2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). How far is China away from realizing its rejuvenation? How hard will the process be? How will China’s development influence the world in the future?
Interviewed Professor Danilo Türk (Türk), former president of the Republic of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012 and a senior visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, on these issues.
Host: How far is China away from its national rejuvenation?
Türk: The concept of rejuvenation is very demanding. Only Chinese people know what rejuvenation requires. I believe rejuvenation means different things to different people, and nothing is entirely defined.
Everybody needs to find his or her place in the long process of rejuvenation. So, one has to see rejuvenation as a long march. China has 5,000 years of history and rejuvenation may take a few decades. The needs of people should be taken into account.
It is not clear what people really need once a standard is achieved, so it requires constant reevaluation. In a country that has been developing quickly, what was needed yesterday may not be sufficient tomorrow. China has to see itself as part of the world, and rejuvenation also relates to how China develops its relationship with the rest of the world.
The China-proposed Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is a good beginning. But it would take many decades and would change the world as a whole. Thus, changing the world is part of China’s rejuvenation
Host: What difficulties will China encounter during the process of its rising?
Türk: There might be difficulties both domestically and internationally. Domestically, countries that have developed quickly like China face a period called the middle-income trap. When people are brought out of poverty, their entire life changes.
Then the question is how to avoid stagnation because development should not stay at the level of middle income or lower-middle-income. Expectations are high.
China has developed itself into a leading technological power, and I believe many of these answers depend on new technologies and reorganized production.
How to move from production to brands? There are only a few Chinese brands known globally and there have to be many more to integrate China with the rest of the world.
Internationally, we live in a world of power politics. This leads to a situation where there would be tensions among major powers. We have already seen this with the trade war which the US started against China. I guess this type of challenge can be managed and overcome, but this is not going to be easy.
One has to remember China’s role in the global world: a leader in development and technology, but also a big power which is capable of peacefully managing relations with other big powers.
Host: The US-launched trade war against China is still ongoing. How will current China-US relations influence the world order?
Türk: Everybody is watching the development of the trade war with great concern. Economic growth has slowed down globally. China is very resilient, and the trade war has not influenced China in any fundamental way.
I guess this can also be beneficial for China to overcome some of the problems that need to be overcome.
For example, in the area of high technology, Huawei’s Harmony operating system is being introduced these days, which means China will be less dependent on Google’s Android. This shows that problems brought by trade tensions can be overcome.
I believe this is a good sign, and China should be encouraged to figure out ways that could undermine the negative effects of US policy. The US administration’s trade war policy is seriously irrational, and it will not benefit the US either.
Host: Some Western countries have always hoped to change China as they want. Why can’t China reform in the direction of Western expectations?
Türk: China is simply too big and too special to follow any existing model of development. China is a very diverse country with its 5,000 years of history and 1.4 billion people. China has a rich culture which helped it develop quickly in the past few decades. China has a huge potential and has nurtured many engineers and top specialists. So, China’s model of development is unique.
In my opinion, it is really up to China to figure out which elements of the existing models are helpful. The West should try not to impose their ideas on China’s policies. China does not necessarily need to follow the constitutional models of some Western countries, and China’s governance does not have to be a replica of the European model or any other model.
For example, we have seen this capacity to develop one’s own governance model in Singapore. Singapore’s seemingly Western model is in fact profoundly Asian. I believe China is going to be more like that. China is going to be its own country and will have its own governance and own model of development.
But also, China will be capable of absorbing the useful elements of development from other parts of the world. In the global world, this is necessary.
Host: The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. China has made impressive achievements. What’s your expectation of China’s future over the next 70 years?
Türk: China reestablished itself as an almost unified country under a strong leadership 70 years ago. Chinese society has been moving forward, and the country launched reform and opening-up about 40 years ago.
This has been one of the most impressive developments in the world. When I was working in the United Nations, we were astonished to see how much China had contributed to global improvement. Now, people expect China to keep contributing.
The next 70 years of China’s development are going to be quite dramatic for the global world. China is now connected to every corner of the world. In Europe, China’s presence is growing
I see the next 70 years as a time when China will continue to develop and change, but that change will have an ever-stronger impact on the world as a whole. The world will have to watch China, see what’s happening, and think about how to adjust our development for a peaceful and harmonious future.
Host: In your TED Talks in 2017, you mentioned that “China has been a major factor in global improvement.” How will China’s development further influence the world in the future?
Türk: I think the most immediate task for China is working hard on the BRI. At present, the BRI is the most important development initiative in the world. All countries worldwide have to figure out how to connect to the BRI. I believe this is an important opportunity for the world.
Currently, the BRI is mainly seen as a platform for infrastructure improvement including roads, airways, ports and communications. But in fact, it is much larger. For example, BRI includes connectivity, which is the main idea of the initiative.
I am also really interested to see how private companies’ cooperation is going to develop. In China, the number of private enterprises is growing. The importance of small and medium-sized enterprises is growing as well.
How do these emerging companies interact with other countries’ private companies?
Currently, China does not have too many well-known brands in the world. Indeed, everybody knows Huawei, Alibaba and Lenovo but there are many other emerging Chinese brands and they have to interact with the world.
For example, how do you present Chinese cosmetics in Western markets and make Western women willing to try them? Nowadays, we always talk about technologies, but a future world will require connectivity and interaction in every aspect. I believe the day will come when Chinese products will be equally well known.