Second of two parts
We left China last Saturday (Nov. 29) on a flight of China Southern from Beijing bound for Manila. The flight had a brief stopover at Xiamen International airport—our port of entry 9 days earlier—so we could have our passports properly marked and our hosts could then be rid of us.
For the 13 Filipinos who made the trip home (we left the other 3 behind in Beijing where they temporarily reside as student-scholars), it has been a long, exciting and finally exhausting journey—a sojourn of immersion in another country and another culture that no ordinary tour can replicate.
As a first-time visitor to china, it has been for me a most enlightening and rewarding experience, enlivened by meetings and discussions with government officials, scholars, visits to village and residential communities, museums, universities, and major industrial and development zones.
In my work in journalism, public consulting and sports management, I’ve visited many places (even gone as far as Siberia and Alaska), but for some reason, I never had the opportunity or urge to visit China. I fell into the trap of thinking that having visited Hong Kong and Taiwan several times, there wasn’t much more that the mainland could add to my memory bank.
Which, of course, is a foolish notion, and it was quickly dispelled by the itinerary and program that our host – the International Department of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) – had carefully laid out for us and proceeded to follow with clockwork precision.
The shadow of the Cold War
Those like me who spent their youth under the shadow of the Cold War invariably remember a land called Red China. And it was not until President Ferdinand Marcos established full diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines, that the names got sorted out in our heads. When Marcos also issued his landmark decree to normalize the citizenship status of Chinese born in the country and Chinese immigrants, Filipino-Chinese relations underwent a seismic change in regard, respect and role in the national economy.
In those days we saw the East-West conflict in cardboard terms. Communism is bad. Democracy is better. America is the good guy. The Soviet Union is the bad guy.
Reagan’s resolute leadership bankrupted the USSR and gave birth to Mikhail Gorbachev, who then presided over the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.
Predictably, with communism’s collapse, Chinese leaders were deeply worried about its implications for their own regime. They had suppressed liberty in 1989 when they sent the tanks to deal with the protests on Tiananmen Square.
Tiananmen was relegated to international forgetfulness, as China made its spectacular climb to frontline status with dizzying growth rates of 9% or better for over a decade.
Now, as the economy has overheated and sputters with the twin challenges of an aging population and massive pollution, China must rethink and recharge to continue its march forward. It is challenged to think through what its global role should be commensurate to its economic success and might.
China’s attempts to break with the past
In her book, Strategies for a Changing World, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher perceptively suggested that in trying to assess and influence this emerging superpower, the proper starting point for analysis is paradoxically the pre-communist era.
She wrote: “The history of China in the 20th century is that of a series of attempts to break with the past. Out went the ancient Confucian-based system of government (1905); then the imperial dynasty itself (1912)), then the republican nationalism of the Kuomintang (1949), then more recently what has been seen as the bureaucratic excesses of traditional socialism.”
China today is in the cusp of another major effort at change and renewal.
The renewal of the Chinese Nation
In the morning of November 15, 2012, President Xi Jinping delivered his first public address after being elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
His first address laid emphasis on the Chinese people’s aspiration for a better life. He said: “Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better schooling, more stable jobs, more satisfying incomes, more reliable social security, better health care, better housing conditions, and a more beautiful environment.”
Two weeks later, on November 29, Xi put forward his vision of “the Chinese Dream” which he described as the drive to realize “the great renewal of the Chinese nation.”
The Chinese dream, according to one government book, represents the broadest consensus of the Chinese people of all ethnic groups. It brings together the dream of every citizen for a better life with the dream of the nation for a stronger role in the world. It propagandizes the line that the dream is an “open and win-win dream of cooperation with the rest of the world.”
Clearly, there is an explicit effort here to link the Chinese Dream with the celebrated American dream of success and riches.
China, says Mr. Cai Mingzhao, spokesman of the 18th National Congress of the CPC, is now in the middle of an important social transformation. He wrote:
“As the Chinese saying goes, “those who travel a hundred miles should see ninety miles as only half the journey.” The going gets tougher towards the end. Although we are closer and closer to the target of our dreams, the problems we are facing are getting more complicated.”
Commenting on the Chinese dream, former US Secretary of state Henry Kissinger has said: “ The American dream originated from the Americans’ constant pursuit of better living conditions, with the thinking that tomorrow will be better. The Chinese people in between 150 and 200 years suffered great misery. Therefore to look forward and to put forth the Chinese dream is very important. Though the two dreams have different origins, their ultimate end of a more peaceful, prosperous and cooperative world is consistent.”
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Next: South China Sea dispute
During our discussions with Chinese officials and scholars, we had the opportunity to discuss China’s position and thinking on the South China Sea dispute and its relations with the Philippines. This was candidly shared and explained to us, even when our questions were pointed.
In my next column, I will discuss what I learned from the discussions, and how I see Philippines-China relations developing, and how the thorny dispute can be resolved in the context of the Chinese dream.