down China. This is the system of “household registration” where each citizen is registered as belonging to a particular town. When domestic migrants move to the bigger cities looking for work, this brings problems with their children’s education. Children of migrant workers do not have a hukou for the big cities, and thus cannot access education. It’s a huge problem which has been substantially addressed in recent years, but remains a problem.
Futhermore, it brings in issues of Statelessness.
O’Neill claims this is the big problem facing the Chinese government now, not personality politiics.
“Although the CPC has experimented with scrapping the hukous ystem in smaller cities where it wants to promote growth, it has refrained from doing so in the big cities. Based on private discussions I have had with Chinese policymakers, I know that they see the current arrangement as a major problem. But they do not want to confront it. Their reasoning is that abandoning the system altogether would impose an unsustainable burden on megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai.”
Seeing China with Chinese eyes means understanding what it might be like to live in a country with an ancient, rich civilisation, a country where contrary to western media’s approach is a country which puts the good of the whole nation before individual rights. it’s quite simply, a different philosophical outlook. With this philosophical outlook, it lifted a whole nation of billions of people out of poverty in decades. That is a rare economic achievement in anyone’s books.
O”Neill’s overall analysis regarding the future of China
“Still, my hunch is that something will have to change eventually. A two-tier system in which almost half the population enjoys Western levels of wealth while the rest have no right to health care or social security cannot survive another 15 years. And if this is obvious to me, then it must be obvious to the Chinese leadership, too.”
President Xi, is, above all, a Confucianist. To understand his motives for lifting the time barrier on the leadership positions one must understand the Confucian ethic. The western media could well do with reading The Analects to fully understand Xi, instead of analysing a country and a leader’s motives based on philosophies which are foreign to that nation. One has to understand the internal logic.
Bejing Professor Yu Dan has written a popularised version of Confucian thinking, Confucius from the heart. It has received a lot of academic criticism, but it’s become a best-seller in a nation trying to recover it’s roots. It’s a good place to start to explore Confucian thought.
So what does O”Neill think?
“So, my third and final point for consideration is that the CPC elites do not want a permanent Xi presidency so much as they want to avoid a forced change of leadership in 2023. My recommendation for Western commentators, then, is to focus on how the Chinese economy evolves in the meantime”
China is focused on the long-term. It is not ruled by a parliamentary democracy whereby countries change political and economic direction with every election. Like O’Neill, I’m not saying one system is better than another. I’m simply saying that political systems emerge out of culture, and it’s impossible to judge one system by the rules of another. It must resonate with it’s own internal logic.
For anyone seriously interested in – or even slightly concerned with – China’s place in the coming global reality, t’s well worth reading Jim O’Neill’s entire article, Missing the Forest For the Xi.