China’s Transition from an Ancient Civilization State to Modern Great Power

by Ambassador(R) Syed Hasan Javed



China is an ancient civilization state with thousands of years of history. China’s world view has been shaped by its historical experience, geographical location, economic needs, national aspirations, considerations of domestic stability, regional and international peace and stability. China has been traditionally a peace loving society and its people well known for their ‘pacific temperament’. The Chinese developed a code of conduct to deal with the foreigners even before the birth of Christ. The record of travels of ancient Emissaries, Monks and Merchants to the ‘Western Kingdoms’ in Central and West Asia as well as to Southern seas and Malay Archipelago, South Asia and Eastern coastline of Africa reflect a well- developed diplomatic interaction template with respect of local customs, norms, law, human dignity and based on the lofty principles of Peaceful Co-existence, Cooperation, Collaboration and Solidarity.

Chinese monks and merchants travelled to neighboring kingdoms promoting cultural exchanges and trade. It is also a historical fact that through much of ancient and medieval periods, China was invaded by warlike tribes from its North and the Western borders, beginning from the Huns, Mongols and Manchus. China however won over these tribes through its sophisticated cultural and civilization appeal, assimilating them in the process. They added vigor, energy and dynamism to Chinese society. It was indeed very rare of the Chinese dynasties to initiate conflicts with the neighboring kingdoms, From Shang to Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing periods, the basic rhythm and the contours of the China’s foreign relations remained the same.

The appearance of the European Colonial Powers in Asia carrying ‘Canon and Cross’, using blatantly ‘gunboat diplomacy’ to grab on one hand Asian riches and wealth while on the other hand spread the word of gospel, confronted a weakening Qing dynasty with the dilemma of ‘capitulation’. Once, a proud civilization, the Chinese people became vulnerable to exploitation and miseries for nearly a century, with the defeat in two Opium Wars in 1840-1860 imposed by the Western Powers for extracting economic and trade concessions. The Eight Power Coalition imposed unjust territorial and trade concessions on China after the siege and plunder of Beijing in 1901-02. There is no other example in history of any other society, on whom such unjust treaties and in such a large number were imposed.

The dawn of Republican era in China in 1911 under the leadership of Sun Yatsen, was an epoch making event as it ended the decadent Qing dynasty rule. The Nationalist government however could not overcome the overwhelming odds confronting China, particularly the interference of foreign Powers in its domestic affairs. An era of Warlords, Peasant rebellions, Workers uprisings set in creating a chaotic situation. This was the background under which representatives of China’s intellectuals, Workers and Peasants met in Shanghai to establish Chinese Communist Party. The resultant chaos was utilized by Japan to occupy the northern Chinese Provinces and the Western Powers to consolidate their hold on the coastal cities of Shanghai, Qingdao, Tianjin, Dalian, Canton etc.

The Chinese Communists knew that the Soviet Communism was based on the Marxist template of uprising of ‘Working class’. There was no such working class in China, as China was industrially backward. The few industries based in coastal cities and North East China, (Manchuria) were under occupation of Foreign and Japanese invading forces. The coastal cities had been leased out/mortgaged to the Western Powers by the puppet Nationalist regime and its predecessor i.e. the Qing dynasty. So there was no possibility of Soviet communism template to have any chance in China. The Second World War acted as beginning of the process of decline of the Colonial Powers, with the ‘decolonization wave’ sweeping across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Western colonial thought process of exploitation, oppression and geo-political domination at any cost, gifted the world with two World Wars and hundreds of proxy wars during the so-called Cold War period 1945-1991. The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 gave a false sense of relief and hope to the international community that the paradigm of conflict underlying the Cold War template, would be over.

The real process of modernization began in China with the Policy of Reforms and Open door followed by China’s Reformist leadership in the wake of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Communist Party Congress in December, 1978. A month earlier, China’s Reformist leader and Statesman Deng Xiaoping, who was a Vice Premier at that time was visiting Singapore. He was visibly impressed by the achievements of the tiny Island state. Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew recalls his conversation with Deng Xiaoping in his famous book ‘From Third World to First: Singapore Story. He told Deng Xiaoping that ‘there is nothing that Singapore has done which China could not do better’.

