By Moshi Israel
What is the true China? This is a question that is asked frequently by many, both elites and ordinary citizens from all walks of life all around the world. The China question is an important one since the country has a history spanning millennia and has consistently existed in global discourse, playing an important role throughout the world’s long history. Interest in China is not new and has steadily peaked over time mostly because it is a country that is unique in its characteristics and ideologies, yet very similar to many others in its political, social, cultural, and economic realities.
There is no absolute answer as to what is the true China. However, my answer to this question would be; that the true China is its people. My answer is not a new profound answer to the question, rather it is an observation influenced by personal experience. In a recent collaboration with the China Africa Institute (CAI), the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) alongside the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (UCASS), I attended a seminar in Beijing and Guangzhou themed Chinese Modernisation and China –Africa Joint Development. During this seminar, I better understood the significance of President Xi’s brilliant remark that the people are the country, and the country is the people.
China’s national organization is unique and a lot can be learned from it. The country is organized around the careful and strategic planning of its government led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Despite all the vitriol from certain Western political centers about the CPC and its method of governance, my observation is that the Chinese people love the party and want to be part of it and its agenda. Patriotism is a key trait of Chinese people. The CPC does not demand uncritical loyalty from its members but also does not tolerate traitorous schemes of trying to overthrow the government. The government is the party and the party is the government. This is a system that works for China and has consistently delivered on development in all aspects which has led to an increase in people’s happiness. After all, it is one of the CPC’s and dare I say should be humanity’s principle to ensure the happiness of the people by helping them to realize their ambitions, hopes, and dreams. The CPC created a Chinese dream that is completely different in practice from the American dream. The Chinese dream is rooted in socialism, togetherness, and country above self as opposed to the individualistic American dream rooted in profit at the expense of everything else.
The CAI has done a commendable job in advancing China-Africa relations to greater heights. Its current vice president, Wang Xiao Ming is the embodiment of China’s warm embrace with Africa through mutual respect and focused collaboration. Moreover, through UCASS and CASS, China is also successfully bridging the information gap within the international community by telling China’s story through the lenses of well-educated and highly informed scholars. Seminars like the one described above are a vital magnet in attracting keen and genuine interest in the China question. More effort needs to be placed in such seminars and I confidently predict that within a short time, the narrative on China will have changed dramatically. Western framing of China holds no power or sway among well-informed and educated communities of people.
The warm, welcoming, and curious yet reserved people of China that I interacted with are the true ambassadors of the People’s Republic. The people and their culture make China a beautiful country that is truly a place prepared to lead the world into a new era of prosperity, civilizational diversity, peaceful development, and, true multi-polarity
Of course, not everything or everyone is perfect in China just like everywhere else. However, honest visitors to China will most likely come to a similar conclusion as I did. Unfortunately, a good number of people know nothing about China except for what they see in Western media, unreliable African tabloids, biased pundits, and pseudo-intellectuals with a pre-programmed worldview.
The fact is most of the discourse on China in Africa is dominated by Western ideological lenses and frames. This is driven forward by a propagandized media with a barrage of often skewed facts. The term ‘fake news’ did not gain popularity by mistake. There has been a concerted effort from Western governments to sully the image of China and create an aura of negativity around the country. However, a visit to China can reveal an entirely different truth.
The leadership of the CPC has captured the true meaning of good governance based on the principles of planned development with respect for the environment. The air in Beijing which was once polluted, and painted a bad image of China is now very clean and clear. The greenery in Beijing can be observed from the sky as the city leadership has taken unprecedented steps to clean it up. Also, the government has undertaken a large program to rid the city of harmful exhaust fumes from fuel-powered vehicles. The city has embarked on a bold program to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road and slowly transition from fuel-powered cars. The capital, despite having millions of people, is mostly quiet, clean, and organized. The crime rate in major Chinese cities is relatively low compared to some Western capitals. This is a huge achievement because it shows that the CPC’s way of governance leads to safety for both locals and foreigners.
Furthermore, whereas China is still a developing country, the CPC has taken huge strides to make the lives of Chinese better and much simpler. The transport network or system in China is state-of-the-art and can be compared to a few around the world. The subways are clean and well-maintained, and the transport system is fast and efficient.
Guangzhou is a city that bears hallmarks of China’s embrace of the future. The city is a vibrant spectacle of cultural diversity and inter-civilizational exchanges. In the outskirts is the China-Singapore knowledge city that is also a towering beacon of China’s future which is ambitious, daring, artistic, planned, and a testament to the CPC’s good governance through collaboration with willing partners.
Most people misunderstand China’s strict laws and often overlook the fact that it’s these laws that have made China a vibrant tourist destination and a safe place for all law-abiding foreigners. While in China, it is hard to see an armed officer, yet everyone seems to be orderly. The people have gradually internalized a true rules-based society and are mostly organized.
Finally, I think China-Africa relations are better served with these kinds of educational exchanges involving different groups of people from different sectors of the African economy. Mutual learning eventually leads to mutual understanding, win-win partnerships, and a shared future of prosperity. China has a lot to learn from Africa and the reverse is true. The future of China-Africa joint development is in the capable hands of the CPC and the Chinese people, African leaders, and African people and in organizations such as CAI, CASS, UCASS, Development Watch Center, and many more others. People-to-people diplomacy is the ultimate plug between China and Africa. CASS, CAI, and UCASS through joint efforts have managed to show the true China to many African friends.
The Writer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Development Watch Center