COVID Origins Friction - Xi Thought a 'Strategic System to Guide China' - History & Loyalty in Ren Zhongping Commentary

Here are the stories and pieces from the July 20, 2021, edition of the People’s Daily that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: It’s the second day in a row that we have no Xi Jinping-related headlines, although he is mentioned on the page, of course. Just two stories on the front page to note. First, Li Keqiang sent a congratulatory message (English report) to Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei as he took over as ASEAN chair. Li wrote that China-ASEAN ties had entered “a new phase of comprehensive development.”

Then we have a Ren Zhongping commentary on the page. This is a long read, which basically is a recitation of the themes around the Party’s history, the “fire of ideals” that lit it, the Party’s tenacity despite the challenges, its ability to “seek truth from facts,” the importance of localising ideology, the significance of loyalty, the uniqueness in having sustained with the original aspiration, the importance of the party-building spirit, etc.

It tells us that, and this language is fascinating: “The reason why Marxism has become the ‘true scripture/sutra’ of the Chinese Communists is that its scientific nature and truthfulness have been fully tested in China.” 马克思主义之所以成为中国共产党人的 “真经”, 就在于它的科学性和真理性在中国得到了充分的检验.

And it tells us that knowing all these narratives about history are very important because: “The light of truth penetrates the tunnel of time and illuminates the past, present and future.” 真理的光芒,穿透时光的隧道,照亮过去、现在和未来.

At one point, the piece quotes Xi about loyalty: “General Secretary Xi Jinping profoundly pointed out that “without loyalty to the party as a political ‘needle in the sea’, it is likely to be defeated in front of various tests.” 习近平总书记深刻指出:“如果没有对党忠诚作为政治上的'定海神针',就很可能在各种考验面前败下阵来.” I am not entirely certain, but I think divine needle in the sea or “定海神针” dìnghǎi shénzhēn that Xi is referring to is drawn from Journey to the West.

Anyway, the next paragraph begins with this: “Loyalty to the party is not abstract but concrete, not conditional but unconditional.” 对党忠诚,不是抽象的而是具体的,不是有条件的而是无条件的.

Finally, I did a quick scan about who is quoted and mentioned how many times. What I find is that  Mao Zedong is mentioned by name 6 times, but is quoted on 5 occasions; Xi’s got 12 mentions by name and 8 quotes; Deng’s got two mentions and one quote. 

Page 3: There are basically two topics covered on the page. The first is Wang Yi’s Middle East trip. Today, we have coverage of the meeting with Egypt’s Sisi and the joint statement with the Arab League. I covered both of these yesterday. The other topic on the page is about the origins of COVID-19. 

So we have first a report about scientists and experts from around the world talking about the natural origins of the virus. The story mentions a yet-to-be published study, posted on the pre-print server Zenodo on July 7. PD quotes the paper as saying “We believe that there is a large amount of scientific evidence supporting the animal origin of the new coronavirus.” The PD report adds “there is currently no evidence that the new coronavirus originated in the laboratory, and there is no evidence that Any early COVID-19 cases have any contact with Wuhan Virus Research.” The report also quotes this Lancet statement. Then there are other media outlets, scientists and officials from abroad who are quoted.

Next, we have a Zhong Sheng commentary basically attacking the US and “a few other countries” for engaging in “political manipulation” when it comes to the traceability issue. It says that what the US has “betrayed the scientific spirit” and committed an act of “blasphemy against human civilisation.” 这是对科学精神的背叛,是对人类文明的亵渎. 

The piece goes on about scientific evidence that the COVID-19 did not originate in a lab, saying that the theory “has no scientific basis at all.” Of course, if Beijing does believe this, then why on earth does it want an investigation into the Fort Detrick lab? I mean Global Times has been running an online campaign, collecting some 2 million supporters calling for a probe into Fort Detrick.

