Working hard and enduring hardship (吃苦耐劳, 卧薪尝胆）, Striving unremittingly (自强不息，from the Book of Changes or I Ching) and Self-reliance (自力更生）are millenia-old virtues or values of the Chinese civilization. From an individual and community to a nation state, those three values inspire and impel the Chinese nation and people to overcome dire and deep adversities and arise from the ashes of natural calamities and foreign invasions.
The Xinhai Revolution in 1911 ended more than two thousand years of dynastic and feudal rule, and semi-colonialism after the First Opium War in 1840. Soon after the Xinhai Revolution, China descended into wars between the warlords, followed by the Japanese invasion from 1931 to 1945, the Long March and eventually the victory of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) .
Barely a year after PRC was established, China went into the Korean War to help North Korea to resist and repel the imperialist aggression. The falling out with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s brought the emerging industrialisation to an abrupt halt. The split led to the Great Leap Forward, which came to grief three years later. The respite was brief. The decade-long Cultural Revolution set back what little improvements achieved during the interlude.
Then came Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and opening that achieved unparalleled and uninterrupted fast economic growth in China and the world in modern history. Encouraged and emboldened by the rapid progress, CPC and the people put their shoulders to the wheel and work towards the Chinese Dream of a moderately prosperous society by 2021, the centennial of the formation of CPC. Xi Jinping has a bigger dream : a developed and modern Socialist State by 2049, the centennial of the establishment of the People’s Republic.
From Xinhai Revolution and the Long March to the founding of PRC and the Chinese Dream, the Chinese nation and people slogged, endured hardship, almost always self-reliant and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. From the euphoric moment when Japan surrendered unconditionally in August 1945 to the dark hours in 1959 when PRC fell out with USSR, Mao and CPC never lost sight of the need to be self-reliant.
After Deng’s reforms and opening, and accession to WTO in 2001, China plugged into global trade and investment. Under WTO rules, China opened up the agriculture sector. The flood of highly-subsidized farm imports from the US resulted in more than a million farm workers losing their job. China took it on the chin. CPC leaders are wise and prescient enough to keep the banking, utilities, energy and defence sectors from foreign investors, and retain a substantial state presence in key industries. Without such safeguards, China today would have its sovereignty severely compromised, becoming another neoliberal vassal of the American empire.
The People’s Republic now is upon another crossroad : to give in to America’s demand to dismantle state-owned enterprises and junk the Made in China 2025 industry blueprint, OR become self-reliant on high technology and economic development. Xi gave an unequivocal answer earlier this week when he toured the Rust Belt in northeastern China.
“Internationally, it’s becoming more and more difficult for China to obtain advanced technologies and key know-how. Unilateralism and trade protectionism are rising, forcing us to adopt a self-reliant approach. This is not a bad thing.”
“China was a big country which must depend on itself for food supply, depend on itself for economic development, and depend on itself for manufacturing.”
Unlike Mao’s era when China had isolation imposed on it by western powers through decades-old embargo, the country’s opening to the outside world since Deng’s period is irreversible. While the Middle Kingdom will become more self-reliant in the development of technology and the economy, it will continue to trade with other countries which practice free trade. Beijing’s free trade agreements with ASEAN and other nations will ensure blooming trade. The Belt and Road Initiative, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership close to conclusion, will boost trade in Asia by leaps and bounds. Coupled with fast-growing domestic demand, China can do without the US market and still rise peacefully. In other words, the US market is not indispensable to China.