To start the new year off, the editorial collective of Chinese Voices brings you a retrospective from 2021. In the past 26 issues, we published 130 excellent articles originally written in Chinese. In case you missed them, here are six of our favourite articles – a combination of deep insights into China, thinking of influential authors, and analysis on important topics. A new year means a new chapter. In 2022, we will continue to share with you important Chinese Voices that help shape China today.
—Dongsheng editorial collective
Amid what President Xi calls "profound changes unseen in a century" (百年未有之大变局 bǎinián wèi yǒu zhī dà biànjú) brought about by the rise of China, the decline of the West, and the subsequent tension between China and the US, how will China achieve its second centenary goal of becoming a "strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and modern socialist country?" From the perspective of economics, Professor Lin argues that once China's GDP per capita reaches half of that of the United States, which will meanwhile lose the technological edge it uses to keep China in a stranglehold, China-US relations will transition to a new phase of mutual acceptance and peaceful coexistence. For over four decades, China has used its "latecomer's advantage" – imitating, importing, or integrating existing technologies and industries – to achieve its rapid growth. Now, in the context of the US's crackdown on Chinese tech firms, Lin contends that China can continue to enhance its innovation capabilities through cooperation with countries in Europe and Asia, and it can boost domestic innovation in key areas through China's nationwide system (举国体制 jǔguó tǐzhì). In spite of major challenges like the aging population, carbon neutrality, and rural revitalization, China will still achieve an annual growth rate of at least 6 percent until 2035, followed by a growth rate of 4 percent until 2049, at which point it will reach a GDP per capita half the size of the US's and fulfill its second centenary goal.
China has placed great importance on ensuring grain self-sufficiency and absolute security of staple food (口粮绝对安全 kǒuliáng juéduì ānquán). For six consecutive years, China's total annual grain production remained above 650 million tonnes (2015-2020) and the per capita output exceeded 470 kg, well above the international food safety line (400kg/capita). However, according to Chen Xiwen, the country's dependence on the international markets for key food products remains high. For example, over 30 percent of sugar, beef, and milk and 70 percent of edible oil are imported. As a country with a large population, China's reliance on food imports poses a variety of risks. Last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, 18 countries restricted exports of food and other agricultural products, impacting the global supply chain and causing significant price fluctuations. Since China has become a moderately prosperous society(全面小康社会quánmiàn xiǎokāng shèhuì), Chen proposes that the concept of "food security" (粮食安全 liángshí ānquán) should be expanded into the more comprehensive concept of "food supply security" (食物供给安全 shíwù gōngjǐ ānquán). The country should improve its own food supply capacity especially in important staples, such as grain, oil, and sugar. Firstly, China should strictly adhere to the minimum arable land of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) set by the government's "red line" policy. The country's arable land currently stands at 1.92 billion mu (128 million hectares), but has decreased by 113 million mu (7.5 million hectares) in the past ten years. To improve agricultural yield levels, China should promote seed industry innovation and progress in agricultural science and technology. For example, China's corn yield of 6.32 tonnes per hectare (2020) is 9.3% higher than the world average of 5.78 tonnes, but remains much lower than the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. Meanwhile, the author recognizes that China cannot rely on domestic resources alone to feed 18 percent of the world's population with only 9 percent of total arable land. Therefore, establishing a stable and secure international food supply chain is an inevitable and necessary choice.
A week before the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, China submitted its climate targets and implementation plans to the UN. The country aims to reach CO2 emissions peak by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Many people, however, remain skeptical about whether China will be able to fulfill its commitments. Li Junfeng believes that the country will meet its targets. Since 2006, China has implemented effective carbon reduction measures, such as the "dual control" policy of reducing energy intensity and consumption with key performance indicators for all levels of regional governments. In 2013, the majority of provinces saw a slower carbon emission growth, except for six provinces and autonomous regions, including Ningxia, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. With a two percent annual growth rate of emissions, these regions accounted for 70 percent of China's total increase in emissions. Although China's coal consumption rebounded between 2017 and 2019, the growth rate of annual average carbon emissions has been slowing down, dropping from 12.7 percent in the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2001-2005) to 1.7 percent during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). Continuing this trend, China would be able to reach peak emissions by 2025. Furthermore, Li states that China has "latecomer's advantage" (后发优势 hòu fā yōushì), meaning that it needs to reach a lower peak per capita level and can enjoy lower-cost new energy technologies compared with developed countries that peaked earlier. For example, the US reached its peak emission in 2007 with nearly 20 tonnes emissions per capita, which is twice as much as China (10 tonnes per capita in 2019). Moreover, the cost of non-fossil energy in China, especially renewable energy, has fallen significantly and has become more competitive – the unit cost of photovoltaic cells, which are devices that convert sunlight into energy, fell by more than 80 percent since 2010. The conditions for grid parity – when the cost of clean energy matches that of conventional energy sources – are already in place in most regions. Meanwhile, China has maintained the advantage of having the most electric vehicles in the world. Together, these factors will help China achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Professor Feng Shaolei believes that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan reveals the institutional drawbacks of the US-led West. The actions of the US not only prompt its Western allies to reflect on the consequences of following the US, but also provides non-Western countries a framework to think about alternative paths towards independent development. Feng points out that for over two decades, there has been no "reversal of the Nixon process" referring to the joint efforts by the US and Russia to suppress China. The US and its allies initiated a series of major conflicts and crises, such as the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Iraq War, "Color Revolution" movements, conflicts in Ukraine, and the provocation against China in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, all of which have gradually pushed Russia and China closer together. The countries have become increasingly united in advocating for the governance principles of upholding sovereignty and resisting hegemony. This explains why attempts to alienate the two countries have always failed. Facing US confrontation, Eurasian countries join forces in the trend of "new neutrality", as exemplified by Russia's proposal of "new non-alignment." Feng holds that this trend indicates that: firstly, most countries would avoid alignment-based confrontation at all costs. Secondly, all countries and peoples are free to choose their own paths. Thirdly, the "new non-alignment" policy is a pragmatic position that is mutually beneficial for all countries. In line with this trend, the inclusive institutional structure of the Belt and Road Initiative has the most potential for deepening cooperation in Eurasia.
In a recent media interview, Lü Dewen points out that China's efforts in eliminating absolute poverty and working towards common prosperity reflect the essence of the socialist system under CPC's leadership. There is an ongoing and lively debate about how to achieve common prosperity and whether the CPC should focus on primary, secondary or tertiary distribution. The country is pushing ahead with a range of adjustments on its economic and social policies to remedy the negative consequences of the past market-based reforms, including high housing costs and education anxiety. The goal of common prosperity is to alleviate the polarization between the rich and the poor. According to Lü, as China has just been defined as a middle-income country, economic development must remain the central task of the CPC. While maintaining a high level of economic development, China should focus on improving the primary distribution system, which will facilitate the development of China's tremendous number of migrant workers into middle-income earners. The secondary and tertiary distributions can just play a supplementary role. Lü also argues that China should avoid the welfare trap and discourage the people from relying only on aid (等靠要 Děng kào yào) to achieve common prosperity. A socialist country also emphasizes that work creates happiness, which is a core ethic of the socialist spirit. Only through the people's hard work towards building a socialist society will be owners of the country. This, in turn, translates to the collective sharing of social wealth.
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