Profile: With popular mandate, Xi Jinping spearheads new drive to modernize China (II)
Xi is not just for the people but of them. During one visit to a Beijing hutong, the capital’s distinctive residential lanes, Xi rolled up his sleeves to make dumplings with one family, and the conversation flowed. At the start of the year, Xi was unanimously voted in as a deputy to the 14th NPC through a competitive election in Jiangsu.
Xi is not just for the people but of them.
When he labored alongside rural farmers, he learned to grit his teeth while hauling manure and ignored the constant hunger pangs as he worked the land. These formative years taught him the true value of these often overlooked members of society, leaving him with a natural ability to connect and listen to ordinary people to help resolve their problems.
He may have left the fields decades ago, but even as general secretary, he has not forgotten those that toil there nor those that man the country’s backbone industries, from workshops to markets. He has remained committed to maintaining a public-facing presence through personal visits or correspondence.
During one visit to a Beijing hutong, the capital’s distinctive residential lanes, Xi rolled up his sleeves to make dumplings with one family, and the conversation flowed. Before he left, Xi confided that he draws strength from such interactions.
In spite of his busy schedule, Xi has consistently prioritized people’s happiness as essential. On more than one occasion, he said, “Development should benefit all individuals more equitably and comprehensively, and continually promote the all-round development of people.”
At the start of the year, Xi was unanimously voted in as a deputy to the 14th NPC through a competitive election in Jiangsu. He was just one of over 2,900 deputies elected nationwide, representing the country’s dynamic socio-economic diversity, from workers to farmers, technical professionals to migrant workers.
On March 5, Xi joined his fellow deputies from the Jiangsu Province delegation at the NPC session to deliberate the government work report and discuss state affairs.
The Jiangsu deliberation was not the only meeting Xi attended at this year’s “two sessions,” nor was it the only time he has interacted with lawmakers and political advisors.
From 2013 to 2022, Xi attended 53 deliberations and discussion sessions, speaking directly to about 400 lawmakers and political advisors. From asking about the marriage rate of an underprivileged central Chinese village to pressing for details of the winter tourism industry in the northeastern province of Jilin, his questions are always poignant and relevant.
People familiar with Chinese politics view such interactions as a manifestation of Chinese democracy. Accordingly, it is no surprise that Xi has gained a reputation for supporting public empowerment in their own affairs and encouraging their participation in political affairs.
“China is a big country. It is only natural for different people to have different concerns or views on the same issue. What matters is that we reach consensus through communication and consultation,” Xi said in his New Year Address 2023.
In June 2022, China completed the election for the county and township-level people’s congresses. The election involved 1.064 billion voters. It was one of the world’s largest grassroots democratic elections.
The people’s congress is the backbone of China’s political system, and NPC deputies are responsible for a wide range of duties, including formulating laws, supervising the government and judicial organs, and electing national leaders.
Each of the country’s 55 ethnic minorities is represented in the national legislature. Dong Caiyun is a member of the Bao’an ethnic group, which has a population of only about 20,000.
At the “two sessions” in 2019, she proposed a new expressway that would boost the development of her county in Gansu Province, northwest China. Other deputies lauded her proposal, and Xi, who was present at the meeting, responded by asking the relevant departments to study the proposal.
After rounds of research and feasibility studies, construction began. It is due for completion this year.
“This road represents the aspirations of the people in my hometown for a modern life,” said Dong.
Quan Taiqi, who works at a bus station in Lianyungang, Jiangsu, has just completed her second term as a deputy to the national legislature. She voted for Xi to be the Chinese president five years ago.
“I endorsed him [as president] because I believe he is a trustworthy leader who truly cares for the people,” she said.
She recalled that Xi was present during a deliberation years ago when she raised an issue about ticket-free child passengers on buses, who might cause over-sale of tickets. Xi immediately spoke up, taking Quan by surprise, as she thought the topic was too specific and menial for a state leader. Xi not only spoke up, but also asked about the practice on trains for reference. After the meeting, a review of the issue quickly began, culminating in a practical plan.
“When Xi spoke to us grassroots deputies, he was not condescending. He quizzed us, ‘Is it like this?’ ‘Is this good or not?'” Quan recalled.
During the “two sessions” in 2021, Quan met Xi again. She went up to him and brought up their previous interaction. However, the corridor was crowded, but as he left, Xi said, “Let’s talk about it later.” Quan thought that would be the end of their conversation, but around 11 p.m. that night, she received a call from Xi’s team, asking if she had any suggestions or problems to raise.
Xi believes that democracy is a requirement for modern countries, but it must be in line with national conditions, and Chinese democracy should by no means be the same as Western-style democracy. He describes Chinese democracy as a “whole-process people’s democracy,” which covers all aspects of the democratic process and all sectors of society.
