China at 70

Published October 1, 2019

THE rise and transformation of China over the last seven decades — from an ideological state to an economic powerhouse — has been both complex and impressive. It has indeed taken much blood and toil, and the journey to transform an authoritarian, largely isolated state into one of the world’s major powers has not always been a smooth one.

Today as Beijing observes the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic. Though its achievements should be celebrated, there should also be a critical review to see what can be improved internally to create greater social harmony and freedom, paired with economic prosperity.

The People’s Republic was born in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the first shots of the Cold War were being fired. Led by Mao Zedong, the socialist revolutionaries defeated the nationalists and laid the groundwork for modern China. Mao, along with being the founding father of modern China, was a giant on the world stage, though his era was far from harmonious as the ravages of the Cultural Revolution showed.

This was an era of ideological zeal, when the socialist and capitalist blocs were locked in a global battle for influence. However, the modern financial strength of the PRC — the country is today the world’s second biggest economy — is largely the handiwork of Deng Xiaoping, who oversaw great changes in the economic structure of his country and promoted the development of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

Today, China is socialist in all but name, though there has been a renewed focus by the state on Marxism under the helmsmanship of Xi Jinping. The current Chinese president has also been pushing economic growth, the Belt and Road Initiative being his signature project. Under the BRI, China is seeking to link continents in a web of trade and commerce, with Pakistan also benefiting in the shape of CPEC.

While the PRC’s journey has been a success story, especially where economic growth and military strength are concerned, there are legitimate concerns about the state of human rights within China. For example, numerous foreign media outlets have highlighted the situation in Xinjiang, particularly with respect to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group. There have been claims that the Turkic Uighurs are being forced by Beijing to abandon their religious and cultural practices, though the state denies this. The unrest in Hong Kong also refuses to die down, as protesters have been taking to the streets in the former British colony for several months now.

It is easy to brush aside these criticisms, but if China is to truly reap the harvest of its economic achievements, there must be internal harmony, with all nationalities given their due rights under the law, and greater freedoms for the Chinese people. Looking ahead, these would be worthy goals for leaders of the PRC to pursue.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2019

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