Book Review: Xi Jinping, 2020. The Governance of China III (English Version).

Beijing: Foreign Languages Press

Sreemati Chakrabarti, Vice-chairperson and Honorary Fellow, ICS

Writings and speeches of leaders of countries around the world and mainly in socialist states are normally called Selected Works. President Xi Jinping’s speeches have been  published with a different kind of name ‘The Governance of China’.  Perhaps someday a detailed explanation may come from the publishers and other political analysts about this title, however I will not make any guess why it is so.  This volume comprises mainly of writings and speeches delivered by the Chinese President who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, between October 2017 to January 2020.Very much like the writings and speeches of his predecessors Xi’s style is simple and intelligible to the ordinary person.

 To understand contemporary China such a volume can be a very important primary source material for research as well as to understand the priorities in terms of policies of the ruling dispensation. The volume’s first section is Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th Party Congress on 18 October, 2017. Many scholars and analysts have already commented about this speech which runs into many pages and covers a wide range of subjects which President Xi considers significant for both the Chinese nation as well as the Chinese Communist Party. All through this Report President Xi refers to “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. Whereas ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ as a guiding  principle was upheld since the 1980s by Deng Xiaoping and the communist party of that period but adding the words ‘new era’ shows that Xi jinping wishes to recreate and rejuvenate some old policies taking into account the new and emerging realities of the Chinese social, political, economic, cultural and environmental situation. The long speech which runs into 79 pages in its English translation while covering a whole range of issues from innovations to culture to the armed forces to national reunification and so forth, seems to give a lot of stress on the role and significance of the Party. While it is natural that at the party congress which meets only once in five years the supreme leader will emphasize on party work to inspire and energise the junior most party worker yet the extent and intensity of Xi Jinping’s continuous stress on the party is almost unparalleled in the history of communism. The speech gives due importance to many other aspects of the social, economic and political life of people in the PRC but his call to the youth, I thought, was, remarkable. Towards the end of the speech, he says: “A nation will prosper only when its young people thrive; a country will be full of hope and have a great tomorrow only when its younger generations have ideals, ability, and a strong sense of responsibility. The Chinese dream is about the past, the present, and the future. It is the dream of our generation, but even more so a dream of the younger generation” (p.75).

A young Indian political scientist, Dr. Bhim Subba, who studies politics in China while summing up the Report has made the following comment, “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ also called as Xi Jinping Thought has been enshrined into the party doctrine/constitution as a guiding ideology. This is a part of a continuum which indicates that Xi like his predecessors wants his ideological innovation to be added to the party charter but after his name. The Report stressed on the party leadership to guide towards socialist modernization and the national rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Further, the Report also stressed on the Chinese people and the Party not to forget the ‘original mission’ (bu wang chuxin) of the Chinese communists through the alertness of the cadres, continuing by deepening reforms (rule of law) and strict governance (anti-corruption and rectification continues to make waves until this day). However, the most important pronouncement was the mentioning of the Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR) more than five times. This has become the bed-rock of Xi’s grand strategy of economic and foreign relations since 2013 and more vigorously post-19th party congress in 2017.”

Other noticeable points that Xi Jinping makes in his speech include supporting a new generation of entrepreneurs and giving a boost to the private sector (p.315). For readers who may be interested in knowing President Xi’s ideas on diplomacy and foreign policy it is necessary to point out that here also he focusses on strengthening the CPC’s leadership role (pp.489-499). The volume includes Xi’s speeches at all major international events like the SCO, BRICS Business Forum, APEC CEO Summit, G20 as well as the Asian Civilizations Dialogue, (which this reviewer had the opportunity to attend), among others.

In my opinion, however, the most significant, relevant and with far-reaching consequences are the Chinese President’s views and policies on ecology and environment. Speeches  and writings on these issues are in the section called ‘Harmony between Humanity and Nature’.  Speaking at the National Conference on Eco-environmental Protection in May 2018, he states at the beginning of his speech that the major challenge facing Chinese society today “is the gap between the unbalanced and inadequate development and the ever-growing expectation of the people for a better life”. Since people of the country and their support are top priority it is absolutely necessary to promote environmental protection, preserve the ecosystems and provide more quality eco-products (p.417) When it comes to economic development it is important to adhere to the principle of giving priority to “conservation, protection and the restoration of nature. We should not think of taking from nature without giving back, developing without protecting, and consuming without restoring” (p419). One cannot overstress the significance of the above-mentioned statement. Development and progress without adequate precautions to keep the environment healthy is already haunting mankind. At this stage if corrective measures are not taken the future of humanity will be jeopardized. In this speech the President urges and pleads to protect the environment as one protects one’s eyes and life. Insisting that environmental quality cannot be allowed to drop further, it should only improve, he warns that local Party and government functionaries will be held directly accountable if in their areas of work ecosystems are badly damaged and there is deterioration in the quality of the environment (p.420). In this speech he mentions that “each and every individual is a protector, builder and beneficiary and so  should not be a bystander, an outsider or a critic” (p.421). Towards the end he makes a commitment that China will be heavily involved in global environmental governance and actively take part in the transformation to help form global solutions to eco-environmental protection and to sustainable development. (p.423). 

In the same speech President Xi refers to the ever-important issue of air and water pollution. Stating that air pollution is top priority he reminds the audience that China has made a promise to the international community that before hosting the 2022 Beijing winter Olympics air quality will be improved. Specifically targeting the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region and its surrounding area, the Yanztze River Delta, and the Fenhe-Weihe river Plain would be essential for a substantial improvement in air quality which he calls an “unconditional requirement ….to bring back blue skies” To achieve this it will be necessary to eliminate individual coal-fired boilers and suspend operations of outdated coal-fired power plants and then transform and upgrade them. On controlling water pollution Xi Jinping suggests that all urban water bodies need to be cleaned up and in particular the Bohai sea water must be improved and the Yangtze River ecosystem should be protected and restored. In addition, soil pollution control can be done through promulgating and implementing a law to enforce the action plan (pp.427-29).

This section on environment and ecology also consists of the inaugural speech President Xi delivered on April 2019 at the International Horticulture Exhibition in Beijing. Since this event was attended by many foreign heads of governments and other dignitaries he urges all nations to join hands to meet the common challenges, he says “Only together we can effectively address climate change, marine pollution, biological conservation, and other global environmental issues, and achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (p.436). Towards the end of this speech he mentions that China is prepared to work with other countries “to create a better homeland and a global community of shared future.” (p.437). The last sub-section on this subject is the Chinese president’s speech at the Forum on Eco-conservation and quality Development of the Yellow River Basin. Here he emphasizes on improving water conservation and preventing potential hazards due to too much sediment in the Yellow River.

Overall, the selection of speeches on ecology and environment made by the publishers is rather commendable as it gives the reader a very comprehensive picture of the policies and priorities of the Chinese leadership on a matter which has world-wide consequences.

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