we are currently in the “Golden Week”, celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China with a week-long holiday for the whole country. In recent surveys, three-quarter of the Chinese declared their intention to travel during this period – domestically of course, as the borders of the country remain strictly closed and under a quarantine system that makes international tourism, especially leisure tourism, practically impossible.
The Chinese government is the last leadership that insists on keeping a zero-cases policy, after Australia and New Zealand declared the intention to open their countries again at the end of the year. Many other countries have announced similar steps in the coming months or have already returned to a pre-pandemic border regime at least for fully vaccinated persons.
From China, quite different signals are broadcasted: With the decision to organise the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in February and March 2022 in a bubble with complete isolation of the athletes and officials in their quarters and venues, using a fully separate transportation system and without the participation of any international spectators, it seems more and more likely that until March 2022 no major change in the border regime will happen.
For the 45th anniversary of the P.R. of China in 1994, your humble editor was invited as one of five international guests (except diplomats) for the dinner in the Great Hall of the People and to observe the ceremonies on Tiananmen Square from the Tiananmen rostrum. Li Peng, Premier at that time, delivered the main speech. Li was not much of a reformer, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Southern Inspection tour of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 the Reform and Opening process had gotten new wings in China and started the remarkable rise of China towards becoming the biggest economy in the world.
The Soviet Union, which officially was established five years after the October Revolution in 1922, reached an age of 71 years, making the P.R. of China now the longest-standing country based on the rule of a single party organised according to Leninist principles.
In a remarkable article in The National, the fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and staunch defender of the policies of Xi Jinping, Prof. Shirley Yu, explained under the headline “Why the Evergrande collapse is part of China’s ‘economic justice’ plan” all the attacks of recent months on tech companies, cramming school, video-gaming kids, English lessons in school, rich citizens, investors in bankrupt real-estate companies, the feeling of security of neighbouring countries, casinos in Macau SAR, women and their right of abortion, cities in need of electricity, global supply chains and indeed outbound travellers, with a new spin on the history of modern China:
“The first three decades of the People’s Republic were characterised by the successful nationalisation of private companies. The following three decades then thrived on privatisation of state ownerships, rewinding the nationalisation achieved in the first 30 years. In the three decades to come, China is likely to look at re-nationalisation of some fundamental drivers of the private economy, particularly data.”
So, the years 1949-1978 under Chairman Mao were successful, including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, whereas the Reform and Opening period under Deng Xiaoping 1979-2008 “rewound” the achievements. From 2009, therefore since Xi Jinping became Vice-President, the excessive influence and power of private companies started to be taken back by the government, especially when it comes to fundamental driver like, according to Yu, “data”. And despite all the measures taken already, we are still, says Yu “at the start of the third phase”.
In early October 1989, your humble editor remembers a panel discussion in his hometown West-Berlin on the occasion of the 40th birthday of the German Democratic Republic on Oct. 7th, during which he – like almost all other participants – denied any possibility of an imminent fall of the Berlin Wall or an end of the regime in East Germany, let alone the Soviet Union. One month later the Wall came down under the shouts of “We want freedom of travel”.
Happy Birthday, P.R. of China, with best wishes foremost – fitting for a septuagenarian – of good health in these times, when the cold winds of history seem to blow stronger than ever before in the 21st century.
For all readers, as always, all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the entire COTRI WEEKLY team!