“Since my arrival , I get questions about China daily , this 5000 year old civilization with its 1.3 billion people . What is happening in China ? Where is China heading to?
One fact is incontrovertible : This country has undergone drastic and far reaching change , particularly since the reign of President Deng Xiaoping from 1978 to 1989 . Although President Mao Zedong introduced economic steps to make China more self sufficient, it was President Deng Xiaoping, with his “reform and opening –up policy “ who laid the foundation for modern day China .His approach placed China on a totally altered route , a route which drastically improved and continues to improve the lives of all China ‘s people .
In the wake of the years under President Mao , China came to the conclusion that neither the Soviet communist model nor western liberal democracy was the appropriate way to modernize a developing country like China . The country created its own unique and pragmatic approach through inter alia a “mixed economy .“
On the basis of this approach , President Deng Xiaoping , and his successors including the current President, Xi Jinping, through his “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”route , have declared the battle against poverty as well as comprehensive and realistic economic development , as the top priorities for China. Today China is the second biggest economy in the world and it is generally anticipated that it will eventually overtake the USA as the world’s largest economy .
While the West approaches human rights through the prism of civil and political rights , China”s preferred own approach of “putting people ‘s daily livelihoods and wellbeing first “ , has and still continues to produce significant positive results . The primary objective is to drastically improve the economic , social and cultural rights which will then be followed by further reform in other areas . In fact, President XI Jinping stated repeatedly that “ reform and opening up is always an ongoing task and will never end . Without reform and opening up , China would not be what it is today …”
Despite China’s breathtaking economic growth , social progress and increasing international partnerships , there remain international criticisms regarding so called “lack of democracy and respect for human rights “ . Mention is also made in these reports about “ increasing indoctrination of particularly the youth “ and “ strict censorship and enforcement of authoritarian education “.
What do the Chinese say about their current situation , particularly the young people , the leaders of tomorrow ? From my contact with the staff and young people at the University which I am attached to and elsewhere , I can only confirm what an IPSOS opinion poll and others , conducted in 2016, established : namely that ninety percent plus of Chinese people indicated that they were satisfied with their lives as well as with the leadership of the country. This is by no means a surprise ,given the astounding social progress and economic growth in the country . The young people are hardworking and ambitious with the overriding goal of creating a better life for themselves .
Given the vast population , competion for places at university or for a decent job is stiff . At the moment there are more than 7 million students at the more than 2000 universities in China. Almost 600, 000 student are studying abroad , the biggest percentage of which , roughly 350, 000, in the USA. There is also a wish on the part of parents , who experienced poverty , to see their children succeed . The Chinese population numbers are in a downward trend with more and more elderly people , which increases responsibilities on younger people .
As far as their views of foreign countries are concerned, young people appear to be less nationalistic and less skeptical towards the outside world than their parents but equally demand respect for China and peaceful co – existence .
Many cannot understand, why Trump regards their country as a “strategic threat “ because many argue , that China has never initiated war against any country .It is also very evident that they, as leaders of tomorrow, unmistakably strive for stability , prosperity and peace .
My impression is that the young people are intensely involved in a daily quest for improved livelihoods and material conditions which many of their parents were not privy to .
They have wide access to social media , albeit with some restrictions , ( which according to the major internet company, Tencent , is virtually” of no consequence “ given their own Wechat , Baidu etc ) , the freedom to travel and study abroad , which all increasingly will inevitably expose them to “liberalizing “ influences , which could lead to a situation that their outlook may differ from that of their parents . What the implications of this may be in future is difficult to predict.
Whether the young people ‘s decision to aspire for a better life and improved living standards , rather than be interested in “political protest” , is due to “government indoctrination “ or authoritarian education “, as is alleged , is very difficult to see at all. In fact none of the young people has raised this concern .
What I , however , can strongly testify to , is the incredible economic and social progress in this country . As one of the bright young student ‘s remarked : “ I would one day like to start my own business and our government is now creating a stable and prosperous environment for me to realize my dreams . All the other things will work out .”
From my vantage point , I am of the view that any speculation about( or maybe even a ‘ wish ‘) in certain circles in the West , to see greater activism and protest unfold here , is totally out of touch with the realities of what is happening in China on the ground “ .( Not that there are not sporadic small protests )
As far as the Chinese young people are concerned, in fact , this also applies to the Chinese population as a whole , it is more than clear to me , that it is their overwhelming wish and goal to see continued economic growth, social progress and stability rather than “ revolution and chaos “.
Given all the many challenges around the world regarding democracy , human rights and conflict, may be the time has come for the international community to increasingly continue to constructively engage China and in the process accept President Xi Jinping’s undertakings as regards ongoing “ reform and opening up .“
Also keeping in mind , what President Deng Xiaoping said about reform , decades ago : ' Crossing the river by feeling the stones . '