Wang's Mideast Trip, Cultural Relics, HK Amendments, Socialist Political Economy

Here’s a breakdown of the key stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s edition on March 31, 2021.

Page 1: Let’s begin with the Politburo meeting on Tuesday. The meeting, Xinhua English informs (PD report’s the same but with many more references to Xi’s guidance), reviewed a guideline on promoting high-quality development of the country's central region. 

The report also points out that development of the central region is of “overall significance as it has rich resources, well-developed transport networks, a sound industrial foundation, and massive development potential.”

The focus going ahead is on building better public services, a modern industrial system underpinned by an advanced manufacturing industry, facilitating high-level opening-up of the inland region and promoting coordinated development between urban and rural areas. Also, the meeting called for “city-cluster development in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and the central plains.”

Finally, this bit here: “Innovation should be the primary driving force behind development while scientific and technological innovations should drive industrial growth, said the meeting. It also called for a new system of high-level opening-up in the inland region of China.”

Next, comments by Xi Jinping on “the importance of better protecting, managing and utilizing revolutionary cultural relics to inspire people to build a modern socialist China and achieve national rejuvenation.” Xinhua English reports that Xi’s instructions were delivered by Sun Chunlan at a national conference on revolutionary cultural relics on Tuesday. 

Except from Xinhua English: “Revolutionary cultural relics hold the glorious history of the heroic struggles of the CPC and the people, and are records of the great course and touching actions of the Chinese revolution, Xi noted during his instruction, calling them valuable assets of the CPC and the country. They can serve as vivid teaching materials for the promotion of revolutionary traditions and culture, and socialist cultural-ethical progress, and for inspiring a strong sense of patriotism and invigorating the Chinese ethos, said Xi.”

Xi, therefore, wants party committees at all levels to be involved in this process of preserving relics, and he also wants them to be used “in education related to Party history, revolutionary traditions and patriotism.”

In the PD story, we have these details, and also comments by Propaganda chief Huang Kunming, who basically re-emphasised the points that Xi made, underscoring that what Xi said must be done.

Next we have a report on the 27th meeting of the 13th National People's Congress Standing Committee, which cleared the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system. The PD report basically mentions that the changes were passed unanimously and then mentions who all attended the meeting. In Xinhua English, meanwhile, we have details and narrative. 

For instance, it quotes Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the NPCSC as saying that “a democratic electoral system suiting Hong Kong's legal status and reality has taken shape as a result of the amendments.” The story adds:

“Li said the two amended annexes fully demonstrate the resolution and common will of the Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots, in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests as well as the constitutional order of the HKSAR. HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday in a statement that by improving the electoral system and implementing ‘patriots administering Hong Kong,’ the excessive politicization in society and the internal rift that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively mitigated, thereby enhancing the governance capability of the HKSAR. ‘I and the HKSAR Government will spare no effort in taking forward the necessary amendments to the local electoral legislation in accordance with the amended Annex I and Annex II,’ said Lam.”

Among the many changes, the key shift is in the Election Committee of the HKSAR. 

  • Committee membership has been expanded from 1,200 to 1,500. The number of sectors has been increased from four to five.

  • Apart from its original function of nominating and electing the chief executive, the committee will have two more key functions: electing a relatively large proportion of LegCo members and participating in the nominations of all LegCo candidates.

  • District Councils had 117 seats on the Election Committee previously. These are now scrapped. Remember, the pro-democracy opposition had swept the District Council elections in late 2019.

The report adds that according to the new annexes, a candidate eligibility review mechanism shall be established to review and confirm the eligibility of candidates for the Election Committee, the office of chief executive, and the LegCo. SCMP reports thatthe vetting committee, which will screen candidates, will pick them based on information provided by the police’s national security unit, and no judicial review or appeal of the decision will be allowed. The fundamental objective of this is to ensure that Beijing’s control remains firm.

Another change worth noting is that the LegCO has been expanded from 70 to 90 seats. But out of this, only 20 seats will be set aside for direct elections. Previously this was 35 out of 70. Of the remaining seats, 40 will be chosen by a pro-Beijing election committee that currently selects Hong Kong’s chief executive and 30 will be picked by groups representing various professions and interests.

Anyway back to PD’s front page, where we also have a commentary defending the changes to HK’s electoral system. It repeats a familiar argument:

“This is important for upholding and improving the ‘one country, two systems’ system, maintaining the constitutional order of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as determined by the Constitution and the Hong Kong Basic Law, improving the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's electoral system, promoting the development of a democratic political system suitable for Hong Kong's actual conditions, and ensuring Hong Kong's long-term stability and long-term prosperity and stability. It is of great and far-reaching significance to safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests.”

This is because from Beijing’s perspective, the protests had shown “obvious loopholes and defects in the current electoral system.” The piece emphasises the importance of having “patriots” governing Hong Kong. It says that this “is about not allowing unpatriotic anti-China and Hong Kong elements to enter the government organs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to prevent Hong Kong from becoming an anti-China, chaotic Hong Kong and external hostility...Anyone who is willing to participate in the election, as long as they meet the criteria of a ‘patriot’, can stand for election and be elected in accordance with the law.” Of course, a patriot is whoever agrees with Beijing’s views.

