China charts its own way with 14th Five-Year Plan

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/28 15:43:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Several Western scholars and journalists debate among themselves what outcomes China might prefer from the US elections. 

While an answer to the question is tempting, it is also disorienting. The main reason is that China's progress is not connected to the result of the US' presidential race or with other elections across the globe. A good recipe to understand the country is to look at how its own leadership responds to challenges. 

With the world's largest population, China has to solve problems which are not often discussed in Western societies or developed economies. The fight against poverty constitutes the most characteristic example. This fight has become even more challenging during the COVID-19 crisis. The World Bank estimates that the pandemic could push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021. Although the Chinese government is expected to reach its first centennial goal by the end of the year, the work will continue for basic living standards to be sustained from 2021 onward. 

China takes measures and makes preparations in good times for bad times. Food shortages, for instance, could cause dramatic consequences, especially during a crisis such as the pandemic. To feed approximately 1.4 billion people requires good planning that guarantees smooth production, uninterrupted imports and supply reserves. The self-sufficiency objective, at least to the extent that risks are controlled, is at the top of the government's agenda. 

This objective, however, goes far beyond food security. The Chinese leadership is aware the volatile international environment, and is acting accordingly. The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for national economic and social development will epitomize its willingness for the country to emerge as more robust and self-reliant in all sectors - including technology. This is not the product of the ongoing international uncertainty, but of systematic study. From May 2018, for example, President Xi Jinping identified problems China faces in order to become a scientific and technological leader.  

A policy combination that boosts exports while simultaneously spurring domestic demand - often referred to as dual circulation strategy - appears to summarize future economic goals. This necessary rebalancing is not easy. As it with the prior so-called new normal policy, time and patience are required. The rebalancing journey might be occasionally turbulent. 

While China's economic and foreign policies are somewhat predictable, world stability is currently at stake. It is the first time since the end of the Cold War that the desire for international cooperation is being stymied by the politics of governance models. Coexistence is still possible though. 

China does not wait for the choices or policies of others. By contrast, it is charting its own way forward that calculates - a priori - the worst-case scenarios that might occur, and examining possible outcomes from those choices and policies. It is not in the interest of the Chinese leadership to create a less globalized and less safe world where traditional norms and practices will be challenged in the medium- and long-term. But it is in its interest to be well-prepared for any possible case. This is what the 14th Five-Year Plan endeavors to achieve. 

China does not need wishful thinking, or a sugar-coated outlook of difficult and complicated international situations. Standing on its own feet, it will continuously seek to achieve domestic development and international cooperation. Principal goals do not change. They are adjusted to new conditions.  

The narrative of the battle against COVID-19 is edifying. Following the initial disastrous surprise at the beginning of 2020, China corrected mistakes, overcame international criticism and patiently placed the virus under control by preventing a second wave. 

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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