By Jamaluddin Aram-On 18 October 2017, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is going to convene its 19th National Congress. A total of 2,287 delegates, who are elected from across the country and represent more than 89 million members of the communist party, will be attendance. The Congress will review the party’s work for the past 5 years — since the 18th Congress, when President Xi Jinping took the reins.
The tone for this congress has set it on par with two other epoch-making events in China’s history: when Chairman Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and when Deng Xiaoping launched economic reform in the late 1970s. The world is watching how this congress will set the Chinese nation’s and the party’s future agenda.
It is highly expected for this congress to create a roadmap for continuing China’s progress towards the creation of a more prosperous society in all respects. The aspiration and drive for this task has long been embedded in President Xi Jinping’s concept of the “Chinese Dream.” Two important centennial events are coming up: the hundredth anniversaries of the CPC and of the People’s Republic of China in 2021 and in 2049, respectively. The two main objectives of the “Chinese Dream:” to build China into a moderately prosperous society in all its aspects, and to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, are to be fulfilled by 2021 and 2049, respectively too.
If this aspiration translates into reality, it can potentially take President Xi Jinping to the company of two other visionary Chinese leaders who have left their mark on the modern Chinese history by steering it to new directions: Chairman Mao Zedong and Mr. Deng Xiaoping. The former founded the People’s Republic of China; and in China that event is equated to helping China stand on its feet. Mr. Deng, who was one of the most powerful leaders of the CPC from the early 1980s until his death, helped put the nation on the path of becoming rich; he believed that for China to overcome its economic backwardness, the country needed “to adhere to Marxism and to integrate it with Chinese realities — in other words, to seek truth from facts.” In the article, “Building Socialism with a Specifically Chinese Character,” which was published in The People’s Daily in 1984, Mr. Deng wrote:
“One important reason for China’s backwardness after the industrial revolution in Western countries was its closed-door policy. After the founding of the People’s Republic we were blockaded by others, so the country remained virtually closed, which created difficulties for us. The experience of the past thirty or so years has demonstrated that a closed-door policy would hinder construction and inhibit development.”
Towards the end of 1978, China adopted an economic policy that encouraged foreign investment, focused on integrating the rural areas into the mainstream economy. Mr. Deng believed that efforts in the cities would be ineffective unless the initiative of the 80 percent of the population who lived in the country sides came into full play. Since then, China has managed to lift over 700 million people out of poverty, an achievement that has had its positive impact on the global poverty index. If Mr. Deng marked the second milestone in China’s modern history, Mr. Xi Jinping intends to leave his mark on the third one: making China a strong power.
President Xi Jinping has repeatedly articulated the two previous milestones and the need for achieving the third one: “The Chinese nation, which has experienced tribulations and hardships since modern times, has made a historic leap from standing up to becoming rich and then to getting stronger. Having stood up and become better off, getting stronger now becomes a new challenge to China. We must get prepared mentally, theoretically and systematically.”
Therefore, the week-long congress has a task of historical proportion on its hand; if it succeeds, it can go down in history as the epoch-making event that set China on the path to becoming a strong global power. The congress takes place at time when political tension in the region has reached a new height. The ever-worsening falling-out between the leaders of North Korea, China’s eastern neighbor, and the United States, China’s major trade partner, threatens the stability not only in the Korean peninsula, but also in the region. The roadmap that the 19th Congress produces must taken into account these regional and global realities, and position China in such a way that it can manage those challenges while pursing the “Chinese Dream.”
An Afghan reader might inevitably ask: how does China’s ambition to achieve a third historical milestone affect Afghanistan? If Afghan leaders, who must be studying these developments in their neighboring country with keen interest, advance their search for areas of mutual interests and cooperation with China without agitating Afghanistan’s other international partners, Afghanistan can positively benefit from China’s ambitious goals. The good news is that the foundation for such cooperation has been laid.
Since 2002, when China resumed diplomatic relations with Kabul when President Karzai took power, the Sino-Afghan relationship has reached new heights. In 2012, President Karzai and President Hu Jintao launched the China-Afghanistan Strategic and Cooperative Partnership. The countries agreed to cooperate in the political, economic, cultural and security fields. President Hu Jintao said: “We will continue to manage regional affairs by ourselves, guarding against shocks from turbulence outside the region, and will play a bigger role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction.” China is becoming one of the main investors in Afghanistan. In 2008, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper Corporation (JCCL) won the contract to develop the Aynak Cooper Mine outside Kabul. The state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) is chosen for an oil field of Amu Darya in northern Afghanistan. Between 2001 and 2013, China provided roughly $240 millions in development assistance and aid. In the past couple of years, the cooperation has picked up speed. China gave $80 million each year from 2014 to 2017. In August of 2016, “Sino Afghan Special Railway Transportation” was inaugurated. Connecting Afghanistan’s Hairatan Port to the coastal state of Jiangsu was a historical milestone. The railway connects Afghanistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan all the way to the city of Nantong in Jiangsu Province — just north of Shanghai. The railroad cuts down cost and travel time and gives Afghanistan an alternative route to the port of Karachi.
Building on the past achievements, Afghanistan must adjust its approach and policies towards China in such a way that they proactively take into consideration the outcomes of this historical event: the Nineteen National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
Author: Jamaluddin Aram holds a bachelor degree in History and English from Union College, Schenectady, NY.