China’s unprecedented and sustained economic growth, since the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy in 1978, has transformed the country into a key player in the global economy in the early twenty-first century. Indeed, China’s real GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 9.5 percent during the past 40-plus years. It was predicted that China will become the largest economy in the world by 2028, thus overtaking the GDP of the United States. The main drivers of China’s economic growth include among others the abundant highly skilled, relatively cheap, and disciplined human capital, a set of effectively functioning market institutions, a high rate of capital accumulation, the high absorptive capacity of technology, and the culture of hard work, saving and modesty.
These drivers, notwithstanding, the main catalyst underpinning them is the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its leadership. This fundamental aspect of China’s historical, cultural, social, and economic development appears to be either underplayed or not given its deserved attention by many authors, both local and international.
It needs to be recalled that the CPC has clearly distinctive features or characteristics when compared with other world political parties, especially those in the Western world. The first characteristic is that of having a clearly stipulated mission, across different historical periods. For example, whereas during the time of Mao Zedong, the mission was people’s liberation and national independence, that of Deng Xiaoping’s was building a socialist market economy. Likewise, Xi Jinping’s mission is spearheading socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era with the aim of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Each historical period’s mission is built on and informed by the other, has specific goals and targets, and has a long-term perspective. For instance, elimination of poverty by 2020, basically realizing socialist modernization by 2035 and building a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and beautiful socialist modern country by 2050. Furthermore, each historical period’s mission is informed by the dynamics of the day in terms of grasping opportunities and addressing challenges, whether national, regional, or global. This in-built dynamism makes it possible for the leadership to adapt to changing circumstances while adhering to the underpinning ideology of socialism in the context of Marxism-Leninism.
The second characteristic is consistency in two dimensions. First, the missions are a product of Party National Congresses, which have been held consistently.
Participants of the Congresses are drawn from a wide spectrum of stakeholders as a way of ensuring inclusive ownership and acceptance. Second, in order to realize the mission, the CPC has consistently crafted Five-Year Plans for the National Economic and Social Development. It was only recently that the 14th Five-Year Plan was tabled at the 5th plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee.
The third characteristic is that the leadership has always been visionary and people-centered, with the courage to fight societal vices such as corruption and mafia. They act as role models to the public and walk the talk. These leadership qualities have been rare in many governance systems in the world to date. Apart from the aforesaid, there has always been close communication between the leadership and the people. These top-down and bottom-up communications have facilitated swift execution of decisions because the people and the leaders sing the same chorus.
Indeed, the unprecedented success in fighting the COVID-19 in China was informed by this effective structure of communication, coordination, and execution.
The fourth characteristic is the unwavering solidarity and cooperation displayed by the Party and its leadership on bilateral, trilateral, multilateral, and global issues while honoring and abiding by the principles guiding the requisite cooperative frameworks. A few examples will illustrate this aspect.
First, the CPC has been a keen supporter and promoter of multilateralism, not only in the context of UN institutions, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Peace and Security Organs; but also other international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). Whereas some countries, like the United States, which were the initiators of such cooperation arrangements in the past, are pulling out because of irrational nationalist aspirations, the CPC has unconditionally continued to support these international organizations. This unwavering stance has bestowed honour and trust in China.
Second, the CPC in its cooperation with developing countries has consistently followed the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of partner countries and not attaching any conditions to its development assistance. Indeed, evidence shows that since the Bandung Conference in 1955, China has continuously honored these principles, contrary to Western countries’ imposition of conditions as evidenced in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Third, the CPC and its leadership is always a deliverer when it comes to execution of an agreed cooperation menu. Specifically, the context of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which commemorated its 20th Anniversary last year, has witnessed the constant implementation of the outcomes of each Summit of the Forum. Moreover, the spirit of equality and sincerity has always been the guiding principles of China-Africa cooperation. However, Western countries continue to be critical of the FOCAC. This notwithstanding, we strongly believe that the African leaders, scholars, and people at large, are and should be allowed to be unbiased assessors of the benefits associated with the FOCAC.
The above narrations, observations, and testimonies are clear reflections on how the CPC has been the driving motor cum catalyst of China’s social and economic development. This being the case, and in evaluating the process of China’s socio-economic development, one should never underestimate the enormous and indispensable role played by the CPC.
Otherwise, the evaluation would be incomplete and superficial. Long Live the Communist Party of China!
The author is a professor of economics and director of the Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Dar es Salaam.