by Xu Lingui, Huang Xiaoxi, Meng Na, Li Zhihui
BEIJING. — The imposing Great Hall of the People, in the centre of Beijing, bears witness to China’s democratic politics. In 2013, inside its magnificent auditorium, Xi Jinping was elected president of the People’s Republic of China by nearly 3,000 deputies to the National People’s Congress (NPC).
This month when the congress convenes, deputies are expected to once again elect a president. Xi took over the presidency at a time when public concerns were common about corruption, the wealth gap and pollution. After being elected, Xi said, “In face of the mighty trend of the times and earnest expectations of the people for a better life, we cannot have the slightest complacency, or get the slightest bit slack at work.”
He expounded his vision of a Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation to be made true by and for the people. Five years on, China has made historic achievements. The Chinese are much more optimistic. Zheng Changzhong, a political science professor with Fudan University, said he would give the leadership a high approval rating.
“Not only did China achieve steady development, we have also created a model to advance human civilization,” Zheng said. “Behind these achievements, Xi Jinping played his vital leading role as a lingxiu (charismatic leader).”
Re-elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee last October, Xi said the Chinese nation, which since modern times had endured so much for so long, achieved a tremendous transformation: it has stood up, grown rich and is becoming strong.
COMING CLOSER TO CHINESE DREAM
There is no better way for the ordinary people to feel that strength than having a fuller pocket. Under Xi’s leadership, the Chinese economy kept growing steadily over the past five years. The year 2017 ended on a strong footing, with an annual 6.9 percent growth rate. The size of the economy expanded to more than 82 trillion yuan (13 trillion U.S. dollars) from 54 trillion yuan, retaining its place as the second largest in the world.
China’s per capita disposable income stood at 25,974 yuan last year, up 7.3 percent year-on-year in real terms. Residents saw their salaries rising steadily over the past five years.
Liu He, a prominent figure in Xi’s economic team, revealed at the 2018 World Economic Forum that China’s middle-income population had reached 400 million and was still growing. The poor are getting rich much faster. Experts expect the country’s 282-million-strong migrant workers to become a major force to make into the middle-income group. Zou Bin, 23, is one of the young migrants who have witnessed the change over the past five years.
Zou started out young, laying bricks at a construction site in Hunan Province upon leaving high school. He took his job seriously and worked hard.
In 2015, Zou was already top of his trade and represented China in a global vocational skills championship. He also earned himself a place in the Fortune 500 firm China Construction Group, receiving higher pay and leading a team of his own. This year, Zou even made it to the Great Hall of the People as an NPC deputy. To give hard-working people like Zou what they deserve, Xi took bold reforms to grow the economy and let wealth be distributed more fairly. These were not achieved by cranking up money printers but through a series of reforms.
Xi took the helm of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform. More than 1,500 reform measures have been introduced by the central authorities: supply-side structural reform to balance the economy, cutting government red tape and bureaucracy to encourage medium-and-small businesses, and the opening of free trade zones across the country. Over the past five years, 66 million urban jobs — a number comparable to the British population — were created.
To balance income, China cut perks and benefits for officials and limited state firm bosses’ pay. On the other hand, workers and professionals received higher salaries, while old-age and health care pensions improved. Xi made a solemn promise on poverty reduction, with an ambition to eliminate poverty in all poor counties and regions by 2020. And the country is getting there.
More than 68.5 million people had been lifted out of poverty over the past five years. That means 37,000 people escaped poverty every single day.
Xi vowed that “no one should be left behind.”
To fulfill this mission, Party and government officials took turns to stay in poor villages. They helped craft out individualized poverty reduction plans for every family and worked with them to achieve their goal. Jiang Fu’an was one such cadre. In 2015, Jiang, then a prefecture government auditor, arrived at a remote mountainous village in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. He walked door to door to visit each of the more than a hundred poor households.
With his help, dozens of poor children got education near their home. But in 2016, before finishing his stint, Jiang collapsed on the job and died. He was just 26 years old. The village was in grief. Jiang was remembered for sacrificing his life for a great cause. Liangshan, with its stubborn poverty, is a concern for Xi. Ahead of the 2018 Lunar New Year, he chose here for his inspection tour, visiting homes of the poor Yi ethnic villagers and pledging to “banish” the ghost of poverty.
