History will look back on the China-US Anchorage talks of March 2021 as a key moment in time when China spoke directly and with feeling to the US. The vigorous words of the lead Chinese negotiator, Yang Jiechi, marked a turning point in the balance of China-US relations. From that time on, the US has recognised the significance of the rise of China and its importance in world affairs.
The West had, prior to Anchorage, assumed that China would follow the example of the USSR and moderate its commitment to the principles of Marx and Lenin. In their view, the rise of China’s middle class and its embrace of Chinese billionaires would lead, in time, to the emergence of a Western democratic society and the withering away of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leading role of the Communist Party of China. Certainly the West anticipated that the admission of China to the World Trade Organisation would accelerate the end of China’s adherence to the politically dominated policies of Mao Tsetung and Deng Hsiaoping.
The West has miscalculated. China’s analysis on the decline and fall of the USSR focused on two main conclusions;- the first was to re-emphasise the leading role of the Party – in contrast to Gorbachev who in Russia surrendered political power to the Oligarchs’. In China, the Party remains firmly in control as China challenges the USA to become the leading economic power in the world. The second key conclusion – again in clear contrast to the USSR economic model – was to press ahead with the decentralisation of the Chinese economy. Unlike the Soviet model which required approval from Moscow for all economic policies and thereby eliminated enterprise, risk and initiative at the local level, the Chinese model encouraged the Provinces and Special Economic Zones to be bold, imaginative and ambitious.
While the West has been sleeping, Beijing has pursued widely publicised plans for economic and infrastructure development that the West has simply disregarded or ignored. China’s plans and future programmes are widely trailed in Party documents that Washington and London consistently dismissed as mere political jargon. They missed the point. Party documents emanating from Party Plenums and Congresses are studied and discussed in detail in China but overlooked in Chatham House and the Pentagon. The West was guilty of mechanical thinking – “we saw how things went wrong in the USSR and China will go the same way.”
China is quite different and only now is the West – and Japan and Australia – beginning to grasp the significance of the great experiment now underway in the Far East. Even now China’s opponents try to dismiss China’s success in removing 1bn people from poverty by alleging that China’s people are oppressed, subjugated and exploited. One figure is sufficient to dismiss the argument – 137m. This is the number of Chinese tourists who left China to visit foreign countries in 2020 – the last year before Covid. More than double the population of the UK spread themselves wide across the globe – you will see many in airport lounges awaiting their flight to their next tourist destination. And they all return home – because the Western media would be quick to report stories of Chinese tourists clamouring for asylum.
Don’t misunderstand me. Life is not soft in China. The per capita income is only approx. $12.000 per annum – quite a way below the equivalent figure for developed countries. But Chinese compare their life today with their life during the Cultural Revolution 1966-1976 and they can see, feel and touch the change. The West persists in portraying the average Chinese worker as a victim of the present system of Government. In fact the Chinese see themselves as the beneficiaries. Now they can travel the length and breadth of the country by road, rail or plane to visit families and enjoy holidays. And 137m Chinese nationals left China to travel abroad and returned home.
My next contribution will focus on Taiwan. The UK former Prime Minister, Liz Truss, will be visiting Taipei. Comparisons with the Isle of Wight come into view. Imagine that Winston Churchill fled London after his defeat in the 1945 General Election and took up residence in Shanklin and persuaded the rest of the world that he, Churchill, and not Clement Attlee was the Prime Minister of the UK.