Editor’s note: The author is the former President of Serbia. The following text is his full address at the opening ceremony of the 9th World Forum on China Studies.
When Deng Xiaoping set the goal of The Four Modernizations in the 1970s, the world could not dream that China will change the very meaning of the word “modernization” in the 21st century. Today when we talk about China’s modernization, we do not talk just about rapid and multilevel success of China - we talk about setting the new global criteria of the modernization as a phenomenon.
When last year at the Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for Socialist Modernisation until 2035 was proposed, that was at the same time setting of the new not just meaning, but also the significance of the term “modernization”. The plan envisages a rapid growth of economic, scientific and technological strength and a new level of income per capita in urban and rural areas, but also a vision of a great modern socialist country that might be the historical transformation of socialism itself.
When we talk about China’s success, we can line up and enumerate fascinating numbers and illustrations of Chinese achievements, but in my opinion, above all these figures, it is important to point at the wider picture in which China is changing the whole world.
Giving a new meaning of the term modernization, China is offering a role model to the whole world that has been stuck for a long time in the trap where the traditional Western meaning of modernization does not respond to contemporary challenges anymore. In other words, regardless of the fact that modernization as a theory, vision and practice has its origins in the West, I believe we are facing a revolution where it will be reborn and transformed in Chinese ideological and practical implementation.
Actually, it would not be an exaggeration even to propose a completely new term based on China’s model of modernization. Compared to what China is doing today, the term modernization sounds outdated. In that context, more than just implementing modernization, China today is actually delivering the original and innovative overcoming of the mistakes and consequences of the Western type of modernization. That means that China is, by its example, giving a lecture to the whole world that is struggling with the consequences of what once was set as modern and prosperous.
One of the great misunderstandings is the Western perception that China for its own sake needs to adjust its communication with the West in order to reach their perception of modernization. No. China should adjust it for the sake of the Western world, as misunderstood lessons from China will be paid by the West and not China.
The world also has to adjust its communication with China in the best hope that meeting the halfway will bring mutual benefits. The challenges the West is facing in the 21st century convinced the world that the modernization is not equal to westernisation. So, China is not on the task to adjust to the Western world, but on the historical mission to make adjustments in order to be in better position to help the whole world.
There is no end of the history. Although it sounded adequate to the world of the 21st century and often as a logical and even comforting slogan to be put in the front of contemporary global challenges, while shrugging over the questions that Western modernization could not answer. But history continues on its inevitable way, whether or not we stand in front of it in silence. China is not silent. The pandemic is the best example of how loud China was when the rest of the world was silent.
The West had missed the opportunity to transform its dominant ideology and that opportunity was passed over when Western success had reached its peak. That peak unfortunately was not the platform for making world a better place, but it produced social injustice and further unsustainable development.
On the other hand, China did quite the opposite and today we are witnessing in China’s path of modernisation the correction of all these Western mistakes. And this is not the first time China is helping out, or I would even dare to say - saving the world.
Wasn’t, for example, the continued high growth of the Chinese economy the main driver of the global economic recovery during the global economic crisis of 2008-2012?
Or imagine modern humanity for a moment, without China’s implementation of Deng’s reforms simply pulling almost 800 million people out of the deepest poverty, who, with their newly created economic potential, changed the parameters of economic development, not only for China but for the overall world market.
Finally, let’s imagine how the Western world would cope today with the unbearable challenge of a much larger influx of migrants than the current one, which would have happened if Deng’s reforms and China’s incredible success in eradicating poverty had been lacking.
Today, understanding China is inseparable of understanding the Chinese philosophy of modernization. It is a huge mistake of the West to perceive arrogantly that China is competing with it trying to reach its levels. No. China is changing the very nature of modernization, creating its own original way for thriving in the contemporary world. The way has been creating, not competing.
The ideology that once won came to a dead end where capitalism has more victims than winners, where nature fights back exploitation and where human being as individual is left alone. With the progress forward, people were left behind. With material wealth that celebrated the exploitation of resources, nature was left behind. With celebrating populism, democracy was winning.
And in those circumstances, China did not respond with an old ideology, but with revolutionary transformation of it. China reminded us that we need new Marxism.
That is why I feel free to propose the new word- harmonization. Because, the nature of the word modernization can be interpreted differently in various cultures, which might easily lead to new misunderstandings. China should use its success to propose new ideology to the world. The ideology of harmonization.
Humanity today does not have an adequate response to the challenges it faces.
I will shed light on just one example, which testifies to the absurdity of today’s civilization.