“Our socialist system is to let people of all ethnic groups live a great life,” Xi said.
William Jones, Washington bureau chief of the Executive Intelligence Review news magazine, said ending poverty had long been regarded a major task for humanity, but until recently was seen as a “utopian dream.”
“With China, that dream is now becoming a reality,” he said.
Xi also waged a war on pollution. When he began the presidency, ecological degradation had become a major challenge facing humanity. Xi attended the Paris climate summit and a few months later China signed the Paris Agreement. Beijing, plagued by persistent smog, has been at the center of the struggle since the State Council launched a national air pollution control campaign in 2013. Last year, Beijingers shelved their face masks as the number of “severely polluted” days dropped to just 23, compared with 58 in 2013.
The municipal authorities said that for nine months in 2017, the PM 2.5 levels lingered around the lowest point in five years. Across the country, the average density of PM 2.5 in 338 cities was 43 micrograms per cubic meters, falling 6.5 percent year on year. Progress was also made in the protection of water and soil resources. China also began to set up national parks. At least 10 are in trial operation. A Giant Panda National Park, spanning three provinces, is three times the size of America’s Yellowstone National Park.
Environmental protection features prominently in Xi’s five-sphere integrated plan to promote coordinated economic, political, cultural, social and ecological advancement. The Party’s leadership over all work is vital to turning plans into action, observers said. Also “cleaner” is the public office as Xi declared war on another age-old human cancer: corruption.
In 2013, Xi described corruption as an existential threat — capable of bringing down the Party and the state. And he was serious about it.
The ensuing crackdown achieved spectacular success. Every corner of the system was examined, leading to punishment of more than 1.5 million officials in five years. A total of 440 centrally-administrated officials had been investigated since November 2012, according to figures in the work report of the 18th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC.
Sun Zhengcai, a former member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and former Party chief of Chongqing, was the latest senior official to be charged for graft. Other “tigers” brought down include Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou, Ling Jihua.
The campaign continued after the 19th CPC National Congress last October, with the Party’s disciplinary watchdog having announced investigation into nine other senior officials — including former State Councilor Yang Jing — in a little more than 100 days since then.
Corrupt low ranking officials — referred to as flies — were swatted too. The anti-corruption drive was immensely popular. A public opinion poll showed an approval rating of a whopping 93.9 percent. To install institutional checks, Xi initiated the supervisory reform. Supervision commissions were set up at the provincial, municipal and county levels just in four months after the 19th CPC National Congress. The reform aims to bring everyone in public office under oversight. Jiao Hongchang, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said the reform will help lock power in the “cage of institutions.” These moves denounce the hype of “power struggle” drummed up by people overseas attempting to smudge China’s anti-corruption campaign.
Two action films recently rose to stardom of China’s film industry. The plots of “Wolf Warrior 2” and “Operation Red Sea” were similar: Chinese soldiers fighting hard in fictional war-torn Africa or the Middle East to rescue Chinese citizens and their downtrodden local friends. However, the plots were not pure fiction. In 2015, as war flared in Yemen, the People’s Liberation Army Navy was ordered to repatriate Chinese citizens there. More than 600 Chinese nationals and 200 foreigners were evacuated just in days.
“Wolf Warrior 2” was the country’s highest-grossing film ever. It ended with a picture of the Chinese passport with a line: “To Chinese nationals, when you run into danger overseas, don’t give up! Behind you, there is a strong motherland!”
Across cinemas, audiences went wild, giving standing ovations, singing the national anthem, and many were even brought to tears. Such was the power of the film. Indeed, traveling with a Chinese passport is easier than ever before. More than 65 countries and regions have scrapped pre-travel visa requirements for Chinese passport holders.
Chinese travelers made more than 100 million overseas trips every year in recent years. Companies were eager to do business abroad as well. Last year, Chinese invested 120 billion U.S. dollars in 6,236 enterprises in 174 countries and regions, providing jobs and stable salaries to locals.
It is the fifth year since Xi proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to benefit the world through trade and infrastructure cooperation. In 2017, trade between China and Belt and Road countries reached 7.4 trillion yuan. More than 80 countries and organizations have signed deals with China under the initiative.
