Lanting Forum: How Is China’s Modernization Benefitting The World?

Hussein Askary

Vice-Chairman of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden

The Lanting Forum on “Chinese Modernization and the World” was opened on April 21 in Shanghai and keynoted by Qin Gang, China’s State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Lanting Forum is an annual gathering established by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2010 as a platform for discussions among governments, think tanks, corporations, and academic institutions. However, this is the first time the Lanting forum is held in Shanghai instead of Beijing, clearly marking the theme of this year’s forum “China’s Modernizations” and its impact on the world. Shanghai has become a symbol of modernization in the past three decades and plays a key role in China’s trade and commercial connections with the rest of the world as it has developed the largest shipping and trading hub in the world. Shanghai has also symbolically played a role in the history of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as the 1st Congress of the CPC was held in Xintiandi, Shanghai in July 1921.

This year’s forum is attended and will be addressed by a variety of international personalities such as Dilma Rousseff, president of the New Development Bank of the BRICS and former president of Brazil, Mamadou Tangara, Gambian minister of foreign affairs, Essam Sharaf, former prime minister of Egypt, Max Baucus, former US ambassador to China, John Thornton, co-chair of the board of the Trustees of the Asia Society, and Yao Ming, president of the Chinese Basketball Association. Business representatives from many countries will also be in attendance. While foreign policy of China and international affairs are the main element in this forum, this year China’s economic development and modernization process is taking the center stage as a key element of Chinese foreign policy.

How is Chinese modernization different?

Qin Gang’s keynote speech was a thorough illustration and response to the call made by President Xi Jinping in February this year regarding the “importance of correctly understanding and vigorously advancing Chinese modernization” by members of the CPC. President Xi, in remarks he made February 7th at the opening of a study session at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee (National Academy of Governance), in which he stressed that Chinese modernization was a unique theoretical innovation achieved by the CPC, and challenged the notion that “modernization is equal to Westernization” as a “myth”.

In his keynote address to the Lanting Forum titled “Chinese Modernization: New Opportunities for the World”, Qin illustrated the uniqueness of the Chinese journey form poverty to modernization, but at the same time emphasized that China’s modernization and economic development is of great benefit to the whole world not only for China. “Chinese modernization is the natural choice of China’s 100-year-long quest for development”, he said, adding that “modernization for China has been a journey of hardship and perseverance, anguish and glory, honor and dreams.” He emphasized that “during modern times, countless patriots looked to the West for a formula of modernization to save the nation, but they all failed”, arguing that “it was not until the birth of the CPC in 1921 that China found the pillar and guidance for its modernization.”

The fact that China’s tremendous achievements in the past century, but especially since the era of reform and opening up in the 1980s, speak for themselves about the uniqueness of the Chinese model of modernization. They also show that there is a unique character of the Chinese model which is represented by “the two major miracles — fast economic development and long-term social stability”, as Qi put it. While modernization is a universal process in history, Qi stressed that “any country can achieve modernization, as long as the path suits its conditions and answers the need of its people for development.” But he warned that “on the contrary, mechanically copying ill-fitted foreign models is counter-productive and may even lead to catastrophic consequences.”

On this basis, the CPC has turned China from an impoverished and backward land into the world’s second largest economy, top trader in goods, biggest holder of foreign exchange reserves, and biggest manufacturer. “We have put in place the world’s largest compulsory education system, social security system, and medical and health system. China has realized, in a short span of several decades, industrialization that had taken developed countries several centuries. We have caught up with the times in great strides”, he said.

Culturally, China is keen on avoiding the pitfalls of rapid economic development’s impact on the social and cultural standards of people. “The modernization of China with material and cultural-ethical advancement will open up bright prospects for human progress. Some countries, while highly developed in economy, science and technology, have descended into a capital-centric mode, rampant materialism, cultural impoverishment, moral degradation, and public disorder.” He reflected on President Xi’s point that “the ultimate goal of modernization is the free and well-rounded development of people”, which means not only material abundance but also cultural-ethical enrichment.