The corona pandemic has so far affected nearly 240 million people, of whom 4.8 million have lost their lives. And no one can predict with certainty its further course. The most painful fact is that there is again a lack of global solidarity and cooperation in the research, production and distribution of vaccines and necessary medical equipment. At the same time, COVID-19 hit the world economy hard, causing crises and mass layoffs in both poor and rich countries. However, this crisis has not affected individuals- the possessors of the world’s greatest wealth. The wealth of the ten people who were the richest in the world in December 2020, despite the pandemic according to the Oxfam analysis, increased by half a trillion dollars, to 1.12 trillion dollars. That is enough money to vaccinate the entire world population against COVID-19 and to ensure that no country becomes impoverished due to the pandemic, the analysis states. This fact only clearly testifies to the unsustainability of the existing global economic order, its absurdity and deep inhumanity.
Let us recall at this point the thoughts of Confucius, who said that only the great inequality is worse than the poverty. And that is exactly why the time has come for a New Global doctrine of Harmonization, which is a precondition for sustainability and global peace, not just development.
The path of Chinese modernization is a fascinating juncture of its tradition and philosophy reflected in its development and social reality. I would say that the philosophy of Confucianism is a milestone of Chinese perception of development today and in the very heart of it lies the harmonization.
Social harmonization that China is offering today is the solution to global challenges that came out as a result of unbalanced development that caused estrangement and conflict. On the contrary, China is offering accelerated development, but with the attention on avoiding these negative outcomes.
In regard to development, what China has achieved within decades- it took the West centuries. But China’s development implies that economic, cultural, political, social and ecological sectors are to be developed simultaneously. And I would say that one of the most important innovations that China is offering is the fact that the development is perceived through the lenses of civilization.
In China’s modernization drive, new models of industrialization, informatization, urbanization and agricultural modernization will develop simultaneously. The scale and speed of modernization in the world’s most populous country are unprecedented and will inevitably have a profound impact on the world.
According to the blueprint for its development in the next 5 to 15 years, which is under review at the “two sessions,” China will accelerate forging a new development paradigm of “dual circulation” in which domestic and overseas markets reinforce each other with the domestic market as the mainstay.
China is seeking a modernization in which the construction of economic, political, cultural, social and ecological civilization is jointly promoted.
The unbalanced advancement of modernization can cause estrangement and conflict. Economic growth does not necessarily do away with social difficulties. On the contrary, certain types of growth actually cause these problems.
China rejects such types of modernization path. With its GDP exceeding the 100-trillion-yuan (about 15.42 trillion U.S. dollars) mark in 2020, China has explicitly stated that it will strive to keep its economy running within an appropriate range during the 2021-2025 period rather than just getting a numerical success.
Although the modernization of the West has created unprecedented material wealth, it has also led to the waste of resources and environmental damage.
In the modernization China is striving for people and nature to exist in harmony.
China’s modernization involves not only a drastic increase in economic production capacity, but also comprehensive social progress. China seeks a people-centered modernization that is different from the Western model in which capital is the primary driver and dominant logic.
It is worth mentioning that people-centered modernization is in line with the highest ideals and value pursuits of Marxism, whose goal is to benefit the people and ultimately achieve the full development of each individual.
However, the explosive growth of the Chinese economy is no longer a surprise and news to the world, but a growing and ubiquitous patriotism and pronounced pride of Chinese citizens - a natural consequence of such accelerated social, technological and economic development unparalleled in recent world history.
This new sense of universal pride in belonging to such a prosperous nation is an additional factor of accelerated development and it functions flawlessly internally. However, in a world of Western domination, it arouses suspicion. It, in turn, often grows into a fear of a new phenomenon of Chinese nationalism, which the West sees as a potential factor in China’s aspiration to take over global domination.
The absurdity of this moment of our common political reality lies in the very fact that, above all, the Western superpowers, which have been taking over the role of global leader for centuries, are denying such right to others. Such a position on the podium of global arrogance only leads to a conclusion that the Western world considers that such role naturally belongs to them.
While not denying the enormous contribution of Western civilization to the overall development of the world, such an attitude is even more absurd if we bear in mind the terrible sufferings and problems that same world faced during global and regional wars and the huge socio-economic differences resulting from neoliberal political philosophy and global order in which humanity still functions today.
Every country has the right to choose its own modernization path. The Chinese model of modernization offers a new option to other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence. It also offers Chinese wisdom and Chinese approach to solving the problems facing humanity.
(The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the author, not neccesarily those of the People’s Daily.)
By Boris Tadić | People's Daily app 19:49, October 18, 2021