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Influence of 40 years of Reform and Opening Up

Dec 03, 2018
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

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China’s reform and opening up in the past four decades has been marked by remarkable success that has captured the imagination of the world. A fair and level-headed appraisal of China’s rising global influence is called for, in order to avoid miscalculation of any kind.

First and foremost, China pursues reform and opening up primarily to grow its economy and prosper its 1.3 billion people. Since the founding of the PRC, generations of Chinese people worked and fought relentlessly to deliver China from colonial occupation and oppression, and finally embarked on a path of development that suits China’s reality. The momentous achievement during the course of reform and opening up is a testament to the resolve and hard work of China’s leadership and the Chinese people, and has been lauded by countries and peoples around the world.

Back in 1984, Deng Xiaoping said that China was at once a big country and a small country, as it was big in population and landmass, but it was small as an economy, as it was still a poor developing country. 40 years into the reform and opening up, a sea change has swept across China. But it is still an ongoing process. Though China is now the world’s second largest economy, with an economic aggregate 60% that of the US, we have to bear in mind it has a population four times bigger. That means in per capita terms, China’s GDP only ranks the 70th in 2018, and China still has a long way to go before it realizes the goal of lifting the remaining poverty-struck people out of hardship by 2020.

The Chinese are a humble and stoic people, who would naturally shun triumphalism in favor of an unswerving focus on the tasks ahead. But in the meanwhile, some people are busy peddling the “China threat” theory, claiming that China is a mature developed country who seeks to replace the US as the dominant power in the world.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. China is committed to national rejuvenation and making contributions to mankind to the best of its ability, and it champions peaceful and common development and win-win cooperation with countries around the world. It is China who put forth the famed “five principles of peaceful coexistence”, and it remains the only nuclear power who abides by the non-first-use principle. It is China who upholds the non-alliance principle, in an outright rejection of the cold war mentality, and pursues strategic partnership with over 80 countries in the world, and calls for a new type of major power relationship between China and the US underpinned by non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. China upholds justice in international relations based on equality and mutual trust, inclusive development and win-win cooperation, which also includes China’s Belt & Road initiative, which aims to build a community of shared future for mankind through extensive consultation, joint development, and shared benefits.

If anything, China’s reform and opening up has a positive impact on the world. First, China’s rise elevates the standing of developing countries, hence promoting a more equal global distribution of power. Second, though China does not seek to rebuke the US as the leading world power, it strives for sovereign equality for all countries in the world, big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak. Third, China shows the world an alternative development model that respects all civilizations, encourages countries to draw on each other’s strengths, and embark on a path that reflects the will of its people.

China practices what it preaches. President Xi Jinping announced that China follows a "five-no" approach in its relations with Africa: no interference in African countries' pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries' internal affairs; no imposition of China's will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa. If the same approach could be replicated by major powers, our world would be a much better place.

There are comparisons between China-US relations and Soviet-US relations, mainly to illustrate the point that China and the US represent two poles in the world today. This is a fallacy.

These two pairs of relations are different in more ways than one. First, China’s overall national strength and influence is not on par with the juggernaut that sought parity with the US. Second, China pursues a non-alliance policy, and it is part of no alliance based military or political organization akin to the Warsaw Treaty. Third, China is committed to peaceful development and peaceful coexistence, China has not, and never will do anything like the 1968 invasion of Czech or 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Fourth, China treats differences in ideologies rationally. The Soviet Union made a point of only engaging with worker-led parties in Communist countries, and used it as a tool for expansion of influence, but the CPC stands ready to develop relations with all political parties and political organizations independently, in line with the principle of equality, mutual respect, and non-interference. The CPC’s long time and regular engagements with both the GOP and the Democratic Party is a good case in point.

As President Xi said to President Trump, there are a thousand reasons to make China-US relations work, but not a single one to harm it. This is well-founded and supported by history and reality. For that to happen, we need political courage and wisdom in our leaders, better understanding between our people, and open minded media.

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