Bidding Farewell to America’s Failed Democracy

The draining of the swamp never happened. US troops are still in war zones around the globe. Apartheid Israel has grown in size even more. Meanwhile, neither Trump nor Biden can stop a China-Russian partnership that is blazing new state-led paths to progress and prosperity…

by Pepe Escobar November 3, 2020

Whatever the geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences of the spectacular US dystopia, the Russia-China strategic partnership, in their own slightly different registers, have already voted on their path forward.

Here is how I framed what is at the heart of the Chinese 2021-2025 five-year plan approved at the plenum in Beijing last week.

Less than a week before the game-changing U.S. presidential election, the real heart of the geopolitical and geoeconomic action is virtually invisible to the outside world.

We’re talking about the fifth plenum of the 19th Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Central Committee, which started this past Monday in Beijing.

The plenum congregates the 200 members – and another 100 alternate members – of the civilization-state’s top decision-making body: the equivalent, in Western liberal democracy terms, of the Chinese Congress.

The outline of what will be the 14th Chinese Five-Year-Plan (2021-2025) will be announced with a communiqué at the end of the plenum this Thursday. Policy details will be streaming in the next few weeks. And everything will be formally approved by the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March 2021.

For all practical purposes, this should be regarded as what China’s leadership is really thinking.

Meet “China’s system”

President Xi has been quite busy, delivering an extensive work report; a draft of the five-year plan; and a full outline of China’s top targets all the way to 2035.

Xi has been forcefully stressing a “dual circulation” strategy for China; to increase the focus on the domestic economy while balancing it with foreign trade and investment.

Actually a better definition, translated from Mandarin, is “double development dynamics”. In Xi’s own words, the aim is to “facilitate better connectivity between domestic and foreign markets for more resilient and sustainable growth”.

One spectacular achievement we already know about is that Xi’s goal for China to reach the status of a “moderately prosperous society” has been met in 2020, even under Covid-19. Extreme poverty has been eliminated.

The next step is to deal long-term with the absolutely critical issues of crisis of global trade; less demand for Chinese products; and varying degrees of volatility caused by the unstoppable rise of China.

The key priority for Beijing is the domestic economy – in tandem with reaching key tech targets to enhance China’s high-quality development. That implies building high-end, integrated supply chains. And then there’s the tortuous road of implementing necessary institutional reforms.

Crucially, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is “guiding” companies to invest in core technology; that means semiconductors, 5G applications, the Internet of Things (IoT), integrated circuits, biomedicine.

So everything is, once again, all about the Chip War – which is at the heart of AI, 5G, supercomputing, quantum computing, material science, biotechnology, new energy vehicles and space science.

China’s leadership is very much aware that the real high stakes revolve around the next generation of chip technology.

Enter the concept of China’s system: or how to fight the “U.S.-initiated cold war in high technology”.

“China’s system” has been developed by IT expert Ni Guangnan. It aims to “replace U.S. technologies in core areas including the key IT infrastructure, in which the U.S.-led IOE system, an acronym for an IT network based on major three supplies – IBM, Intel and Oracle – have the monopoly. With self-developed servers, database and storage, the system could be based on chipsets with lower performance with no need for 14-nanometer (nm) or 7-nanometer chip fabrication – prime targets of the U.S.-led crackdown.”

Various calculations in China roughly agree that by the end of this year the economy is set to be 72% the size of the U.S.’s. The State Council forecasts that the Chinese economy will overtake the EU in 2027 and the U.S. by 2032.

But if measured by PPP (purchasing power parity), as both the IMF and The Economist have already admitted, China is already the world’s largest economy.

The fifth plenum once again reiterates all the goals inbuilt in Made in China 2025. But there’s more: an emphasis on the “2035 vision” – when China should be positioned as a global tech leader.

The “2035 Vision” concerns the halfway point between where we are now and the ultimate target in 2049. By 2035 China should be a fully modernized, socialist nation and a superpower especially in science and technology and Defense.

Xi had already stressed it way back in 2017: China will “basically” realize “socialist modernization” by 2035. To get there, the Politburo is seeking an extremely ambitious synthesis of “scale, speed, quality, efficiency and safety”.

Beyond Westphalia

Considering that the Trump administration has been engaged on a relentless offensive since May 2018, it was only since last July that the CCP leadership has been consistently preparing China for what it considers a lengthy and fierce struggle with the U.S.

That has elicited quite a few comparisons with what the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping referred about Mao Zedong in 1938. Mao at the time said that China should “be on the defensive first before gathering enough strength to fight to a strategic stand-off and eventually win the ‘protracted war’” against the Japanese invasion.

Now we have a weiqi strategy all over again. Beijing will only launch what amounts to a concerted counterpunch across the chessboard when it’s able to close the tech gap and establish its own domestic and global supply chains completely independent from the U.S.