In early 2016, the world’s first China-initiated multilateral financial institute — the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — started operating. Its membership has since expanded to 84. A stronger China also has much to offer within its boundaries. The country’s foreign direct investment hit all-time high in 2017, reaching 878 billion yuan. More investment went to the tech sector both in services and manufacturing.
Trading hubs across the country — from Yiwu to Guangzhou — have seen more foreign businessmen than ever before. Some, with foreign nationals from over 100 countries, are being turned into an international marketplace. In the trading port of Shishi, southeastern Fujian Province, Yemeni businessman Marwan Aqlan Saeed runs a trading firm that sells Made-in-China garments, toys and suitcases to the Middle East. He has been living in China for many years and still cannot stop admiring the country’s progress.
“Five years may just be enough for us to build a road back home. In China, they can build an entire city from scratch. The speed is breathtaking,” said Saeed, who now calls Shishi home. He said he would like to expand into Africa, riding on the opportunities from the Belt and Road Initiative. “The opportunities are not restricted to Chinese firms. We all benefit.”
Xi’s idea of building a community of shared future for humanity has won worldwide recognition and plaudits. It was included in United Nations resolutions and inspired the theme of the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos. Beijing is seen playing a constructive role in thorny regional issues from the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula.
A general goal of China’ diplomacy is to foster a new type of international relations and to build a community with a shared future for humanity.
The goal can trace its roots in the ancient Chinese philosophy of “a just cause should be pursued for common good,” in the core values of a foreign policy of peace which China has been following for more than six decades, and in Xi’s pursuit of common well-being for the Chinese and people around the world.
Donald Trump, president of the United States, was the first foreign head-of-state to visit China after the 19th CPC National Congress. During their Beijing meeting, Xi said he and Trump had in-depth exchanges of views on bilateral ties and issues of common concern and reached broad consensus.
The visit took place just a few months after their Mar-a-Lago meet in the United States. The meet, which lasted seven hours in two days, set the tone for developing the bilateral ties.
Xi’s interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin have been frequent since the 18th CPC National Congress. The Sino-Russian relations have become a cornerstone for world peace. Xi told Putin during their meet in Da Nang, Vietnam that China and Russia set a model for a new type of international relations based on mutual respect, fairness and justice, win-win cooperation. Over the past five years, China hosted a series of global summits including the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, the G20 2016 Summit in Hangzhou, and the BRICS Summit in Xiamen.
Under Xi, people have seen a further rise in China’s international influence, ability to inspire, and power to shape; and China has made great new contributions to global peace and development. Zheng, the Fudan professor, said China achieved fundamental and across-the-board progress under Xi’s leadership in economic and social development, rule of law, state governance, Party building, cultural revitalization and environmental protection.
The philosophy underpinning the profound changes in China over the past five years was crystallized as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Zheng said that China as a socialist country had overcome many modernization challenges facing the developing world and overtaken Western developed countries in many fields, showing the strength of the socialist system.
“Xi has led China into a new era and a Chinese model to advance human civilization is in the making,” he said. “As China moves closer to the center stage of the world, this model will make a bigger contribution to humanity.”
LOOKING TO FUTURE
In a workshop attended by senior officials in January, Xi used a metaphor to describe the work for them.
“To meet the test of our time, we are like exam takers and the people will judge our performance,” he said.
The test is yet to finish. Xi laid out a two-step approach to future development: from 2020 to 2035, working to basically realize socialist modernization; from 2035 to the middle of the century, developing China into a great modern socialist country. There are, of course, challenges ahead. China’s per capita GDP has exceeded 8,000 U.S. dollars but lags far behind that of the United States, which is 57,000 U.S. dollars. Chinese industrial structure remains outdated, ability to innovate is not strong enough. Risks in the financial system have not been eliminated.
Xi defined the “principal contradiction” facing Chinese society as one between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life. In his New Year speech this year, Xi said “I am aware of the people’s biggest concerns, such as education, employment, income, social security, healthcare, old-age security, housing and the environment.”
He said the efforts at improving people’s well-being had not always been satisfactory and the success of yesterday was no guarantee of success forever. Xi kept reminding fellow Party and government cadres that the new era belongs to those who work hard and urged them to open a new chapter in the history of the Chinese people’s great struggle. Actions to follow Xi’s orders will be unveiled at the NPC session. Under Xi’s leadership, China will go from strength to strength. – Xinhua