There has been a lot of noise being made recently about the constitutional changes in China which have allowed Xi Jinping to extend his grip on power beyond 2022 as well as the new emphasis on Xi Jinping Thought which to many sounds like a disturbing echo of Mao’s Little Red Book. Many commentators are concerned about what they see as the twin threats of a looming new repressive order within China coupled with aggressive expansionist policies internationally (both economic and military.)
What is seldom discussed in the media is what lies behind the simple phrase ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ and whether this might be a force for good or ill. History will, I suppose be the judge, but it is worth taking a moment to look at some of the key principles of this approach:
- People orientation: The key emphasis of Xi Jinping’s thinking is that the economic policies pursued by the state should be designed to meet the needs of the whole Chinese population and their aspiration for a better life. These policies should focus on the whole life cycle of a citizen from cradle to grave. Only policies that foster progress for the majority should be undertaken.
- Qualitative Changes: The country should focus on the development of quality goods and services rather than quantity as was the case in the earlier cycles of Chinese economic development. To this end the State will actively promote investment in high growth, high quality sectors at the expense of older quantity-oriented areas of production. It is recognised that this approach will result in potentially slower rates of GDP growth than have been seen in the past and that there may be some major dislocations within the labour market – but these are prices it is deemed worth paying in the long-run.
- The New Industrial Revolution: China, by and large, missed out on the first two industrial revolutions (steam and electricity) but it has no intention on missing out on the third industrial revolution centred around big data, AI and renewables. In fact, China leads the way in many of these areas – none more so than in the development of renewable energy. The State is very actively orchestrating massive developments in multiple sources of renewable energy which serves the twin-purpose of reducing reliance on imported carbon-based fuels and addressing China’s crippling levels of air pollution.
Xi Jinping’s policies are unashamedly interventionist. The Communist Party sees it’s role as that of shaping the future and controlling the impacts of market forces. This contrasts markedly with the approach of the current White House in the States which aligns itself to a much freer market approach where the influence of the State is increasingly being rolled back.
A new global cultural battle is being played out where the egalitarian, individualism of the West produces an ideological allegiance to the free market and the hierarchical, group-orientated nature of the Confucian East pushes policies towards a centrist, people-oriented future.
We do indeed live in interesting times.