Beijing will need a major soft power P.R. operation to show the world how its drive in science and technology is aimed as a global good, with all humanity benefiting, irrespective of nations. The Chinese Covid-19 vaccine should be setting the example.

In a recent podcast discussing one of my latest columns on Lanxin Xiang’s book The Quest for Legitimacy in Chinese Politics,

Brazilian China expert Elias Jabbour came up with a stunning formulation.

Jabbour echoed top Chinese scholars when he stressed China won’t behave as an aggressive Westphalian state: “The subversion of Westphalia by China came from the fact it incorporated the Russian Revolution to 1949. China is laying out for the future an order that may subvert Westphalia.”

So what we have here is that the foremost concept of Xi’s China – whose best English translation reads as “community with a shared future for humanity” – is actually the subversion of Westphalia. A subversion from within.

Jabbour reminds us that when Mao said that only socialism may save China, he meant save it from the treaty of Westphalia, which facilitated the dismemberment of China during the “century of humiliation.”

So in the end a strategic marriage between Marx and Confucius in Xi’s China is more than feasible, transcending geopolitics as we know it, which was born as a national ideology in France, Germany and Britain.

It’s as if Xi was trying, as Jabbour noted, to “go back to original Marxism as a leftist Hegelianism”, geared towards internationalism, and mixing it with the Confucius view of tianxa, “all under heaven”. That’s the master idea behind “community with a shared future for humanity.”

One can always dream that another world is indeed possible: think of a cultural renaissance of the overwhelming majority of the Global South, with a fruitful cross-fertilization of China and Asian economies, the evolving decolonization struggle of Latin America, and the weight of the African diaspora.

But first, the next Chinese five-year plan has got to roll.

Here is a standard Chinese think tank interpretation.

Many around the world, especially in the United States, are still trapped in a benighted, primitive and perniciously toxic superstition that, of all the available choices, a democratic free market system is the best and most moral form of government. 

But 40 years of reform in China have shown that this is not true. Socialism with Chinese characteristics has delivered far better results for far more people than any other political system in history. For example, according to the World Bank, GDP per capita has grown from the equivalent of $89.5 in 1960 to $10,262 in 2019, a 115-fold increase.

Perhaps more significantly, the proportion of Chinese people living below the equivalent of $1.90 per day fell from 66.3 percent in 1990 to 0.5 percent in 2016. Moreover, the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25, FYP) provides an even more convincing example of what a truly benevolent, humane and competent government looks like.

The broad goals in the proposal of 14th FYP of achieving healthy economic development and becoming a moderately developed economy by 2035 are unsurprising. But the paradigm of a five-year planning process is necessary for a truly benevolent and effective system of governance.

And this is only possible because China’s political system does not suffer from the defect of needing to pander for votes or to score political points that burdens countries with two-party systems. Instead, China’s government can devote its complete and undivided energy and attention to realizing the Chinese people’s aspirations for a better life.

Rather than relying on an inherently crude, unreliable and easily corruptible process of voting, the 14th FYP was shaped by more than one million suggestions submitted online as well as advice from think tanks, various government agencies, universities as well as scholars and other experts.

While the plan addresses economic growth, technology and geopolitical issues, one of the most important topics it addresses is raising incomes while reducing inequality through expanding employment opportunities and raising the quality of available jobs.

The Central Business District (CBD) in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong Province, March 19, 2019. /Xinhua

Also, while the details of the 14th FYP are shaped by a modern and scientific approach to ensure that the needs and desires of the people are accurately and fully understood, the philosophy and guiding principles of this plan are rooted in Chinese President Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, which itself is based on a fusion of Marxist theories, insights from Chinese philosophy and the practical experience gleaned from thousands of years of successful governance.

One key lesson from Chinese history is that providing for the basic physical needs of the people is the most important job for a ruler. Those that engage in reckless or endless wars or otherwise ignore this are soon swept aside as these actions impoverish the people. And, so the emphasis on employment in the 14th FYP reflects the wisdom as well as benevolence and humane authority of China’s government.

But the focus on employment addresses other important needs of the people as well. According to Abraham Maslow, human beings have a series of needs that must be satisfied in a sequential order: Physiological, safety, sense of belonging, esteem, self-actualization. A focus on employment, raising the quality of jobs and reducing urban-rural inequality addresses a number of these needs.

A job, of course, provides the means for food, shelter and clothing. But it can also deliver a sense of security and hope for the future, which addresses the safety needs that people have. Moreover, a high quality job also provides a sense of community, contribution and achievement. Finally, a more equitable system of employment ensures that people feel that their society is a fair one.

One of the most difficult tasks of governing is setting the right priorities. China’s 14th FYP shows the government’s continued focus on the true needs and aspirations of the Chinese people. Because of this, more and more people around the world are coming to see China as the true shining city on a hill.

And here is some especially pertinent context examining how rampant Sinophobia is impotent when faced with an extremely efficient made in China model of governance.