What the commentary also fails to address is that we’ve increasingly had the WHO chief talking about the lab leak theory. First, he spoke about the next phase of the origins probe, saying that “we expect China to support this next phase of the scientific process by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency. Equally, we expect all Member States to support the scientific process by refraining from politicising it.” But he also said to the press last week that:

“there was a premature push to especially reduce one of the options like the lab theory. As you know, I was a lab technician myself, an immunologist and I have worked in the lab and lab accidents happen. It's common; I have seen it happening and I have myself had errors so it can happen. Checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important and we need information, direct information on what the situation of these labs was before and at the start of the pandemic. Then if we get full information we can explore that so one of the challenges again is a challenge of access and also transparency with regard to the hypotheses that are put. So I hope because of these two things there will be better co-operation.”

In response, on Monday, Zhao Lijian said (PD report) that the proposed WHO study “is at odds with the position of China and many other countries.” He added:"

a resolution of the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly clearly requests the WHO Director-General to continue to work closely with countries to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population. The next phase of origins study should comply with this request.” This is foreclosing any talk of lab-related investigations. He further said that the earlier WHO report had termed the lab leak theory “extremely unlikely” and “the conclusions and recommendations of the report should be respected and upheld, and fully reflected in the work of the next-phase origins study.”

Zhao concluded: “origins study is a serious scientific issue that requires cooperation of global scientists. We are concerned about certain countries’ politicization of the issue. We hope the WHO can adhere to the spirit of science, professionalism and objectivity.”

Page 4: First, we have a report about Ding Xuexiang speaking at the new exhibition venue of the First Historical Archives of China. He talked about preserving history to illuminate the future. Second, we have a report about Guo Shengkun speaking at a seminar on implementing Xi Thought on rule of law for provincial and ministerial-level political and legal affairs cadres. Next, there’s a report about Hu Chunhua speaking at a meeting of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. 

Page 5: Here we have the second instalment in the series on Xi Thought. It tells us that:

“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, using Marxist positions and perspectives, focuses on new propositions of the times, condenses new ideological essence, summarizes groundbreaking and original, practical experience, enriches and develops Marxism with new ideological content, and forms a scientific theoretical system that is systematic and comprehensive, logically rigorous, rich in connotation and internal unity.” 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想,运用马克思主义立场观点方法,聚焦新的时代命题,凝结新的思想精华,总结开创性独创性的实践经验,以崭新的思想内容丰富和发展了马克思主义,形成了一个系统全面、逻辑严密、内涵丰富、内在统一的科学理论体系.

It says that Xi Thought is an “expression of the Party's ideological maturity and theoretical self-confidence.” We then get some key characteristics of Xi Thought, beginning with the 

八个明确 - Bā gè míngquè - I guess this will be the 8 Clears/Unequivocals

  • Clearly adhere to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics

  • Make it clear that the main contradiction of our society in the new era is the contradiction between the people's growing needs for a better life and the unbalanced and inadequate development.

  • Make it clear that the overall layout of the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the ‘five in one’ and the strategic layout is the ‘four comprehensives’, emphasizing self-confidence in the path, theory, system, and culture.

  • It is clear that the overall goal of comprehensively deepening reform is to improve and develop the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and to promote the modernization of the national governance system and governance capabilities.

  • It is clear that the overall goal of advancing the rule of law in an all-round way is to build a socialist rule of law system with Chinese characteristics and a socialist country ruled by law.

  • Make it clear that the Party’s goal of strengthening the army in the new era is to build a people’s army that obeys the Party’s command, can win battles and has an excellent work style, and to build the people’s army into a world class army.

  • It is clear that major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics should promote the construction of a new type of international relations and promote the construction of a community with a shared future for mankind.

  • It is clear that the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

It then talks about the 14-point basic policy under Xi:

  • Uphold the party's leadership over all work.

  • Adhere to people-centered development

  • Persist in comprehensively deepening reforms.

  • Adhere to the new development concept

  • Persist in the people being the masters of the country

  • Adhere to the comprehensive rule of law

  • Adhere to the system of core socialist values

  • Persist in safeguarding and improving people’s livelihood

  • Persist in the harmonious coexistence of man and nature

  • Adhere to the overall national security concept

  • Uphold the party's absolute leadership over the people’s army.

  • Adhere to ‘one country, two systems’ and promote the reunification of the motherland.

