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The Chinese Dream

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In his first speech after being anointed as president of his country last week, Xi Jinping’s message was clear: China will grow the way China knows best and the world needs to accept the Chinese way, as much as the Chinese themselves need to.


"We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. To realise the "Chinese dream," China must take the Chinese way, he said.


Xi’s formal anointment as China’s new supreme leader – he’s head of the Communist Party, the government as well as the military – comes at a crucial time in world history. In the past decade, as China has grown, the United States has seen it power wane; the global economic turbulence has impacted the West severely and the view that power is shifting to Asia has gained currency.


China is on the brink of becoming the world’s biggest economy and it will be an event that will unfold under Xi’s watch. China also faces the danger of a social and political implosion as growing aspirations and wider connections with the world is prompting people to question the supremacy of the Communist Party.


The Chinese dream, put forth by Xi, Xinhua said in a separate commentary, was “to build a moderately prosperous society and realise national rejuvenation by sustaining growth through deepening reforms and transforming growth pattern. It is a dream of national strength and prosperity, and happiness of the people.”

Stability is the key word here. And Xi, who will rule for a decade, has his task cut out.


While externally China has the financial muscle and the economic might to dictate its terms, internally, the man who replaced Hu Jintao, has a bigger problem to tackle at home: he has to ensure the supremacy of the Communist Party and savagely attack corruption that has prompted people to question its political power.


More importantly, Xi also has to ensure continued economic growth, generation of enough jobs and balancing of an export-led economy that has been hit hard by the global slowdown. At least three generations of Chinese have seen nothing but economic growth and their expectations from the government and the party that rules their country is huge.


In short, what Xi is saying is that all those who expect China’s political system to change will have to wait longer. He and his team are not going to rock the boat too much. Yes, they will clean up the party and the government of corruption so that the party’s power is not eroded, but will they opt for a different political system? No, they won’t. As long as China continues to grow and people can be kept happy, there is little need for big changes anyway. Any unreasonable turn could only bring about a collapse of a nation of 1.3 billion people. It’s best to keep the large ship moving in the direction it is moving than force it to make a quick U-turn.


Following cases involving high-profile party officials that rattled the Communist Party leadership last year, tackling corruption seems to be high on Xi’s list of things to do. Given that the government and the party are deeply intertwined, Xi’s concerns are valid. If political corruption begins to erode the party’s power, the government itself will be in danger in a country where the leadership is keen to “preserve the political integrity of Communists.”


Can one imagine China without its Communist Party? Some would want to, but the Chinese themselves can’t. And that’s the reason why Xi is pushing the “Chinese dream” – a sense of deep nationalism and patriotism that he hopes will bind the Chinese people together in facing external threats and internal instability that the Communist Party is best placed to battle.


"We are shouldering the heavy task bestowed by the history and going through the test of the times. We must uphold the principle that the Party was founded for the public good and that it exercises state power for the people, supervise our own conduct and run the Party with strict discipline, enhance the Party's art of leadership and governance, and strengthen the ability to resist corruption, prevent degeneration and ward off risks," Xi was quoted as saying.

The party, for Xi, is paramount. It should not only lead and unite the people, but also build socialism with Chinese characteristics. In there is a message for the Chinese people: The party is the only organisation that can look after you and ensure your well-being; it will continue to do so even it has to change. Believe in it, trust it and don’t give up on it because giving up would only mean trouble for you and the country.

At another level, Xi and his team are sending out realistic messages on the economy. There is now a realisation that the fast-paced, double-digit growth that powered China’s ascension as a global power is a thing of the past. A more manageable 7-7.5 per cent growth until 2020, backed by deeper reforms and a new growth paradigm – shift from investment to consumption -- will help build a moderately prosperous society, which will be good for both economic and political stability.

Xi has 10 years to change China. It seems he has time, but a decade in a nation’s life is but a small window. His will be, therefore, an exciting journey as China seeks its place in the sun in a world that is changing fast.

(The columnist is President, Public Affairs, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, and a former newspaper editor. He has a keen interest in matters involving China and Southeast Asia. Views expressed here are personal)