Five: The Figure to Decode China’s Future

By KOU LIYAN   2017-08-04 18:04:09

5 The five-facet development concept didn’t come out of the blue. It was based on a study and understanding of Chinese reality.

A modern tramcar line goes into service in the Longhua District of Shenzhen City on June 29, 2017.THOUGH I admire the story-telling skills of Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code), I am not a fan of his, because I don’t buy into the idea that certain codes are all we need to decipher human society and history, as complicated as they are. But I think five could be a magic number to unlock many  of China’s major conundrums.

There are five stars on the Chinese national flag. The  public power at all levels of administrative regions is split among five organs – the CPC committee, the government, the People’s Congress, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the CPC Commission for Discipline Inspection. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu stressed that generals must pore over five factors when planning for battles. What’s more, it is a 2,000year-old belief in China that the universe, including human society, is the work of five elements – metal, wood,  water, fire and earth. 

This may sound like figure fetish as seen on a par with Pythagoras, but a closer look at the many terms and concepts with “five” in them can help us get a handle on  China’s future development. One of them is five-facet development.

The CPC Central Committee’s Proposal on Formulating the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) on National Economic and Social Development set the goal for innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development. This document was adopted at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in October 2015. More “fives” ... what a coincidence! 

The five adjectives in the new development mode will  define China’s course in the period 2016-2020. They might seem very broad, but that’s what Chinese leaders intended (the plan includes more specific targets and frameworks). Given China’s size and the complex situations here, a uniform plan that goes down to the nuts and bolts doesn’t work. So Chinese policymakers focus on the vision and concept, which ensures local governments pull their weight in the same direction, but allows them to adopt different measures to solve local issues in the light of their respective conditions.

Based on Reality

The five-facet development concept didn’t come out of the blue. It was based on a study and understanding of Chinese reality. Though sounding unglamorous, reality is, in fact, mysterious. If it can be received and perceived, as it is, spontaneously by our minds, and consequently can guide us into proper acts, humankind would have been as omnipotent as God. The reality is in front of the eyes of everyone, but elusive to us, more often than not.

Any informed decision and ensuing effective actions must start with a clear vision of the conditions on the ground. That’s why the CPC has always cautioned its cadres and members to “base ourselves on reality.” The CPC Central Committee organized an extensive survey and research into its preparation of the 13th Five-Year Plan, all for the purpose of better knowing reality.

In its findings the current Chinese reality has three salient features.

The first is a “new normal.” The 13th Five-Year Plan  is the first of its kind after the Chinese economy entered  the “new normal” stage. For this period, its growth gears down to the medium-to-high rate, and the priority shifts from expanding production to adjusting structure and pursuing growth of better quality. The Chinese economy now values quality and efficiency over volume and growth rate. For this goal it is moving away from traditional drivers – primarily resources and cheap labor – to  innovation. These are responses to the currents of this time, which, in the words of Chinese leaders, are “independent of man’s will.”

The second is “new problems.” During the 20162020 period, China faces fresh opportunities as well as problems in its economic and social development. For instance, some formerly thriving companies are now going through a rough patch owing to falling sales or rising costs. For them the solution lies in “innovation.” Some regions in China are more developed and some people are much wealthier than others. This imbalance calls for “coordination.” For the past few decades China’s development came at the cost of its resources and natural environment. This is why the new development model stresses “green.” Owing most of its past achievements to its opening up, China firmly believes that openness is critical for global development. It feels more obliged to promote “openness” when globalization now meets a headwind. As China’s development reaps more fruits, it must learn to better balance savings and sharing, and ensure fairness in distribution. This is what “shared development” means. Here, we can see, each of the five key  words of the new development model responds to a new problem to be tackled by China.

The third is “new demands.” The 18th CPC National Congress declared it wanted to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, the last year of the 13th Five-Year Plan period. China has to address plenty of social and economic issues before reaching this goal. One of them is poverty. In this regard President Xi Jinping cautioned: “It would be inexcusable if we announce that we have built a moderately prosperous society in all respects, when tens of millions of our citizens remain below the poverty line.” Social enterprise, environmental protection, and social security are also an Achilles’ heel for China. China therefore aims to maintain a coordinated and balanced development in the 2016-2020 period, as a moderately prosperous society can only be true to its name after all these problems are solved.