“The purpose of democracy is to address the issues that require resolution by the people,” he said.
Challenges to the system are not tolerated.
According to one witness, during a plenary session of the anti-corruption agency in 2014, Xi discussed at length a vote-buying case in the election of local lawmakers in Hunan. Visibly angered, Xi fired a barrage of questions: Where have the Party members gone? Where are their notions of Party discipline and law? Where is their conscience?
Afterward, Xi referred to this case on at least two other occasions. Eventually, 467 people were held accountable.
The Chinese practice of modernization has often been viewed by observers as difficult, especially given China’s massive scale — unprecedented since the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Xi has stated that even feeding over 1.4 billion people is a significant challenge. Issues such as employment, distribution, education, healthcare, housing, elderly care, and childcare should not be underestimated, especially given the size of the population.
According to Xi, advancing Chinese modernization requires a new journey of law-based governance. The issue of the rule of law versus the rule of man is a fundamental question and major issue that all countries must address in the process of modernization, Xi said.
In a signed article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the current Constitution’s promulgation and implementation, Xi emphasized the Constitution’s role in constructing a modern socialist country and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
On Monday, Xi and other NPC deputies voted to amend the Legislation Law, adding content to promote the implementation of the Constitution. In 2018, Xi was the first Chinese president to pledge allegiance to the Constitution. Last week, after being elected, Xi took the oath again, followed by members of his governance team.
CHAMPIONING PEACE, DEVELOPMENT
In the second half of last year, Xi returned to “offline” diplomatic activities after the “cloud diplomacy” that characterized the two and a half years of the pandemic.
Over the past four months alone, Xi attended the G20 Summit in Bali, the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok, and the first China-Arab States Summit and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh.
On the sidelines of the multilateral events, Xi also held bilateral meetings with leaders from dozens of countries, including France, the Netherlands, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq.
At home, Xi hosted many foreign leaders and dignitaries in Beijing after the Party congress. The guests included leaders from Vietnam, Pakistan, Tanzania, Germany, Cuba, Mongolia, Laos, Russia, the Philippines, Iran, and Belarus. For some, this marked their first visit to China, while others were “old friends.”
Over the past decade, Xi has clearly conveyed that China will create new opportunities through development and add more stability and certainty to such a volatile world.
“As it develops, China will make greater contributions to the common prosperity of the world,” Xi said.
During his meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Riyadh in December, Xi mentioned the FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar, saying that the event injected fresh and positive energy into today’s uncertain world. Tamim thanked China for its contributions to the World Cup, noting that Chinese companies built the main stadium, and the arrival of two pandas added to the festive atmosphere of the tournament.
The stadium Tamim mentioned is Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, which hosted the final game of the World Cup between Argentina and France. It is regarded by many as an iconic achievement of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The BRI, proposed by Xi in 2013, also helped Indonesia build its first high-speed railway. After the G20 Summit in Bali, Xi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo watched the operational trial of the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway through a video link. The railway, jointly built by the two countries, is expected to facilitate the move of goods and people and boost local incomes.
To date, 151 countries and 32 international organizations have signed documents under the Belt and Road framework, benefiting participating countries.
The Port of Piraeus of Greece has developed into one of the fastest-growing container ports in the world since a Chinese company joined its operation.
Another important proposal Xi raised in 2013 was the community with a shared future for humanity. It has been enshrined in both the Party and the country’s constitutions and incorporated into important documents of the United Nations and other international organizations or multilateral mechanisms.
Xi told the G20 summit that all countries must embrace the vision of a community with a shared future for humanity and advocate peace, development, and win-win cooperation.
“All countries should replace division with unity, confrontation with cooperation, and exclusion with inclusiveness,” Xi said in the speech.
He also solemnly promised the world, “No matter what stage of development it reaches, China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansionism.”
He believes that as long as major countries maintain communication and treat each other sincerely, the “Thucydides trap” can be avoided.
China has shown the world that a country can develop and progress without engaging in expansionism, and can help other countries develop simultaneously, said Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a signed article published before he visited China in February.
In response to Xi’s initiative, Saudi Arabia and Iran delegations held talks earlier this month in Beijing. The two countries have reached an agreement to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies and missions within two months.
One of Xi’s most high-profile diplomatic meetings in the past months was his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden since the latter assumed the presidency. During the over-three-hour talk in Bali on Nov. 14, Xi told Biden that China-U.S. relations should not be a zero-sum game where one side out-competes or thrives at the expense of the other, and the successes of China and the United States are opportunities, not challenges, for each other.
“China does not seek to change the existing international order or interfere in the internal affairs of the United States and has no intention to challenge or displace the United States,” Xi said.
