Xi's Bo'ao Speech, Technology, the Tsinghua visit & Competing Visions of International Order

Here are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s April 20, 2021, edition that I found noteworthy. I’ve also done a breakdown of Xi’s speech at the Bo’ao Forum today. That’s at the end of the People’s Daily review.

Page 1: President Xi Jinping visited his alma mater Tsinghua University on Monday. Xi studied chemical engineering there in the late 1970s. The visit dominates the front page. This comes as the university prepares to mark its 110th anniversary, which was discussed in the piece on world class universities that I had covered in yesterday’s edition.

Anyway, the key points from Xi’s visit; here’s Xinhua English’s report:

  • He said that “the need for higher education, scientific knowledge and outstanding talents for the development of the party and the country's undertakings is more urgent than ever.” 

  • Xi underlined the importance of strengthening basic research and independent innovation. New ideas and theories should be drawn from China's reform and development.

  • In building “world class universities,” he urged efforts to uphold Party leadership and the guiding role of Marxism at such universities.

  • Also world-class universities should also have the courage to tackle problems in core technological research that hinder the country’s development.

  • “Socialist education in China is to train socialist builders and successors with all-round development of morality, intelligence, physical education and labor.”

Here’s a quote that’s useful to keep in mind:

We must “refine moral character, consciously establish and practice the core socialist values, consciously use the excellent Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture, advanced socialist culture to forge the soul and enlighten the mind, strengthen moral cultivation, distinguish right from wrong, strengthen self-determination, and and aspire to pursue a higher, more realistic, life of character.”

In this context, SCMP also reports that Xi praised Tsinghua for its tradition of training students who were “both red and professional,” a phrase coined during the Mao Zedong era.

Some of the departments that he visited:

  • The Academy of Arts and Design, where he spoke about enhancing cultural self-confidence, keeping the US example in mind.

  • Next he went to the laboratory on imaging and intelligence, which PD says focuses on computational imaging, brain science and artificial intelligence. Here’s what he reportedly said: “Major original innovations often originate from deep basic research and interdisciplinary fields, and universities have natural advantages in these two aspects. We should keep continuous investment in basic research, encourage free exploration, dare to question existing theories, and dare to explore new directions.” The report further has him reiterating the importance of focusing on “basic research and increasing independent innovation.”

Final Note: Do keep in mind who accompanied Xi: “Ding Xuexiang, Sun Chunlan, Chen Xi, and Cai Qi.”

Next, there’s a short report about the Bo’ao Forum for Asia kicking off today. The report has a list of dignitaries attending via video. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and Sri Lanka’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be attending, along with most East Asian leaders. Strangely, no one from Pakistan is mentioned; also excluded are Rodrigo Duterte and Thailand’s PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. 

Page 2: A few stories to note. First, this one about telecommunications development during the 13 FYP period and now looking ahead. It says:

“Since the 13th Five-Year Plan, China has built the world’s largest information and communication network. Looking at fixed networks, the proportion of fiber optic broadband users has increased from 56% at the end of 2015 to 94% now. Gigabit optical networks cover more than 120 million households. Looking at mobile networks, 4G base stations account for more than half of the global total. There are 792,000 5G base stations and 260 million 5G mobile terminal connections. 5G networks in independent networking mode have covered all prefecture-level cities, and the world;s largest 5G mobile network has been initially established.”

It then talks about reduction of tariffs, which coupled with network density have pushed the “rapid popularization of various Internet applications and stimulated the potential for information consumption.” Here’s more: “The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has issued an action plan that clearly stated that it will take about three years to basically build a ‘dual gigabit’ network infrastructure covering urban areas and qualified townships.”

Finally, some data on investments in infrastructure: “From the investment situation, during the 13th Five-Year Plan period, according to the principle of moderate advancement, the construction of 4G was accelerated and the investment in 5G was expanded. The investment in fixed assets such as base stations totaled 1.7 trillion yuan, equivalent to 2.6 times of the net profit of the same period, of which the accumulated investment in 5G exceeded 200 billion yuan.”

Next, a Russian translation of Xi’s book on building a community with a shared future for mankind has been published.

Page 3: There are a couple of previews of the Bo’ao Forum. The first one argues that “In the 20 years since its establishment, the Boao Forum for Asia has played an important role in consolidating Asian consensus, promoting Asian cooperation, and enhancing Asian influence. It has increasingly become an important forum with global influence.” There are positive quotes from Ban Ki-Moon, Boston Consulting Group’s Hans-Paul Burkner, and Erik Berglof, chief economist of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, among others. The other one is a historical look at the forum.

