Zhang Weiwei: Looking at the United States by Chinese-style modernization standards, it still has a long way to go.

Note before starting: this is online translation of a recent interview by one of China’s well-known intellectuals and thinkers. There are a few places the translation is choppy, especially metaphors, but otherwise, it is amazingly good. Believe it or not, but I have found that Yandex has the best translation for Chinese.

You may not like or agree with everything Dr. Zhang Weiwei says, but you will get a great feel for how the Chinese people perceive the rest of the world and just as importantly, what they think about themselves.

Enjoy an enlightening and informative conversation.

Jeff J. Brown

Zhang Weiwei is at Fudan University, Dean of the China Research Institute, and researcher of the Spring and Autumn Development Strategy Research Institute

Last updated: 2023-11-03 10:21:57

Today’s West holds a more hostile and negative attitude towards China because the previous leader of the world order suddenly found that he could no longer dominate the world, and the developing countries led by China gradually embarked on the world stage. Dollarization and decentralization are also the general trend.

On October 29th, Zhang Weiwei, Dean of the China Research Institute of Fudan University, attended the “high-end dialogue” of the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum. Based on his years of practical observation and theoretical research, he explained the experience of “Chinese-style modernization” and how to maintain strength and deal with it confidently and calmly in the Sino-US competition and cooperation relationship. Various challenges are organized according to on-site shorthand drafts.

Zhang Weiwei, Dean of the China Institute of Fudan University, attended the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum “High-end Dialogue.”

(Host of Central Radio and Television) Lu Jian: Hello, Teacher Zhang. Today’s dialogue is mainly focused on development issues. Can you first introduce your research on” Chinese-style modernization”?

Zhang Weiwei: There is no doubt that Chinese-style modernization has achieved great success. The first 30 years of New China laid the political foundation, economic foundation, and social foundation for the success of Chinese-style modernization. Since the beginning of the reform and opening up in 1978, we have achieved an “economic takeoff”. We have achieved the rise of “integrating the fourth industrial revolution” at a rate of completing an industrial revolution every 10 years or so. Now we are in the first phalanx of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has changed the world pattern.

Therefore, at the beginning of the Sino-US trade war and the science and technology war, we clearly predicted that the United States would lose, and it would lose miserably. The economic dependence of the United States on China has surpassed that of China on the United States, and the logic behind it is that the world pattern has changed. There is an academic concept called “central peripheral system,” or “peripheral attachment to the central system,” that is to say, today’s international order is very unfair. The “central” countries, that is, the Western countries, have made a lot of money through aircraft carriers, rule-making, financial hegemony, and dollar dominance. The peripheral countries, that is, the developing countries, have made huge sacrifices, but most of them are still very poor.

What does the rise of China’s “four industrial revolutions as one” mean? It means that China is one of the few countries that has broken through this “central peripheral system,” which makes China a center by itself. At the same time, China has become the largest trading partner, financial partner, and technical partner of both peripheral countries (developing countries) and central countries (Western countries). Now many developing countries say that we can just do trade with China. In other words, they are more emboldened. These are all changing the world pattern.

Lu Jian: Teacher Zhang, should there be a premise for this? If the United States stands still in the competition with China, with high walls in the courtyard or rigid closure, then they will inevitably fail. BUT IF THE UNITED STATES AND THE WEST CHANGE THEIR POLICIES, IS IT POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE A WIN-WIN SITUATION WITH CHINA?

Zhang Weiwei: Actually, we want the United States to change, but it is not easy. I have always emphasized that China is a civilized country. It is a civilization that has not been interrupted for thousands of years and has a lot of wisdom from its own civilization. For example, China proposes “peace and development,” which many Americans and Westerners do not believe. When revolutions broke out in Arab countries, we advised the West not to incite and support the “Arab spring,” because it would become the “Arab winter.” One of the biggest problems in Europe now is the refugee crisis. So many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been fragmented by the color revolution, and a large number of refugees have poured into Europe. The only way to solve the refugee problem is peace and development. The “Belt and Road” initiative we are promoting includes the promotion of peaceful development in Africa and the Middle East, so that refugees can be reduced. Therefore, rationally speaking, European countries should participate in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

The first batch of foreign passport holders evacuated from Gaza through Rafah port. Previously, Europe had been worried that the refugee problem caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would bring a new impact on itself.

Lu Jian: What do you think are the commonalities and differences between Chinese-style modernization and American modernization?

Zhang Weiwei: Modernization has both commonality and personality. The commonalities of modernization between China and the United States include the degree of industrialization, the level of scientific and technological development, and the life expectancy of people. By the way, China’s life expectancy will be two years higher than that of the United States starting in 2021. At the same time, there are many differences in the modernization of China and the United States. We might as well use the summary of the five characteristics of Chinese-style modernization in the 20th National Congress Report to make a simple analysis:

The first is the “modernization of a huge population”. China’s population is 4.2 times larger than that of the United States. The larger the population, the more difficult it is to modernize.