Page 2: The entire page is essentially focussed on Hong Kong. Each piece is a comment by different individuals or agencies supporting the changes. So we have comments from Li Zhanshu and spokesperson of the Legal Work Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC.

Here’s a summary of HKMAO’s statement: “The statement pointed out that the gradual development of Hong Kong’s democratic system is a requirement of the Hong Kong Basic Law and a consistent position of the central government. Hong Kong’s democratic system will never copy the political models of other countries and regions. It must conform to the principle of ‘one country, two systems’...People will see that the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents in accordance with the law will be more fully protected, Hong Kong's status as an international financial, trade, and shipping center will be more stable, and the rule of law and business environment will be more stable.”

Here are comments from MoFA; here’s the HK Liaison Office: this “indicates that the principle of ‘patriots ruling Hong Kong’ has an important institutional guarantee, and it also shows that the democratic system that conforms to Hong Kong's reality has entered a new development stage. We firmly support this and will fully support the SAR government in the revision of relevant local laws.” And here you have NPC and CPPCC delegates from Hong Kong backing the changes.

On page 3 then we have the full text of Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law, i.e., the changes that have been enacted, and more comments of support from other agencies.

Page 4: Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to the press after wrapping up a six-nation tour to the Middle East. Wang traveled to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman. I am summarising key points from Wang’s comments from PD and Xinhua English:

He said that these countries “are representatives of the three major civilizations in the history of the Middle East. Each has distinct political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics and plays a unique role in regional affairs. At the same time, the six countries are all developing countries, all emerging economies, and all friendly countries to China. Facing the challenges of a century of change and the epidemic of the century, as well as the intricate disputes in the Middle East, countries in the region are exploring a development path that suits their own national conditions in order to realize their national dreams; externally, they are deeply reflecting on the consequences of external interference and strive to find and maintain long-term stability in the region.”

Wang said that during the visit he put forward “a five-point initiative on achieving security and stability in the Middle East,” which emphasised the following (Not quoting wherever I’ve edited significantly):

  • First, China supports regional countries in excluding external parties from interfering in their internal affairs and supports their adherence to independence and exploration of social systems and governance models with their own characteristics. 

  • Second, “China supports regional countries in getting rid of the shadow of geopolitical competition among major powers...and building a security framework that takes into account the legitimate concerns of all parties.”

  • Third, “China does not seek self-interest in the Middle East, does not engage in geopolitical competition, does not divide the region into spheres of influence, upholds the spirit of equality and friendliness, respects the independent choice of regional countries, and is willing to make China's contribution to the peace and development of the Middle East through sincere cooperation.”

Wang said that he reached broad consensus over wide-ranging issues with the leaders of the six countries, which all welcomed China to play a bigger role in Middle East affairs. “China and the countries agreed that the sovereign independence and national dignity of all countries should be respected, and independent and diverse ways of development should be promoted,” he said. Wang added that they agreed to oppose interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and slandering other countries under the guise of human rights, safeguard the international system with the United Nations as the core and the international order based on international law, multilateralism, and international equity and justice.

This was interesting: “This year is the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, the legacy of the turmoil that occurred 10 years ago is still stubborn, but 10 years of reflection and exploration have also brought new hope, seeking stability, promoting development and taking their own path gradually become the regional consensus. The Middle East should not be a victim of the great power game, should not become a victim of geopolitical conflicts, and should not fall behind in the world development trend.”

Wang added: “I put forward a five-point initiative on China's efforts to achieve security and stability in the Middle East, including advocating mutual respect, upholding fairness and justice, realizing nuclear non-proliferation, building collective security and accelerating development cooperation...The Middle East belongs only to the people of the Middle East and is not anyone's territory. As a sincere friend of the Middle East countries, China will, in the next phase, closely communicate and coordinate with all parties concerned around the implementation of the above-mentioned initiatives, focusing on the following things.”

First, on the Israel-Palestine issue, he backed the two-state solution. “We will hold a seminar for Palestinian-Israeli peacemakers in due course,” he said. On Iran, he said: “Chinese officials have gone to Moscow to discuss with Iran and Russia the roadmap and timetable for restarting the Iranian nuclear comprehensive agreement. We are also willing to maintain close communication with all parties on holding a multilateral forum on security in the Gulf region in China. This new platform can also be started from track 2 or track 1.5, starting with topics such as securing oil facilities and waterways, starting with the easy ones before the difficult ones and building mutual trust.” He then talked about vaccines and holding the Sino-Arab Reform and Development Forum and the Middle East Security Forum during the year.

