Today's date:
Winter 2014

China and the Three Globalizations

Zheng Bijian is the powerful former permanent Vice-President of the Central Party School, confidant of China’s leaders and author of the “peaceful rise” doctrine. He is presently head of the China Institute for Innovation and Development and a member of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council.

BEIJING—As early as in 1956, Chairman Mao Zedong said that if we failed to turn China into a great socialist country, then we would not be qualified to be citizens on this planet. Today, maybe it is fair to say that if we fail to achieve industrialization and modernization and if we can’t realize the great renaissance of the Chinese civilization in the first half of the 21st century, sooner or later we would be disqualified as citizens of this world. Therefore the Chinese dream today finds its logical beginning and historical root in their firm belief in the “survival and rejuvenation of the nation” born of the two centuries of internal crises and foreign aggression.

In the 173 years since the Opium War, both China and the world have experienced great changes, and those changes are closely linked together. What is the best way to describe the link between these changes? The answer is simple: the three rounds of economic globalization and the three turning points in the destiny of the Chinese nation.

Generally speaking, the first round of economic globalization started around 1750 when the illusion of a splendid “Celestial Empire” blinded Emperor Qianlong to the fact that China was quietly slipping into decline. In the same year, industrial revolution began in England. By 1840, the British had built a domestic railway network, marketing the completion of industrialization in their country. In the same year the British launched the Opium War against China, reducing my country into a semi-colonial country at one strike.

The year 1840 was important to both China and the UK for different reasons. For the UK, it was a hallmark of prosperity, and for China, it was the beginning of foreign domination and humiliation. After the opium War, the Chinese nation started to seek a path to national survival and development. It was the Chinese dream. And a series of old democratic revolutions occurred across the country until the monarchy was overthrown and a republic was founded under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. It was Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who first called on the nation to “rejuvenate China” and initiated a modern national-democratic revolution in its full sense.

However, the revolution in 1911 failed to change the nature of the old Chinese society and the country continued on its trajectory of decline. By and large, the Chinese didn’t seize the opportunity in the first round of economic globalization that lasted over 100 years from the mid 18th century to the end of the 19th century. On the contrary, we hit rock bottom and became the biggest victim of globalization and capital colonialism.

That was the fate of China in the first round of globalization.

What about the second round of globalization? At the end of the 19th century and the beginning if the 20th century, capitalist countries in the West entered the stage of financial capitalism or imperialism. As the newly emerged imperialist powers sought to re-divide the world, two world wars broke out and as a result, the second round of globalization came to a halt and the trend was reversed. At the same time, the world wars gave rise to revolutions.

Two world wars led to two great revolutions at the weakest links of capitalist imperialism, one being the October Revolution in Russia and the other the great revolution of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Different from in the first round of globalization, the Chinese seized the opportunity of the disruption in this first round to start a revolution that led to national independence and liberation in the real sense and made it possible to realize their historical goals and develop the country.

That was the fate of China in the second round of globalization.

Then came the third round of globalization. After WWII there was a transitional period when the two superpowers capable of waging world wars met severe setbacks in their global strategy, including American failure in the Vietnam War and the Soviet failure in the Afghanistan War. Then the world gradually moved to a new historical period of peace and development from mid 1970s to mid 1980s marking the beginning of the new technological revolution and the third round of globalization.

This time, the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union collapsed thanks to their pursuit of hegemony and a rigid development model. The Chinese again seized the new opportunities presented by the third round of globalization to step up development. Since the third plenum of the 11th CPC Congress in 1978, we’ve embarked on a path of independently building socialism with Chinese characteristics in connection with and not detached from the process of economic globalization, focusing on economic development and reform and opening up. Viewed from the perspective of overall domestic and international situations, this path is a path of peaceful rise or peaceful development.

Of course in the world today many different factors are at play. Great changes in both China and the world have developed into a complex web of duality.

When we observe the major powers today, we can see that on the one hand, peace and development are mainstream and the interests of different countries are increasingly interdependent. On the other hand, hegemony and power politics still characterize the behaviors of a few big powers. Right now a new type of big country’s relationship, nascent and fragile, exists side by side with the traditional power relationship, entrenched and stubborn.

Against this background, there are only two options before us. The first is to continue with the Cold War thinking and to engage in various forms of Cold War; and the second is to break a new path and develop converging interests and communities of interests aimed at development.

We know through our experience what the first option would bring. We are opposed to it but we are not scared. The Chinese are in favor of the second approach, which is to steadfastly pursue the development path of peaceful rise on the basis of steady domestic growth (including national defense necessary for the country’s security) in the context of economic globalization and to enlarge convergence of interests and build communities of interests with all countries and regions, first of all with surrounding countries and regions.

Without doubt, the process of world-wide changes and new awakening in the second decade of the 21st century will be full of complex developments with a dual nature. Maybe they are far more complicated and profound than we can expect through our experience or conventional judgment. Nevertheless, I am convinced that great changes and new awakening represents the mainstream and the general trend, and they will continue to move forward inexorably.