The second is the “modernization of common prosperity for all people.” The United States has never put forward the slogan “common prosperity,” so the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States is huge. China has completely eliminated extreme poverty, and the problem of extreme poverty within the United States has so far seen no hope of solving it.

The third is the” coordinated modernization of material civilization and spiritual civilization.” The crime rate in the United States is so high, drug addicts are everywhere, and gun violence causes 40,000 to 50,000 deaths every year. If you put it in 4.2 times the population of China, that would be 2.3 million deaths. However, the United States hardly regards this as the same thing, fully demonstrating the “low human rights advantage of the United States” that most Western countries cannot accept.

It is difficult to reform gun control in the United States because of the need to amend the constitution, and the procedures for amending the constitution are too demanding. So, I told the American reporter that the United States has become a country that cannot solve the problem. Gun violence cannot be solved, the problem of drug abuse cannot be solved, universal health insurance cannot be solved, and the problem of racial discrimination cannot be solved. Universal health insurance in the United States was proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1911 Revolution in China more than one hundred years ago, but it is not possible to do so today. The decline in life expectancy in the United States is also related to this.

The fourth is “the modernization of harmonious coexistence between man and nature.” After Trump came to power, he withdrew from the Paris Agreement, which made the national credibility of the United States a big problem.

Finally,” modernization on the road of peaceful development”. The United States has only not fought in sixteen of the past 240 years, which has become a source of turmoil in the world. In short, looking at the United States by Chinese-style modernization standards, the United States still has a long way to go.

On October 29th, a sudden shooting in Florida, USA, caused two deaths and eighteen injuries. On the evening of October 25th, a mass shooting occurred in Lewiston, Maine, USA, resulting in at least twenty-two deaths and 50 to 60 injuries.

Lu Jian: You often mention the Chinese model. What is the difference between the Chinese model and the Chinese road? Is the West more worried about our export of the Chinese model to the outside world?

Zhang Weiwei: I personally believe that the essence of the two is the same. The Chinese model and the Chinese path refer to China’s own set of practices, ideas, experiences, concepts, institutional arrangements, etc. Of course, the Chinese path is a little more ideological. It refers to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, while the Chinese model is more neutral and used more in international academic exchanges.

As for some people who talk about popularizing the Chinese model to the world, this is not China’s position. We neither import Foreign models nor export Chinese models. We just summarize the successful experience of China in all aspects, and then objectively introduce it to the outside world. You can learn a part, three thousand weak waters, just take a scoop of drink, or you cannot learn.

Lu Jian: The Chinese model faces some deliberate smears and believes that China is exporting its own ideology. How can we face this challenge?

Zhang Weiwei: We are used to the smears of the West. Sometimes we really do not bother to respond to them. Let them stay in the dark.

All we can do is to continue to use the actual effects of the Chinese model to prove its success. Judging from the few reliable polls, the world has entered a new “age of awakening.” There are almost no exceptions in the entire non-western world. From Latin America to the Middle East, to Africa, they are talking about “looking eastward,” mainly to China. Look.

This is not deliberately promoted by China, but after so many years of ups and downs, countries in the global South have discovered that China and the Chinese model are still reliable. Judging from public opinion polls, the countries where the” belt and Road “project has landed are also countries that adopt the western political model. The proportion of people who have a favorable impression of China tends to be higher. That is to say, the” Belt and Road” has benefited them, while the Western political model has caused them to experience too much turmoil.

Lu Jian: You also proposed that China’s rise is the rise of a civilized country. How is this different from the previous rise? Where is its uniqueness?

Zhang Weiwei: In 2010, I put forward the proposition that “China is a civilized country”, emphasizing that China is a very unique country. It is an ancient civilization that has not been interrupted for thousands of years and a super-large modern country that completely overlaps. The rise of such a country must be to change the world Pattern.

Its biggest feature is the four “superpowers “, each of which is a combination of ancient and modern times. This is the most exciting place for the rise of a civilized country. For example, the super-large population size, this population size is passed down to us by history. China has always been a large population, but today our population is modernly educated, and we train more engineers every year than the sum of Western countries. This fact alone has changed the world.

The second is the ultra-large-scale territory, which was left to us by our ancestors. But in this land, we have world-class infrastructure, with highways, high-speed rail, and digital infrastructure all leading the world.