“Modernization is not the demise of ancient civilizations, but a renewal of traditional cultures,” Qin stated. referencing the recent launching of the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) by President Xi, he added that “the Chinese believe that even for an established country, its future hinges on self-renewal” and that “Chinese modernization will add new vigor and vitality to the profound Chinese civilization and contribute more Chinese wisdom to global peace and prosperity and to human progress.” He emphasized that the CPC envisions a better world in which all civilizations prosper from generation to generation through constant self-renewal, enjoying both material abundance and cultural and ethical advancement.

What is in it for the world?

The fact that China has self-developed and modernized its economy should be viewed as a “public good” with great benefits for other nations, not a selfish, inward-directed process. “While Chinese modernization is conceived in China, the opportunities it brings belong to the world,” Qin stressed, emphasizing that Chinese modernization will not only provide more opportunities to the world, but also inject new momentum into the recovery of the global economy and give other developing countries the confidence to pursue their own modernization.

Qin then brought into play the facts that point to this reality, saying that Chinese modernization means that the prosperity of over 1.4 billion Chinese people will contribute to the recovery of the global economy. The facts are that China’s modernization process has lifted over 800 million people out of poverty, enlarged the middle-income group to over 400 million people (and to double by 2035), attracting over 140 countries as China’s primary trading partners, with Chinese direct investments worth US$ 320 million U.S. dollars flowing to the rest of the world every day, and more than 3,000 foreign businesses set up in China every month. Making a somewhat shocking comparison, Qin said that “over the past decade, China has contributed more to global growth than all the G7 countries combined,” that the modernization of a country with over 1.4 billion people, which is bigger than the combined population of the developed countries, will surely provide more opportunities to the world economy.

Taking up the role of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in this process, Qin stressed that it has provided platforms for common development and prosperity for all countries. “The BRI has generated more than 3,000 cooperation projects, attracted nearly US$ one trillion of investment and created 420,000 jobs in countries along the routes since it was put forward ten years ago,” Qin said.

As for the Global Development Initiative (GDI) announced by President Xi in 2021, he said: “With the support of over 100 countries and many international organizations, and with some 70 countries in the Group of Friends of the GDI, the Initiative is giving a strong boost to the early attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.  nearly 70 countries joined the Group of Friends of the GDI, which provided an important boost to the realization of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals”. Qin also added that China gives great importance to the debt issue of developing countries and is contributing to the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, which has meant that as much as 63 percent of the total debt payments suspended.

China’s development inspires

Qin finally declared that “it is fair to say that Chinese modernization has helped inspire confidence in many countries in their pursuit of modernization. As an African leader put it, the Chinese path inspires all developing countries to believe that every country is able to achieve development even from scratch.”

The fact that China’s development has become a source of inspiration for many nations in the developing sector was most clearly expressed by Dr. Mamadou Tangara, Foreign Minister of The Gambia, who spoke  in the opening ceremony of the Lanting Forum. “Since the start of its modernization era, the People’s Republic of China stands as a beacon of hope for all developing countries and symbolizes the truth that mankind has a shared future, and that collaboration, cooperation and unity are indispensable for global prosperity,” Tangara said. He added that “the modernity of China is an inspiration and proof to all that this century offers unique and viable options to anchor our development pursuits.”

He summed up his view of China’s modernization as follows: “China’s modernization is one that addresses in a resolute way the global deficits of development, peace, governance and trust. Widely viewed as a miracle in the history of human development, it promoted poverty alleviation, common prosperity, ecological conservation and people centered democracy as well as the rule of law. Indeed, it is often said that having evidenced that it can be done, China has inspired many developing countries to seek their own formula to reduce poverty and to promote their respective economic development and prosperity.”

Modernization with Chinese characteristics is taking shape as a unique experience, but with the tangible contributions to the rest of the world, and also with lessons and inspiration for other developing nations. The great mission for the Chinese foreign policy leadership now is to make it more transparent for the rest of the world, especially for the West, that China’s rise through modernization is not a challenge to them, but rather of great benefit for all. The keynote speech by Qin Gang and the proceedings of the Lanting Forum in Shanghai are a very good first step in making that point clear.

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