China’s Path to Modernization and its Implications for Uganda and Global South By Moshi Israel

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In a 2021 speech marking the CPCs centenary, President Xi Jinping declared; “Through the continued efforts of the whole Party and the entire nation, we have realized the First Centenary Goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. This means that we have brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China, and we are now marching in confident strides towards the Second Centenary Goal, building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects.”

While addressing media and Ugandan Think Tanks during a Symposium on the Implications of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) themed by “Forge Ahead on the New Journey and Work Together for A New Era,” at Chinese Embassy in Uganda, Chinese Ambassador to Uganda, Zhang Lizhong stressed that China’s development path will see China match towards Beijing dream of realizing the Second Centenary Goal and see China advancing into a more modern socialist country. Stressing that the recently concluded CPC National Congress “established the core position of General Secretary Xi Jinping in the Central Committee and the whole Party, laying a solid political foundation for striving for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era,” Ambassador Lizhong expressed confidence China is on right track with its development path.

China’s path to modernization is one rooted in centuries of exploration. Like all journeys, it is not a straight forward path but a long winding curve, a learning curve. China’s path to modernization holds key implications for developing countries around the world, and in this context, Uganda and arguably, many countries in the global south.To understand the path to modernization from a Chinese perspective, going back in time is a necessary step.

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), China was a weak Imperial state with rampant civic corrupt infrastructure. The weak Qing empire was reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society following the opium war of 1840s. China had to endure what came to be known as a century of humiliation as foreign powers ran amok and exploited the Chinese people. The calamities befalling China in this era spurred many people to seek new ways to strengthen and unite a weak China and change their trajectory through development and modernization. The building blocks for a strong independent China started forming in the minds of Chinese people during this tumultuous period.

Fast forward to the 20th century which saw the rise of China’s Communist Party (CCP). China underwent a communist revolution in 1949 that ushered in the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which subsequently came with a fresh and more determined commitment to modernization. Under the CCP, China has set a clear path to modernization and has made significant strides. In a report delivered by CPC’s Secretary General who is also Chinese President Xi Jinping on the opening ceremony of the 20th CPC National Congress, he reiterated the central purpose of the CPC stressing that; “from this day forward, the central task of the CPC will be to lead the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in a concerted effort to realize the Second Centenary Goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.”

The Chinese model of modernization is similar in some respects to other processes of modernization. However, it is unique in the fact that China pursues modernization with Chinese characteristics. This is important to note for a country like Uganda because it emphasizes the idea of considering national realities while addressing national challenges. China’s model presents an alternative path different from the western world. For many decades, developing countries have applied western generated solutions to their economic, social and political problems and have acquired little to no success. Many times, these solutions such as the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have outrightly failed. As president Xi, put it, China’s model offers a new direction of modernization.

China’s path to modernization is especially remarkable given the fact that it had to lift billions of its citizens out of absolute poverty. This has had a broad and worldwide impact and has greatly contributed to the cause of human progress.

Furthermore, China’s modernization model it involves material and cultural-ethical advancement and harmony between humanity and nature. The planet is currently facing an existential climate crisis and China wants to lead the way in combating the challenge. China’s commitment to environmental action is not mere words. The country is actively involved in Global Environmental Governance and International Cooperation. China has promised to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

Within China, the CPC seeks to adopt new initiatives as indicated by Mr. Han Wenxiu (Official with the CCP Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs) to narrow the gap between different regions, rural and urban areas and different income groups. On the world stage, China seeks peaceful development. It supports a world order based on addressing the world’s crises. To China, a multipolar world based on mutual respect and cooperation is an ideal one. The message is simple, a strong China means a better world.

At some point before the founding of the PRC, China tried to achieve modernization through generating material wealth, carrying out institutional reform and trying to copy western development models without success. Instead of running around in circles, the CPC led China on a new path. During the First Session of the Third National People’s Congress, from 21 December 1964 to 4 January 1965, then Premier Zhou Enlai emphasized the importance of turning China into a strong socialist country through the modernization of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. It wasn’t until 1978, that China paved the way for its reform and opening up through a landmark event of the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CCP Central Committee.

The CCP used a three- step development strategy for China’s modernization. The first step was to double the 1980 GNP and ensure the people had enough food and clothing. That objective had been attained by the late 1980s. The second step was to quadruple the 1980 GNP by the end of the 20th century. This was achieved in 1995, ahead of time. The third step, is to increase the per capita GNP to the level of medium-developed countries by the mid-21st century. At which point, the people will be well off and modernization achieved.

To a developing country like Uganda, China’s path to modernization serves as a blueprint. Uganda has the opportunity to learn from both the west and China and then choose the most suitable path to realizing her own modernization with Ugandan characteristics. The drive to achieve this goal must be people centered with the aim of achieving prosperity for all. China’s path shows that there is hope and much has to be done. These words of president Xi, at the end of this year’s report to the 20th National congress of the CPC should be the unanimous battle cry of every leader in the developing world and particularly ruling political parties’ world-over; “Let us keep in mind that empty talk will do nothing for our country; only solid work will make it flourish. Let us maintain firm confidence, unite as one, and forge ahead with resolve. And let us strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects and advance national rejuvenation on all fronts.”

Moshi Israel is a senior research fellow at the Development Watch Centre.


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