Learning from an awakened dragon
July 2021 marks the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Once the most impoverished in the world, China, governed by the 95-million-strong Communist Party, is the largest populated nation at 1.4 billion people, and is now an enviable global economic power. It has the world’s largest middle class population, comprising two-thirds of the country.
China is an Asian neighbor that has traded with our islands since precolonial times. What can we Filipinos learn from this awakened dragon that has had 5,000 years of statecraft and civilization, having invented many technologies such as paper-making, the compass, gunpowder, printing, silk, among others? Ancient and modern China have weathered civil wars, famines, and defeat in wars against foreign powers that forced the sale of opium to the country, leading to the annexation of some of its parts. Rising from a century of colonial humiliations, the CPC has led China’s liberation from feudal poverty to its colossal industrial growth today.
Probably the first great lesson we can learn from China is its poverty eradication program, which, according to the IMF-WB and the UNDP, is “the most successful anti- poverty program in the world.” It has uplifted more than 800 million people to middle-class status in just a matter of four decades.
The second great lesson we can learn from this neighbor is how, in a matter of four decades, it achieved economic revolution with its remarkable industrialization program, transforming a backward agricultural economy into a high-tech one that has overtaken most Western countries. Its “Four Modernizations” program in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense is a model that many less developed countries can emulate.
The third lesson we can learn from China is how it evolved its own strategies to keep abreast with the times, and creatively adjusted to the changing national and international situation to build a strong nation firmly guided by “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” In 2018, during the bicentennial year of the birth of Karl Marx, China hosted the 2nd World Congress on Marxism in Beijing, where its keynote speaker, President Xi Jinping, head of the largest communist party in the world, hailed Karl Marx as “the greatest thinker of modern times” and called on all socialists in the world “to continuously improve the ability to use Marxism to analyze and solve practical problems in a creative way.”
In its foreign policy, China is the strongest and most consistent supporter of Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, and the Palestinian cause. It has established an alternative Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to remove the monopoly of capitalist countries in using development aid to control and steer development planning in other countries toward the neoliberal paradigm. Its Belt and Road Initiative and New Silk Road have been its soft power response to the militarized orientation of the US-led NATO version of the Quad (the US, Japan, Australia, and India) in Asia. It has consistently practiced a “peaceful rise” philosophy in engaging the capitalist West, learning from and using the very tools of capitalism to create surplus value in a centrally-planned economy.
The US’ Cold War containment strategy of encircling China with 50 overseas military bases has been revived. This has led to China’s paranoia and increasingly militarized strategy in the South China Sea (SCS) to protect its southern and eastern coastlines and cities. China today has its own version of America’s Monroe Doctrine for the SCS, militarizing what used to be part of the “American lake” with its unilateral “nine-dash line” that claims almost 90 percent of the SCS. This has alarmingly impeded freedom of navigation in international waters and impinged on the traditional fishing grounds and the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
China faces the challenge of practicing rules-based diplomacy under terms it itself has committed to, and avoiding the mistakes of previous big powers that overextended themselves through an unproductive arms race and foreign military intervention. As the CPC celebrates its centennial year, the world can only learn from China’s achievements and mistakes in transforming an impoverished nation into what has become the leading global economic power.
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Roland G. Simbulan is vice chair of the board of directors of the Center for People’s Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg) and is author of several books on Philippine foreign policy and Philippine-US relations.
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