Next, MoFA’s Wang Wenbin’s response to the US-Japan joint statement. Here’s the English version. 

“there is but one system in the world, that is, the international system with the UN at its core; there is but one set of rules, namely, the basic norms governing international relations based on the UN Charter. The US and Japan cannot represent the international community. They have no right to define international order, still less the right to impose their own standards on others. While trumpeting "freedom and openness", the US and Japan are forming "small cliques" and create bloc confrontation, which poses real threats to regional peace and stability and reckless damage to international rules and order.”

There’s more on human rights by Wang: 

“on human rights issues, Japan and the US are in debt to the Chinese people and the world's people. Japan launched aggressive wars in the 1930s, bringing untold sufferings to Asian countries, especially the Chinese people. However, Japan, as a defeated nation, denies and whitewashes the aggression from time to time even till this day. The US has long followed a belligerent policy. In the 21st century alone, wars staged by the US elsewhere caused over 800,000 deaths, including over 300,000 civilians. What Japan and the US should do is to reflect on their aggression in history and redress wrong actions that violate human right in other countries, rather than meddling in China's internal affairs under the disguise of human rights…”

He criticised the US and Japan to “stop interfering in China's internal affairs and harming China's interests.”

Finally, Wang Yi’s comments at the dialogue on enhancing cooperation between the United Nations and Regional and Subregional Organizations. 

Page 4: A few pieces on the Party history learning campaign. First, a report on the campaign in Fujian. Second, a report that the Central Party School led a high-level forum titled “Learning from General Secretary Xi Jinping's important expositions on the party's history.” The story informs that more than 50 experts and scholars from the Central Party School, the Central Party History and Literature Research Institute and other units participated in the forum. “Participating experts and scholars also discussed and exchanged views on the sinicization of Marxism, the essence of the great spirit of the Communist Party of China, and the grand view of history from the perspective of comparative history.” The key point argument in the piece is that Xi’s Thought is important because “it provides us with a fundamental action guide for studying the history of the Chinese Communist Party, and it also establishes the correct view of party history; it has provided scientific guidance, which greatly promotes the in-depth study of party history.”

Finally, the Central Cyberspace Administration held an event discussing Xi’s views on developing China’s cyber power. 

Page 9: A few pieces to note. First, Qin Xuan from the School of Marxism, Renmin University of China, writes about Party history.

He writes about imperial history during the Qing era, particularly the latter years. He then argues that after the fall of the Qing, China tried “various forms (of systems) such as constitutional monarchy, parliamentary system, multi-party system, and presidential system.” All of them, as the dynasties,  “failed to change the social nature of China's semi-colonial and semi-feudal society.” This is the stage at which, for Qin, the CCP entered the fray. “Since its establishment, the Communist Party of China has adhered to the guidance of Marxist scientific theory, the realization of communism as the highest ideal and ultimate goal, and the original intention and mission of seeking the happiness of the Chinese people and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” he writes.

For him the CCP liberated people and “overthrew the three mountains of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism, and established the people as masters.” He then talks about China’s modernisation.

Mao gets a fleeting mention and only in the context of the 2nd Plenary of the 7th Central Committee, which was in March 1949, i.e., before the PRC was formally established. And the line used is about Mao’s focus on “modern industry, modern agriculture, modern science and culture, and modern national defense.” So nothing about the ideological upheavals that he unleashed.

We then come to Deng…you know the story by now, I guess. He then says:

“China’s modernization process has not been smooth sailing, but under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China and the joint efforts of several generations of Chinese people, China has gone from ‘behind the times’ to ‘catch up with the times’ and then to ‘lead the times’.” 

Now to achieve the 2035 goals of modernisation, Qin argues that China needs a “backbone” and a strong core of leadership. “In contemporary China, this core can only be the Communist Party of China as the highest political leadership force.” And to maintain this, China needs to strengthen the “four consciousnesses”, the “four self-confidences” and achieve the “two maintenances.” He adds:

“We must continuously improve our political judgment, political insight, and political execution ability, and constantly improve our ability to grasp the new development stage, implement the new development concept, and build a new development pattern. Political ability, strategic vision, and professionalism will ensure that socialist modernization will be basically achieved by 2035...”

