By WILLIAM JONES
By WILLIAM JONES
THE convening of the National People’s Congress this year occurred at a very dramatic and decisive period in the history of China. The last five years have seen the emergence of China on the international scene not merely as a participant in global affairs, but rather as a formative force. The initiation of the Belt and Road Initiative by President Xi Jinping in 2013 really set into motion a process that has transformed the direction of the world economy.
The success of China during the 40 years of its “reform and opening-up,” a process which has brought over 700 million people out of poverty, has created a tremendous sense of optimism, particularly in the developing world, and a growing sense that many problems which have seemed endemic, such as poverty, can, with a determined leadership that can mobilize the forces of the nation, ultimately be overcome. With the initiation of the Belt and Road Initiative, China is offering a helping hand to many of these countries to do just that.
While the Belt and Road was initially restricted to the countries of Central, Southeast, and South Asia, the word spread, and the nations of Latin America and Africa have now been encompassed in this global project of world development. While China does not have the resources to develop the entire world, the Belt and Road Initiative has undoubtedly been the catalyst that set into motion a more fundamental process which has the potential of setting mankind on the road to recovery.
A ceremony for the newly-elected state leaders to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution is held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 17 during the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress.
Secondly, with their proposal of cooperation on the Belt and Road, China also introduced a new concept of governance, based on respect for the cultures and traditions of other countries without trying to form them in its “own image” as has so often been the case of assistance given by the Western nations. The most egregious example of which were the “color revolutions,” or the attempt to create “democratic” regimes in nations, sometimes by overthrowing their legitimate leaders as well as their systems of government. President Xi’s call for a “community with a shared future for mankind” has become the calling card for this new type of governance.
This has placed China in a rather unique situation with a key role in working with other nations to try to implement this “new paradigm” of governance. In addition to this, the rapid economic development of China has also created an understanding that China itself must also achieve its goal of economic “rejuvenation” in order to be capable of fulfilling the new functions that history has placed upon it. The perspective set out at the 19th CPC National Congress last year detailed the roadmap for the development of the nation through 2050, when China will be celebrating the centennial of the founding of New China, the People’s Republic of China.
Given this perspective, there is little wonder that the Chinese Constitution was amended in this year’s National People’s Congress to bring it into conformity with the dramatic changes that have occurred in China since the last revisions in 2004. The amendments also serve to codify many of the principles adopted by the 19th CPC National Congress with regard to the process of rejuvenation between now and 2050. The addition of the Centenary goal of 2050, to turn China into “a strong modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful, and to realize the great rejuvenation for the Chinese nation” is now enshrined in the Constitution. The new version also adds “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” which has provided the intellectual underpinnings of the changes that China has undergone and a direction for the path that remains to be traveled up until the centenary celebrations and beyond.
There has been a good deal of discussion regarding the establishment of supervisory commissions. This seems to be a logical follow-up of the anti-corruption campaign, which was initiated by President Xi several years ago. While the anti-corruption campaign has had a good deal of success in re-establishing the rule of law at all levels of government, there is always a danger that corruption may again crop up. It seems to me that the supervisory commissions are an attempt to create a monitoring body at all levels of government in order to keep particular watch over the issue of government and Party officials. It is also stipulated that the supervisory commissioners can only be dismissed by local congresses, and not by local officials, giving the commissions a good deal of independence in carrying out their tasks.
While the proposal to eliminate term limits for the president and vice president has raised something of an outcry from Western media, the idea of term limits is really a very recent addition to the political repertoire even here in the West. Most government officials aren’t limited to a specific number of terms. Governors, senators, and congressional representatives are re-elected time and again. Term limits for the U.S. President only came after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected four times, and Roosevelt’s enemies never wanted an opposition party president to serve more than two terms, no matter how popular they were. But term limits remain the exception in Western political practice. I like to remind people in the U.S. that if we had had term limits in 1940, we may not have won the Second World War because Roosevelt could not have been President.
However, it came as a surprise that China, which had instituted term limits at the beginning of the reform and opening-up, would get rid of them. Moreover, the Western media went wild with their speculations as to why, attributing all kinds of devious motives to the measure. However, little notice was the fact that there are certainly no term limits for the general secretary of the Communist Party or for the chairman of the Central Military Commission, the two most powerful positions in China. In that sense, eliminating term limits for the president and vice president simply brings these posts into alignment with the other two.
With the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi has set into motion a process that will come to fruition in one or two generations. The perspective for transforming China into a fully modern and all-around socialist society by 2050 is also a long-term project. Both the Belt and Road and China’s rejuvenation will face different types of obstacles in their realization. While the Belt and Road has received great acclaim, especially among developing countries, there are also voices raised in opposition to it in the West, seeing it as China’s attempt to expand its “soft power.” Issues in the South China Sea and on trade have created a hardened strategic climate. In addition, the old way of geopolitical thinking still holds sway among many Western governments. The process of changing that paradigm will no doubt take time, patience, and wisdom, and will encounter problems along the way. It may well have been in consideration of these overriding factors that the decision was taken to remove the limits on the present leadership in preparation for a period that may require a greater sense of certainty and stability in the nation that this process will indeed be successful.
WILLIAM JONES is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Executive Intelligence Review magazine, and senior fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.