Effects Burgeoning

The implementation of the five-facet development concept has been showing early results in the past year, as can be seen in the following aspects.

First, innovation is blooming. China’s “Internet Plus” program, big data strategy and the “Made in China 2025“ plan are proceeding at a rate of knots; six more national innovation demonstration zones have been opened; the share of research & development funding in GDP has risen to 2.08 percent; and the contribution rate of science & technology to economic growth now stands at 56.2 percent.

Second, development is more synchronized and balanced. The three major initiatives – Belt and Road,  integration of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, and the Yangtze River Economic Belt – have started in a deluge  of major projects in this regard. The development gap between eastern, central and western provinces is narrowing. And more reform policies on new urbanization have been introduced.

Third, green development is advancing. China is building pilot zones for ecological advancement, and ramping up efforts to alleviate air pollution. As a result, the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide have fallen by 5.6 percent and 4.0 percent respectively. The share of clean energy in national energy consumption has edged up by 1.7 percentage points, and the consumption of coal down by two percentage points.

Fourth, opening-up is reaching a higher level. As we push ahead with the Belt and Road Initiative, we work to increase complementarities between the development strategies of, and practical cooperation between, China and other countries along the routes. The Chinese currency – the Renminbi (RMB) – has been included in the basket of currencies which make up the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR). The country has recently established another 12 cross-border e-commerce pilot zones and seven new free trade zones following the success of the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone. The requirements for review and approval for setting up and making significant adjustments to foreign enterprises have been replaced by a simple filing process, with the exception of a few areas where special market access regulations apply.

Fifth, people are feeling a stronger sense of benefit. The Chinese population living in poverty has been shrinking by 1.24 million year-on-year. The state invests generously in disaster aid and recovery, employment and education. Significant progress has been made in public health services and cultural services at the community level.

Pulling Global Strength

China’s five-facet development concept has global relevance.

Innovation is of particular importance at a time when we are still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis and languishing under the lack of new drives in the world economy. Coordination is the solution to the disarray in the international economy and polity that has crimped the global governance system and leaves countries to fend for themselves. Green development has become a global consensus after mankind’s subsistence is threatened by climate change, a deteriorating natural environment, depletion of key resources and kinks in their circulation and distribution, which are the byproducts of industrialization in major economies worldwide that has led to a phenomenal increase in productivity. Openingup is more relevant than ever when globalization falters, and multilateral financial agreements are stranded amid  the surge of nationalism in certain world powers; and shared growth is a key to changing the current situation where some people can indulge in the best quality of life ever seen in human history, while others still struggle in poverty, illness, fear and ignorance.

Farm workers harvest dragon fruit in Changxing County, Zhejiang Province on July 10, 2017.

Staff members at Qingdao-based Offshore Oil Engineering Co., Ltd. walk past one of the company’s modular oil refining vessels on June 30, 2017.It is in this circumstance that Chinese President Xi Jinping quoted Charles Dickens in his speech at the World Economic Forum in January 2017: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” He later gave his advices on current pressing issues afflicting the world: building a dynamic innovation-driven growth model, pursuing a well-coordinated and inter-connected approach to develop a model of open and win-win cooperation, developing a model of fair and equitable governance in keeping with the trend of the times, and developing a balanced, equitable and inclusive development model. It is plain to see this vision meshes with the fivefacet development concept in essence; but China knows too well that every country is in a different situation. It therefore opposes the practice of blindly copycatting the experience of others or imposing one’s ideas on other countries or political parties. So it didn’t bother to formulate an international version of the five-facet development concept that is modeled on its domestic policies item by item.

China and the rest of the world are similar in some ways, and at variance in others. It is just like all people are the same in the way they all have two hands with five  fingers on each; but their hands are of subtly different shapes and their fingers of different lengths. When well  coordinated, the five fingers can perform a myriad of functions – clutching to form a fist or stretching to play  the piano. With the same flexibility and adaptability, the five-facet development concept serves social and economic development in China and beyond. Since the appearance of mankind on this planet, every man and woman has been toiling with their hands. The fruits of their work add up to the creation of human civilization. This course of history foretells the course of the future: the five-facet concept will guide China towards greater  development and more interaction with the rest of the world. What’s more, it will help promote the consensus of a community of a shared future for humankind and nurture tangible results in this regard.

KOU LIYAN is a deputy research fellow with the China Center for Contemporary World Studies.

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