HAVING returned from visiting China for the very first time the other week, I have been awe-struck by the Asian country’s systematic infrastructural development, economic prosperity and political stability.
To visit China felt like visiting a mountain top, and witnessing first-hand the country’s meteoric rise and unique systems that benefit men, women and children across the more than 1.4 billion populace.
By their nature, Chinese people speak very little and work like busy bees all year round, letting their actions speak louder than words. As a consequence of this nature of going on quietly about their business, China’s rise in global affairs continues to overwhelm many who never foresaw the quiet revolution.
The People’s Republic of China’s systems of governance are based on fundamental communal considerations, and socialism is a ubiquitous, nay, sacred ideology to behold by the young who are growing through modernity and old, who uphold the country’s traditions amid rapid changes.
The Social Sciences teach us that in life there are only two kinds of changes: bad change and good change. China is blessed with tangible good change, where the Communist Party of China has led the government programme of poverty eradication, and not poverty alleviation.
China had been lauded for taking more than 500 million of its citizens out of poverty and into the middle class. Education is central in the country, and the majority of the citizens study across the mushrooming higher education institutions that are found in every province of the country.
Socialism as a form of governance is manifested not only in bold actions of the CPC-led government, but also in public graffiti and literature captured mainly in the official Mandarin. The colonial history of China serves as a motivation for the population to keep working harder, and never to return to the ugly days of being ruled by foreigners in their land of birth.
At the entrance of a cigarette-manufacturing company in Yuxi city, Yunnan province, a plague in Chinese letters reads, when translated loosely into English: “Never forget the promise of the past.” Our tour guide and host, Cristal Zhao, said the words served as a constant reminder to the present and future generations about the sacrifices of those that came before them, the ones that fought French colonialism and won. They are the heroes and heroines that laid the foundations of modern China, a China that works extremely hard and prosper for all its citizens.
A significant number of Chinese citizens do travel abroad to study, but on completion of their courses they all return home to plough back. Opportunities for a better life are aplenty. Life chances for Chinese children born and growing in modern China are amazing. It is no wonder, therefore, that the country does not suffer from an iota of brain drain.
None of its citizens yearns to cut and run. Such a proposition barely exists, and if it does, it lacks magnetic appeal. Throughout the country’s activities, programmes and projects, there is a great sense of patriotism. The love for one’s country. The love for their China is visible, and permeates through every aspect of life – good life, I may add.
China’s socialist ideals run too deep. The country’s constitution “provides that all citizens have the right and obligation to work”. According to the country’s employment and labour rights, “to protect the right to work is to safeguard human dignity and human rights”.
Given the country’s massive population of more than 1.4 billion – the second largest in the world only behind India’s - China has a large workforce. China’s labour law states: “Employment and job security are key to guaranteeing workers’ basic rights and wellbeing, and have a significant impact on economic development, social harmony, national prosperity, and the nation’s rejuvenation.”
I was honoured to be invited as part of the South African group of media practitioners identified by the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS), in conjunction with the embassy of China in SA. In China, the Xinhua News Agency took great care of us, ensuring that our stay in the world’s biggest developing economy was memorable.
Among the many destinations of interest that we visited was the iconic Great Wall of China. The Beijing tourism attraction Mecca is simply mind-boggling. Built more than 600 years ago, it still stands tall and strong.
American singer Phillip Bailey sang a hit song, “Walking on a Chinese Wall”, truly accentuating the importance of the site. By far the majority of tourists at almost all the tourist attraction sites were Chinese nationals instead of foreign visitors. That meant that country has become self-reliant, and anything that comes from abroad is regarded as a bonus.
We also visited Longyuan Power Group in Beijing, the country’s top state of the art digital energy management centre. Longyuan’s HQ is mind-blowing. The company is excited about its participation in South Africa’s energy reconstruction drive, particularly with the renewables.
They were open about their eagerness and enthusiasm to invest massively in the South African economy, having started with the wind farm in the Northern Cape where Longyan is proud to contribute to the upliftment of the local communities through empowerment schemes. Ms Ding Jing, the vice--president of the Longyuan Power Group, said the company was established in 1993 and has since grown to become the biggest in China and one of the biggest in the world.
Shenzen International Airport is a hive of activity. Almost every few minutes a plane is taking off, and another is landing. Week in and week out, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts dignitaries visiting Beijing in a clear demonstration of China’s rising influence and impact on world affairs.
During our week-long stay in the country, Xi hosted American billionaire, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whom he called “an old friend”. Within days thereafter, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also landed in China for a high-level meeting. Their visits were preceded by that of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who was on a state visit and was hosted by Xi at the Great Hall of the People.
Development could be seen everywhere across the sprawling nation. Multi-storey buildings were seen going up simultaneously, demonstrating the economic muscle of the country. I was particularly attracted by the country’s rural development programmes, where villagers were turned into hugely successful cooperatives that were started and aided financially and materially by the state through various means.
One such example was a tiny fishing community in Yunnan. It comprises some 217 families. Through the government’s intervention they managed to form a company led by skilled professionals, seconded by the government, to assist.
The company employed the villagers in the successful tourism venture in their area. Each family is a shareholder in the scheme, and annually the 217 families share equally 20% of the total dividend. Happiness was written all over the faces of the workers, knowing they were working for themselves.
The Chinese government strives to enable everyone “to create a happy life and achieve their own development through hard work”.
Rural development schemes are part of a series of employment policies and measures that are based on the noble goal that says: “Each household has access to job opportunities, each person has work to do, and each month goes with an income.” You can call it democracy with Chinese characteristics. Put differently, it’s China’s unique formula that they invented for themselves, and for them it’s working optimally.
There are many lessons that South Africa, and indeed the rest of the developing world, can learn out of China’s book. For far too long the global south has lagged behind their counterparts in the global north. The sad result has been the perpetuation of an unequal, unipolar international world order.
The rapid rise of China as a superpower has served to inspire all states across the globe to map out systems that work best for themselves. From each other, we can emulate the best lessons. China’s foreign policy is based on international development and cooperation. Beijing believes that multilateralism is the best way to achieve global harmony and peaceful co-existence.
As Xi told his Australian counterpart recently: “We are partners, not enemies.” It is Beijing’s consistent message of international cooperation, and respect for sovereignty of states, characterised by non-interference unless, or except, if and when invited to do so.
There are plenty of lessons that the world could copy out of China’s quiet resurgence, or rejuvenation, as they prefer to call it in their lexicon.