  • Persist in promoting the construction of a community with a shared future for mankind.

  • Persist in administering the party strictly in an all-round way.

The next question in this is about how Xi Thought is “a powerful weapon that has been tested by practice and has great practical power.” The answer is that Xi Thought “is not only a systematic theoretical system, but also a strategic system to guide China, the world's largest developing country and the largest socialist country, to stride forward. In the process of guiding us to understand and transform the world, it has displayed tremendous power to explain reality and offer practical leadership, and has become the ideological flag and spiritual soul of the whole party and the people of all nationalities.” 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想不仅是一个系统的理论体系,而且是一个指导中国这个世界上最大的发展中国家、最大的社会主义国家阔步前进的战略体系,在指引我们认识世界、改造世界的过程中,展现出巨大的现实解释力和实践引领力,成为全党全国各族人民的思想之旗、精神之魂.

Some of the major challenges that the commentary highlights, while telling us that Xi Thought has led to positive outcomes in these. This is a glowing review of Chinese foreign and security policies. Why would one change track or course-correct if this is the perception?

“The CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core have scientifically grasped the profound and complex changes in the international and domestic situation, adhered to the bottom-line thinking, enhanced the sense of urgency, and made overall plans for development and security. They have put the prevention and resolution of major risks in a more prominent position and have effectively resolved the risks and challenges in the economic, scientific and technological, social, network and diplomatic fields. They have dared to struggle and excel in the context of a series of major issues such as the Sino-US economic and trade frictions, the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, the Sino-Indian border conflict, the maintenance of sovereignty and rights and interests in the South China Sea, as well as those involving Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet and human rights, vigorously defended China's sovereignty, security and development interests, and won the strategic initiative.” 以习近平同志为核心的党中央科学把握国际国内形势发生的深刻复杂变化,坚持底线思维,增强忧患意识,统筹发展和安全两件大事,把防范化解重大风险摆在更加突出位置,有效化解了经济、科技、社会、网络、外交等领域的风险挑战,在中美经贸摩擦、钓鱼岛主权争议、中印边境冲突、南海主权和权益维护以及涉港、涉台、涉疆、涉藏、人权等一系列重大问题上敢于斗争、善于斗争,有力维护了我国主权、安全、发展利益,赢得了战略主动.

There’s an  acknowledgement of the challenges brought by COVID-19, floods, with the proposition being that the Party has emerged better and stronger after a year of “arduous struggle.” And all of this, of course, was possible because of “the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, and the scientific guidance of Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” So going forward, more focus on following and implementing Xi Thought.

Page 9: On the Theory page today, the lead piece is by Wang Yiming, one of the many Vice Chairmen of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges think tank. The first few paragraphs talk about history, and there’s of course a unitary narrative that there was clear vision and linear progress made towards China’s development. There is, as usual, no acknowledgement of the failures of Mao-era economic policies or of the pushback that economic reform encountered in the 1980s and 90s. Anyway, the author then argues that today the goals of building a moderately prosperous society and alleviation of poverty have been achieved.

But going ahead, Xi’s vision is of long-term national rejuvenation amid unprecedented international changes and domestic development challenges. Wang talks up China’s positives, i.e., he writes about economic growth, China’s contribution to global GDP growth, infrastructure development, railways network, R&D expenditure, the Chang’e-5 mission, the Beidou system, China’s ranking in the global innovation index, national per capita disposable income at 32,000 yuan, expanded consumption, better medical insurance and pension coverage, etc. 

He then ends with the need to stay the course on dual circulation, “accelerate the promotion of technological self-reliance, improve the independent controllability of the industrial chain and supply chain; build a strong domestic market, attract global resource elements with a domestic cycle…”

Clearly, this commentary was not meant for any constructive policy feedback; it’s kind of like an echo chamber. In fact, most of these pieces on economic policies tend to have no policy prescriptions; they simply nod in agreement with the policies that have been already agreed by the leadership and communicate them.

To end with today, just sharing below a short thread of recent developments in the China-US over the past day or so. Always amazed how so much takes place in this dynamic in such a short time.