Next, Shang Zhixiao from Shandong Normal University writes about opposing formalism and bureaucracy. Shang talks about Mao’s and Deng’s critique of formalism and bureaucracy. He then talks about Xi’s campaign, and recommends:

“In opposing formalism, we should focus on solving the problem of false work, urge leading cadres to establish a correct view of political achievements, overcome impetuous emotions and abandon selfish distractions...In opposing bureaucracy, we should focus on solving the problem of not preserving and lack of action when it comes to people’s interests. This not only means paying attention to safeguarding the fundamental interests and long-term interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, but also earnestly solving the most direct and realistic interests that the masses are most concerned about.”

He then touches on specific problems types of formalistic and bureaucratic behaviour or attitudes that lead to such behaviour:

  • Poor grasp of theory 

  • Not paying attention to achievements that leave a trace in people’s hearts

  • Focussing on paperwork and meetings as implementation rather than actual action 

  • Shirking responsibility by assigning it to lower level units rather than pursuing implementation

Page 16: Two pieces to note on the international page. First, an interview-based report featuring Ban Ki-moon talking about the Bo’ao Forum. He basically talks about the significance of the forum at this moment, bringing together Asian voices on global governance reform. 

Second, this piece covering the joint statement on Japan’s Fukushima wastewater plan by Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Michael Fakhri,  Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, and David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. The statement says:

“The release of one million tonnes of contaminated water into the marine environment imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan,” the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council said. “The Government’s decision is very concerning given the warnings about the effect of such a discharge on so many people’s lives and the environment at large. It comes after years of discussion and concerns raised by local communities -- particularly the fishing community who was already severely hit by the 2011 disaster -- environmental NGOs, neighbouring countries and civil society. The decision is particularly disappointing as experts believe alternative solutions to the problem are available.”

The PD piece also includes comments from KCNA and Greenpeace on this issue.

Xi’s Speech at the Bo’ao Forum

Today, Xi delivered his speech at the Boa’o Forum; Xinhua has put out the full English text. This will dominate People’s Daily tomorrow; but here are the key bits of what Xi said:

First, he spoke about China as “an important member of the Asian family” and then talked about the systemic changes that are currently underway

“The combined forces of changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century have brought the world into a phase of fluidity and transformation. Instability and uncertainty are clearly on the rise. Humanity is facing growing governance deficit, trust deficit, development deficit, and peace deficit. Much remains to be done to achieve universal security and common development. That said, there is no fundamental change in the trend toward a multi-polar world; economic globalization is showing renewed resilience; and the call for upholding multilateralism and enhancing communication and coordination has grown stronger.”

Given all this, Xi proposes:

1. Need for “consultation on an equal footing”:

  • This means that “global governance should reflect the evolving political and economic landscape in the world.” 

  • “We need to safeguard the UN-centered international system, preserve the international order underpinned by international law, and uphold the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core.”

  • “We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others...Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility.”

2. Need for “openness and innovation”: 

  • “In this age of economic globalization, openness and integration is an unstoppable historical trend. Attempts to ‘erect walls’ or ‘decouple’ run counter to the law of economics and market principles. They would hurt others’ interests without benefiting oneself.”

3. Need more focus on health and security: 

  • Here he talks about supporting the WHO.

  • The need to “bolster international cooperation on the R&D, production and distribution of vaccines and increase their accessibility and affordability in developing countries so that everyone in the world can access and afford the vaccines they need.”

  • On climate change, he said that the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities must be upheld, and concerns of developing countries on capital, technology and capacity building must be addressed.”

4. A “commitment to justice”: 

  • We must reject  the cold-war and zero-sum mentality and oppose a new ‘Cold War’ and ideological confrontation in whatever forms.”

  • In state-to-state relations, the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust must be put front and center. Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support.

He then focussed on BRI; and under this framework, he spoke about expanding:

  • health cooperation

  • “hard connectivity” of infrastructure and “soft connectivity” of rules and standards

  • green development

  • openness and inclusiveness when it comes to BRI. In other words, folks who want to join, can do so, using it as a “pathway to poverty alleviation and growth.” Here he also quotes a World Bank report talking about BRI potentially lifting 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty by 2030.

He concluded by a couple of pledges, captured in the final paragraph:

“China will stay committed to peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, develop friendship and cooperation with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and promote a new type of international relations. China will continue to carry out anti-COVID cooperation with the WHO and other countries, honor its commitment of making vaccines a global public good, and do more to help developing countries defeat the virus. However strong it may grow, China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence. Nor will China ever engage in an arms race. China will take an active part in multilateral cooperation on trade and investment, fully implement the Foreign Investment Law and its supporting rules and regulations, cut further the negative list on foreign investment, continue to develop the Hainan Free Trade Port, and develop new systems for a higher-standard open economy. All are welcome to share in the vast opportunities of the Chinese market.”