The third is the ultra-long historical tradition, which is also where we have succeeded, and we all have our historical genes. For example, the difference between the political system of China and the west, the west is called elections, we are selection and election, and our model is obviously better. Our tradition of selecting talents and appointing talents has a long history, from the inspection system of the Han Dynasty to the imperial examination system after the Sui Dynasty. Our system has kept pace with the times and incorporated many modern elements.

Fourth, the super-rich cultural accumulation. Why can the” Belt and Road” come to this day? At first, many people were not optimistic, but Western countries have been attacking. But when more than one hundred countries accepted it, the West became nervous. By the time 152 countries participated, the West was even more nervous. The United States began to emulate its “belt and Road” initiative, but it was impossible to succeed. The core concept of the” belt and Road “is” common discussion, common construction and sharing”, which stems from Chinese civilization and the great practice of China’s rise. China rejects the Western philosophy of” divide and rule “and insists on following the path of” unite and prosper”. This is the right path in the world, and such a path can become wider and wider. We have made many contributions to the co-founded countries of the” Belt and Road”, and we ourselves are also beneficiaries in many ways.

In Huajian Light Industrial City, Ethiopia, shoe workers work on the production line. Photo by Zhao Yanhong, reporter of People’s Daily Online

Lu Jian: You just mentioned that in the accumulation of our civilization for thousands of years, there are some development concepts that have continued to this day. We have a large, educated population, skilled workers, and infrastructure development, including our poverty alleviation project. There are also a large number of cadres going down to the grassroots level. So, in cooperation with the global south, or developing countries, can the business model of the” Belt and Road” be effectively replicated and promoted?

Zhang Weiwei: China has adopted a very enlightened attitude. We objectively introduce our experience to the outside world, including the countries of the global south. They will find that some places are helpful to them. For example, the” parks “widely used in the” Belt and Road “are derived from the practices of our reform and opening-up Shenzhen Special Administrative Region. Now there are more than seventy overseas industrial parks in the countries co-founded by the” Belt and Road”, which are generally more successful.

Western neoliberal economies believe that the less the role of the government, the better, but in the Chinese model, the government does something or nothing. For example, the Chinese government’s “strategic planning” capabilities are generally used by developing countries. In short, many Chinese experiences are very attractive to other countries.

In addition, as a super-large, civilized country, the conditions within our country vary widely. For example, developing countries want to develop agriculture. From north to south, we have wheat planting areas, rice planting areas, and other planting areas for various crops. There are also various ways to organize economic activities. Many developing countries can after learning a lot of experience applicable to one’s own country from China, it seems that there is always one that will help or enlighten other countries.

Lu Jian: Some Western media, including individual Western scholars, have two views on China, alternating or focusing on the “China threat theory” and the “China Collapse Theory.” Sometimes these sounds are suddenly amplified. What do you think?

Zhang Weiwei: “China’s collapse theory” appears from time to time, but its effect is decreasing, and its life span is getting shorter and shorter. In the past, the “China collapse theory” could last for five, eight, or even longer, but now it is as short as one and a half years, or even less than half a year. Recently, there has been another wave of bad singing about the Chinese economy and good singing about the American economy, but we feel very stupid and naive.

From an empirical point of view, we went to Xinjiang in July this year to do research. The number of tourists has exceeded that of 2019 before the epidemic, and the number of tourists traveling during the National Day Holiday has also exceeded that of 2019. In the third quarter of this year, our economic growth rate was 5.2%. Our new energy vehicles and semiconductor industries are all new growth points, and our electricity consumption and express delivery volume are also increasing.

On the other hand, the recently released report of the United States said that the economic growth rate in the third quarter was 4.9%. This data is probably unreliable by Chinese standards. Electricity consumption in the United States is decreasing, and the number and quota of UPS (the largest courier company in the United States) are also decreasing. There is no new growth point in the real economy. There seem to be more false data components in the United States, too many false fires, too many financial derivatives transactions, and inflation factors.

Lu Jian: Now that the United States has implemented decoupling and chain breaking, including risk-taking and high walls in small courtyards, how much do you think will hinder our country from achieving its development goals, including the great goals of Chinese-style modernization and national rejuvenation?

Zhang Weiwei: I wrote an article for the New York Times in 2006, talking about the possibility that the American model will not be able to compete with the Chinese model. At that time, the “New York Times” still had the confidence of the American system, and published articles with niche views like mine. Now they do not have the courage anymore. Recently, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce came to China, took the Beijing-Shanghai High-speed railway, and praised China’s high-speed rail. It was withdrawn not long after the New York Times reported it, but the Internet has memories.