Biden said the United States respects China’s system and does not seek to change it. The United States does not seek a new Cold War and does not seek to revitalize alliances against China, he said. Biden also said that the United States does not support “Taiwan independence,” does not support “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan,” and has no intention to engage in conflict with China.
In his meetings with European leaders, Xi stressed that regarding the Ukraine crisis, China supports ceasefire, cessation of the conflict, and peace talks.
In February, China issued a 12-point peace plan on the Ukraine crisis, stating that all countries’ sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity must be effectively upheld, and universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, must be strictly observed. “Nuclear weapons must not be used, and nuclear wars must not be fought,” said the policy paper.
Xi is a leader who provides vision and plans for promoting the solution of major problems facing humanity, said Keith Bennett, a long-term China specialist and vice chair of Britain’s 48 Group Club.
PIONEERING HUMAN ADVANCEMENT
When Xi delivered his 2023 New Year Address, people noticed the tomes on the bookshelf behind him in his office, among them, A General History of China, Complete Poems of the Tang Dynasty, Global History, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Having called reading his favorite hobby, Xi is known to draw wisdom from the written word to govern the country.
After the Party congress, Xi headed to Henan Province, central China, and visited the Yinxu Ruins. The 3,300-year-old site was the capital of the late Shang (Yin) Dynasty, the first ruins confirmed from this period. Walking slowly into the Yinxu Museum, Xi thoughtfully took in the exhibits, spanning bronze ware, jade ware, oracle bone inscriptions, and other relics.
“I have wanted to visit here for so long,” Xi said. “I come here thirsty for a deeper understanding of Chinese civilization so that we can make the past serve the present and draw inspirations for better building modern Chinese civilization.”
With a long and continuous history, Chinese civilization shaped our great nation, and this nation will continue to be great, Xi added, urging efforts to promote traditional culture, which according to the leader, is the “root” of the Party’s new theories.
Xi proposed combining the basic principles of Marxism with traditional culture, believing that only when a country’s modernization is rooted in the fertile soil of its history and culture can it flourish and endure.
In 2014, Xi said he was reluctant to see Chinese classic poems and essays removed from the textbooks when visiting Beijing Normal University. In November 2013, he visited Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and the following year, he addressed an international commemoration of the ancient Chinese philosopher. In 2021, when he visited a park dedicated to Zhu Xi in east China’s Fujian Province, Xi stopped for a long time in front of the words of the renowned Chinese Confucian philosopher in the 12th century. Zhu famously said that a nation is based on its people, and society is also established for the benefit of its people. Xi, in an earlier group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, had quoted Zhu’s words, stressing that no political consideration is more important than the people.
Xi has repeatedly lamented the humiliation and defeat suffered by the Chinese nation, despite its place at the forefront of the world over the past 5,000 years.
In particular, he felt that China’s modernization had achieved significant results “at great cost and with great hardships.” He stressed China, therefore, should blaze its own trail toward modernization. Experts believe that Chinese modernization, which offers a new form of human advancement, dispels the myth that “modernization is equal to Westernization.” Xi said efforts must be made to achieve higher efficiency than capitalism while maintaining fairness in society more effectively.
According to Zheng Yongnian, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen), Chinese modernization is a way to deal with the problems all countries face. Above all, the source of its vitality is mainly sustainable economic development, he said.
British scholar Martin Jacques believes that if China can successfully address inequality in the way it has conquered absolute poverty, such fairer and more inclusive modernity will have an enormous global impact.
Xi is proud and confident of the achievements and prospects of the modernization drive. He once said, “China has been able to look the world in the eye,” referring to the country’s rise in strength. This, however, does not mean the pursuit of unilateral dominance, still less a clash of civilizations. He cited the famous “sleeping lion” metaphor for China and noted, “Today, the lion has woken up. But it is peaceful, pleasant, and civilized.”
He has underscored that China will not follow in the footsteps of certain countries that achieved modernization through war, colonization and plunder, and that China upholds peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit, which is determined by the Chinese system and culture.
A phrase containing “promote humanity’s shared values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom” was written into the Party Constitution last year.
Xi also modestly proposed that socialism in the primary stage must conscientiously study and draw on the beneficial achievements of civilization created by capitalism. “The cause of promoting Chinese modernization, which is an unprecedented and pioneering venture, will inevitably encounter all kinds of risks, challenges, difficulties, and even dangerous storms, some of which we can foresee and others we cannot,” Xi said. “Let us harness our indomitable fighting spirit to open new horizons for our cause.”
“Those who work will succeed, and those who walk will arrive at their destination. A person of action will leave a good name in history,” he said. Enditem
(by Xinhua writers Wang Jinye, Meng Na, Li Zhihui, Xu Lingui, Gui Tao, Zhang Bowen, Yao Yulin)
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