When reality sets in, later on, it will act as a powerful punch in the stomach of Western individuals and they will be left to gasp for air. They will indeed discover that life has changed for them and not in any positive way. Inflation will rapidly swell the price of daily necessities while deflation will lower the prices of their assets and their savings. It is the worst possible of any outcomes for Western populations and this will weigh heavily on the realignment of the cards on the desk of the ship of international relations.

In the meantime what is taking place in the realm of Geo-politics is indeed absolutely stupendous. We are literally on the cusp of a redrawing of life on earth along two lines :

1. the shift of the economy-world to East-Asia is redrawing the governance-world amidst many dangers of conflicts

2. the side-effects of Modernity are converging and unleashing numerous feed-back loops that point to tipping points that threaten life on earth

3. one and two are also converging into what I call “The Great Convergence” that confuses the minds of citizen, and bring about chaos along the way to what comes after Modernity.

To keep the mind out of this chaos and possibly detect the path to the future of humanity I rely on a broader analysis about life and societal evolution that is based on a series of core concepts that go as follows :

1. the 7 principles of life

2. the mind is a singularity

3. during Modernity the human mind converted to the reason that is at work within capital

4. ignorance of inter-dependencies causes suffering

5. modulation of the continuum of the cultural field

6. the great convergence of the crisis of the governance-world with the multiple side-effects of Modernity

7. the human predicament urges us to find meaning in our life 

This study shows how China’s complex history, culture, and civilizational axioms simply cannot fit into the Western, Christian hegemonic worldview.

The not so hidden “secret” of China’s 2021-2025 five-year plan – which the Global Times described as “economic self-reliance” – is to base the civilization-state’s increasing geopolitical clout on technological breakthroughs.

Crucially, China is on a “self-driven” path – depending on little to no foreign input. Even a clear – “pragmatic” – horizon has been set: 2035, halfway between now and 2049. By this time China should be on a par or even surpassing the US in geopolitical, geoeconomic and techno power.

That is the rationale behind the Chinese leadership actively studying the convergence of quantum physics and information sciences – which is regarded as the backbone of the Made in China push towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The five-year plan makes it quite clear that the two key vectors are AI and robotics – where Chinese research is already quite advanced. Innovations in these fields will yield a matrix of applications in every area from transportation to medicine, not to mention weaponry.

Huawei is essential in this ongoing process, as it’s not a mere data behemoth, but a hardware provider, creating platforms and the physical infrastructure for a slew of companies to develop their own versions of smart cities, safe cities – or medicines.

Big Capital – from East and West – is very much in tune with where all of this is going, a process that also implicates the core hubs of the New Silk Roads. In tune with the 21st century “land of opportunity” script, Big Capital will increasingly move towards East Asia, China and these New Silk hubs.

This new geoeconomic matrix will mostly rely on spin offs of the Made in China 2025 strategy. A clear choice will be presented for most of the planet: “win win” or “zero sum”.

The failures of neoliberalism

After observing the mighty clash, enhanced by Covid-19, between the neoliberal paradigm and “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the Global South is only beginning to draw the necessary conclusions.

No Western propaganda tsunami can favorably spin what is in effect a devastating, one-two, ideological collapse.

Neoliberalism’s abject failure in dealing with Covid-19 is manifestly evident all across the West.

The US election dystopia is now sealing the abject failure of Western liberal “democracy”: what kind of “choice” is offered by Trump-Biden?

This is happening just as the ultra-efficient, relentlessly demonized “Chinese Communist Party” rolls out the road map for the next five years. Washington cannot even plan what happens the day ahead.

Trump’s original drive, suggested by Henry Kissinger before the January 2017 inauguration, was to play – what else – Divide and Rule, seducing Russia against China.

This was absolute anathema for the Deep State and its Dem minions. Thus the subsequent, relentless demonization of Trump – with Russiagate topping the charts. And then Trump unilaterally chose to sanction and demonize China anyway.

Assuming a Dem victory, the scenario will veer towards Russia demonization on steroids even as hysterical Hybrid War on China will persist on all fronts – Uighurs, Tibet, Hong Kong, South China Sea, Taiwan.

Now compare all of the above with the Russian road map.

That was clearly stated in crucial interventions by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Putin at the recent Valdai Club discussions.

Putin has made a key assertion on the role of Capital, stressing the necessity of “abandoning the practice of unrestrained and unlimited consumption – overconsumption – in favor of judicious and reasonable sufficiency, when you do not live just for today but also think about tomorrow.”

Putin once again stressed the importance of the role of the state: “The state is a necessary fixture, there is no way […] could do without state support.”

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Pepe Escobar is a Brazilian journalist. He writes a column – The Roving Eye – for Asia Times Online, and works as an analyst for Russian government-funded RT and Sputnik News, as well as Iranian government-funded Press TV. In addition, he previously worked for Qatari government-funded Al Jazeera.

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