The subsequent chunks of the interview are around China’s pandemic diplomacy in the region and trade and economic engagement. “In 2020, China-Arab trade volume is nearly 240 billion U.S. dollars, and China is the largest trading partner of Arab countries; China imports 250 million tons of crude oil from Arab countries, accounting for half of China's total imports in the same period. The key projects of China-Arab ‘Belt and Road’ are being resumed in an orderly manner, and the cooperation in 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, aerospace and other high technology is flourishing, and the recognition of Chinese products, Chinese technology and Chinese standards is increasing in the region,” Wang said.

Finally, he spoke about the issue of human rights. Do read this chunk below to get the Chinese perspective and the normative change internationally that Beijing desires.

“The six countries visited and China are both developing countries and share similar views on human rights issues. We believe that the human rights views of certain Western countries do not represent the international view of human rights, and that the human rights views of developing countries should be listened to, respected and absorbed more, so as to enrich the connotation of human rights, promote the progress of society and maintain the harmony of the world. We agree that human rights should be comprehensive and balanced. Both political and social rights and the right to survival and development should be emphasized; both democracy and freedom and fairness and justice should be talked about. The human rights situation of a country should be judged by its own people, and should not be decided by other countries according to their own likes and dislikes. Different civilizations and countries in the world do not have the same understanding of human rights, and countries can conduct equal and constructive dialogues on this issue to enhance mutual understanding and jointly promote the progress of human rights. However, we oppose the politicization of human rights issues. The practice of some Western powers interfering in the internal affairs of other countries under the banner of human rights, using human rights issues as a political tool, wantonly attacking and smearing other countries, and suppressing developing countries is contrary to the true concept of human rights and is an act of hegemony.

Just to underscore China’s growing engagement in the Arab world, we have a report on the China-Arab Forum for Young Politicians being held via video conference on Tuesday. This was hosted by the International Liaison Department. Leaders of more than 60 political parties and organizations from 17 Arab countries, young politicians, and youth representatives participated.

Next, we have a short report on Wang Yi at the Heart of Asia meeting on Afghanistan. He said that “we must maintain the momentum of peace talks and reconciliation in Afghanistan; we must strengthen the momentum of Afghanistan's reconstruction and development; we must adhere to the general direction of Afghanistan-related counter-terrorism cooperation.” Finally, foreign ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines will be visiting China soon at the invitation of Wang Yi.

Page 9: On the Theory page today, we have a piece by Li Yiping, professor at the School of Economics, Renmin University of China. Li’s essential argument is that different countries have different approaches to economic policy, and this is a product of political, and historical conditions too. He argues that Adam Smith’s theory of free markets is not applicable in entirety to all countries. He cites examples of Germany and Japan. Therefore, he wants Chinese economic theorists to explore Xi’s Thoughts and practical conditions to come up with theoretical innovations. He writes:

“Based on one's own national conditions and development reality, developing one's own political economy can effectively guide my country's economic development practice. Economic theory workers must thoroughly study and implement Xi Jinping’s economic thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era and the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important speech, proceed from national conditions, conduct in-depth research on specific problems facing my country’s economic development, and make scientific theoretical explanations for my country’s economic development...Economic theorists must have a scientific understanding of the main contradictions in the current society and have a deep understanding of To grasp the current stage characteristics of my country's economic and social development and obtain valuable research results, it is necessary to conduct investigations and studies in factories, rural areas, schools, institutions, etc.”

Li also views an important role for Marxist thought in all this. “To develop socialist political economy with Chinese characteristics, we must adhere to the Marxist stand, viewpoints, and methods, and strive to explore and master the laws of China's economic development to guide the practice of China's economic development.” 

Next, there’s a piece by Guo Yutian from the Department of Philosophy, Sun Yat-Sen University. Guo writes about the significance of studying Party history. It’s important that we read such pieces because they tell us about how the Party sees itself and its role in society. There’s, of course, a re-imagination of history to create neat lines of linear progression towards the goal of national rejuvenation and socialist modernisation. For instance, this excerpt:

“From the day it was founded, our party has taken the happiness of the Chinese people and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as its original mission. It has united and led the people of all ethnic groups across the country in a long and hard struggle to create a better life, and has made great achievements. Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era. The Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core takes the people’s yearning for a better life as its goal, unites and leads the people to continue their struggle, and has achieved decisive achievements in building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way...The party’s struggle and great achievements have demonstrated that generations of Chinese Communists have never forgotten their original aspirations, kept their mission in mind, and have been vigorous and vigorous in their tenacious struggle and unremitting struggle, which can boost our spirit of taking the Long March in the new era.”

Here’s more in the context of modern-day challenges: “To effectively deal with the difficulties and challenges on the road ahead, we must persevere in carrying forward the party’s glorious tradition and fine work style, and continuously increase belief in Marxism, belief in socialism with Chinese characteristics, and confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Bringing tradition into a new journey, carrying forward the good style in the new era, illuminating the road of struggle with faith, conviction and confidence, and making contributions in the new journey of building a modern socialist country in an all-round way.”

Page 16: On the international page, the key story is about the WHO report on COVID-19. MoFA’s Hua Chunying’s comments are reported on the page. She essentially pushes back against “politicizing the traceability issue.”