This was enough for Deng, who set out to put China on a track of Policy Reforms in every sphere of its nation building, economy, foreign relations, technology and social capital from where there has been no looking back. He sent out several hundred ‘Study Missions’ abroad to learn from global best practices. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew recalls that they came with ‘Video recorders, Camera and Note books’. I remember from my own first diplomatic assignment in Beijing from 1980-1987 that more than a dozen Study teams came to Pakistan too, in the early and Mid- Eighties to learn from our regulatory frameworks to attract Foreign Investment, success of our Textile, Sports and Leather goods industry and the establishment of Export Processing Zone in Karachi. China was yet to begin its massive program of establishing Four Special Economic Zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Xiamen and Shatou, followed by fourteen additional SEZs, that transformed the economic fortunes of China, like never before.

China’s transition from a backward agrarian society with Centralized planning and a Subsistence economy from 1949-1979  to a modern , prosperous and Technologically advanced First World Power was made possible by wide ranging Reforms by the Collective leadership under Deng Xiaoping, who was a man of great Vision who valued merit, results and practical action. These Reforms included : End of State of Fear and Paranoia, Restoration of  Individual Freedoms, Sanctity of Merit,  and Rule of Law, Mindset change, Revival of Soft Power Values, Agriculture Household Responsibility System, Township Village Enterprises (TVEs), Simplification of Rules of Procedures for doing Business, Incentives and One Window operations ( Real one window) for Foreign Investors, Investment in Higher Education, Civil Service and governance Reforms, Strict Penalties and Punishments to curb Corruption, Mobilization of Overseas Chinese, Establishment of Special Economic Zones, Promotion of Export Culture with ‘Proto Industrialization’ by exporting Toys, Home appliances, Handicrafts and Souvenir Items, Textiles, Electronic items etc.

The international community, particularly states and societies in Asia, Africa and Latin America admire and respect the peaceful rise of China. The overwhelming majority of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America and even in Mexico, Canada and Europe see China’s rise as an opportunity.  China’s soft power appeal certainly by far exceeds any other state, in contemporary history.Most states in the world with the exception of India, view Modern China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Win winParadigm of Connectivity, Inclusiveness, Collaboration and Cooperation, as indeed riding the wave of the Future. During the Cold War period from 1945-1991, India remained on the wrong side of history by standing with the former Soviet Union. Only a week before the G-20 Summit, India decided to sign the Agreement called Indo-US Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) on 29 August, 2016. This was to embarrass the G-20’s Chinese hosts. The Agreement entitles the mutual use of land, air and naval bases, logistics for repair and re-supply. The signing of LEMOA was a shrewd move by India to distract China, as it prepared to host G-20 Summit.

China has refused to be provoked and ignored India’s strategic distraction.The G-20 Summit was instead, a great success. India also launched a negative campaign based on ‘China Threat’ theory, using Dalai Lama. China again refused to be provoked. Similarly, India in its ultimate ecstasy and state of delusion   isolated itself in the international community, by boycotting the OBOR Summit in Beijing from 14-16 May, 2017 on flimsy grounds. More than 127 Countries and entities were represented, with 28 Heads of State and government. By lifting a billion people out of poverty in the shortest period of human memory, China has been successful in reducing poverty from eighty percent of population in 1978 to just 3 percent in 2016, as per credible estimates. China has already become Global Number One in production of Steel, Electricity generation, Automobiles, Renewable Energy, Mobile Phones and agriculture products. China is fast riding the technology Value chain and moving from a low cost, low tech producer to a high cost and High Tech Manufacturer of Bullet Trains, Stealth Aircrafts, Submarines, Aircraft carriers etc.The success of China’s diplomacy exemplified by the OBOR Summit reflects how best China is combining the Soft Power attributes of its ancient cultural heritage, with the needs of its epic transformation in Modern Age. China has covered indeed a long distance in a short time.

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