Understanding China III: Vision
January 30 2009 by Robert Lawrence Kuhn
America is enmeshed in the most debilitating worldwide financial crisis since the Great Depression and, like it or not, to the degree it will be ameliorated,
Speaking to foreign journalists at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, President Hu summarized his vision: “The current dream of the Chinese people is to accelerate building a modern country, realize the great renaissance of the Chinese nation and, with the peoples of the world, seek peaceful progress, amicable co-existence and harmonious development.” At the same time, he added, “as
To understand the thinking of
Though political freedoms remain restricted, personal freedoms are arguably the most expansive in Chinese history.
Decades ago, when Chinese leaders ruled by fiat, they could solve problems peremptorily, whether by commanding the centralized economy, instituting political mass movements or appealing to emotional (even xenophobic) nationalism. But past patterns of state behavior are no longer viable. Since
President Hu acknowledged that: “The problems and contradictions
President Hu is now faced with the natural consequences of the country’s prodigious economic transformation, which, along with
President Hu’s overarching vision is summarized by three slogans domestically—“Harmonious Society,” “Scientific Perspective on Development” and “Putting People First”—and by two slogans internationally—“Peaceful Development” and “Harmonious World.”
Harmonious Society is the goal, stressing social and political reform and seeking fairness and equity (if not equality) across
Scientific Perspective on Development is the strategy for achieving the goal; it calls for integrated sets of solutions to arrays of economic, social, political and cultural problems— though always keeping economic development as the primary driver—and it seeks the rectification of economic imbalances and the requirements of sustainable development and environmental protection.
Putting People First is the reason for setting the goal, the underlying motivation that explains why the Harmonious Society is worthy of being
Peaceful Development conveys that no matter how strong
Harmonious World expresses the long-standing Chinese view that the world is “multi-polar,” its diversity should be appreciated and the rights of nations to choose their own systems without threat of intervention by others is sacrosanct.
President Hu’s description of a Harmonious Society is one that “should feature democracy, the rule of law, equity, justice, sincerity, amity and vitality.” It “will give full scope to people’s talent and creativity, enable all the people to share the wealth brought by reform and development, and forge an ever-closer bond between the people and government.”
The political philosophy of
Perhaps the primary policy-directing slogan is President Hu’s “Scientific Perspective on Development,” which optimizes multiple social, political and environmental objectives while maintaining economic growth as the primary objective. When one speaks to high officials, particularly in the provinces, it is abundantly clear that they take these slogans seriously. These local leaders know their careers will depend on how well they implement these policies (not just talk about them). For example, Scientific Perspective on Development sets sustainable development as a critical objective and thus marks the evaluation of senior administrators based on measures of efficiency, such as increasing provincial gross domestic product (
What’s added at this new stage of China’s development are a host of other requirements for constructing a Harmonious Society, including (but not limited to): rebalancing wealth and standards of living among sectors and classes (i.e., rural vs. urban); an environment that minimizes pollution and allows people clean air to breathe and water to drink; access to quality medical care and old-age protections; human rights, expressed by the complete range of personal and social freedoms, such as freedom of personal speech (but not the complete range of political freedoms, such as freedom of public speech or freedom of assembly); the rule of law; democratic participation in the process of governance (through increasing transparency but not multiple parties); and equality for all citizens, rural and urban, in the human experience, such as in receiving quality education and access to cultural activities (if not yet in the possession of material things).
Scientific Perspective on Development is, in essence, an optimizing mechanism that recognizes multiple objectives simultaneously and seeks to generate the highest aggregate benefit of all objectives combined, “weighing,” as it were, all of them together at the same time. The result, if done properly, yields the greatest benefit of all objectives collectively, but is unlikely to yield the greatest benefit of any single objective individually.
I am hopeful of China’s ultimate success, provided no exogenous world events are disruptive, but no one should underestimate the complexity and difficulty of this next large leap in China’s national transformation, moving from pure economic development to the structuring of a broad-based harmonious society.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and public intellectual, is senior advisor to Citigroup and author of the forthcoming The Inside Story of 30 Years of Reform: How China’s Leaders Think and What This Means for the Future. His public television series, Closer To Truth, presents the meaning and implications of frontier science— www.closertotruth.com.