Looking at the entire world’s semiconductor market three or four years ago, the strength of the United States was chip design, Japan’s strength was chip materials, South Korea’s strength was memory chips, Taiwan’s strength was package testing and OEM, and China’s strength was the market. More than 60% of the chips are consumed in China. These three or four years have been the fastest growing three or four years for Huawei, and Huawei Mate 60 Pro has shipped millions of units. We have all realized the strengths of the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in China that we just mentioned. This is a new and complete industrial chain and industrial cluster. The semiconductor industry and new energy vehicles are all our new growth points. New energy vehicles are the embodiment of the planning and implementation capabilities of the Chinese model. Behind them is the driving force of four consecutive five-year plans, which are firmly implemented and policies are constantly fine-tuned. In the end, China is leading the global green revolution.

By the way, I am not optimistic about the United States engaging in NATO in Asia. From the analysis of the geographic structure, among the major Eurasian plates, China and Russia are complete major powers, and Europe, Asia, Japan, and South Korea on both sides are divided plates. It is very difficult to form an effective alliance system based on this structure. Often all parties are “haunted”, and in the event of a crisis, most of them are unreliable., What the United States has done in this regard shows the decline of American strength.

I have repeatedly said that the world has long entered the post-American era. This is not to say that the United States is no longer important, the United States is still very important, but that what the United States has done no longer represents the direction of the times, and even in some form it is moving against the trend. We can also regard the so-called “small courtyard high wall” as the self-restraint of the frog at the bottom of the well. The United States has isolated itself in this small courtyard high wall. Outside is the entire global South, the entire non-western world, where there is the world’s largest market, the largest resources, the most development opportunities, etc., which has changed the international pattern.

The United States’ policy of high walls in small courtyards will only isolate itself. Image source: China Daily

Lu Jian: The pillar of hegemony built by the United States with its strength still exists. Aside from military security and cultural hegemony, it is still difficult to break the situation in terms of scientific and technological strength and the dominance of the U.S. dollar. In terms of semiconductor, although we have seen Huawei’s breakthrough, we have also seen that the United States has further deepened sanctions on chips, AI chips, GPUs, etc. So, these may further affect the development of our domestic semiconductor industry. Although you hold a positive and optimistic view, we are facing pressure and blockade, and our resistance and difficulties are also very great. What do you think?

Zhang Weiwei: Prime Minister Li Qiang held a press conference after taking office and said something very well: “Sitting in the office is a problem, and going down to investigate is all the solution”” We have been doing research, and our companies are very confident, and American decision makers are separated from both the reality of the United States and the reality of China. In addition, the Chinese will not accept this kind of arrogance. As long as China has a technological breakthrough, the United States will say that it was stolen from the United States. This is really nonsense and extremely stupid arrogance.

Why did we say in 2018 that the United States is going to lose the science and technology war? Because we have done research, our national defense industry uses its own chips, and our capabilities are not weak. I believe that the most nervous in my heart now is the United States, including the corporate world in the United States, because China is trying to surpass in all aspects, including overtaking in corners, overtaking in lane changes, etc., forming a series of alternatives to the entire industrial chain. As I said just now, this market was originally shared by South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the United States, and China. Now China has done it by itself. This is a last resort, because if you rely on him again, you may be sanctioned.

We went to visit the BYD assembly plant, all doing it ourselves. I said you have to leave some way for others to stay alive. The person in charge of the factory said that our tires are still imported, and everyone laughed. In other words, this can also be done by yourself. Ren Zhengfei repeatedly said that we are willing to buy products from other countries. This is a good ecological chain, but you take the lead in destroying it. Sorry, we can only do it ourselves. For a country like the United States, only through confrontation can it communicate better and let it learn lessons. We must set rules for it. The American friends sitting here must also understand that the world is no longer the same.

There is a set of data in the U.S. Navy report: the annual tonnage of the United States is 100,000 tons, and China is 23.2 million tons. China is 232 times stronger than the United States. The report of the British think tank said that the United States can no longer wage an industrial war. It will take two years for the United States to produce Russia’s cannonball consumption in Ukraine in a week. The United States has been deindustrializing for a long time. It has become addicted to playing financial games. GDP is very big. There are many false fires and bubbles in it. When it comes to the crisis, it finds that these things are not working. A conflict in Ukraine, its ammunition is not enough. Therefore, I think in the end they will also realize that cooperation, win-win, and peaceful development are the right path for the world.

Lu Jian: So, we must also look at development issues from the perspective of development. There used to be a saying among ordinary people that as long as the mind is not confused, there are more ways than problems. Thank you very much for Teacher Zhang Weiwei’s sharing, thank you.


2 Responses to “Zhang Weiwei: Looking at the United States by Chinese-style modernization standards, it still has a long way to go.

  • “[…] the difference between the political system of China and the west, the west is called elections, we are selection and election, and our model is obviously better.”

    Was it not said that “the electorate picks from among selected candidates”, so it doesn’t mare whom they elect ?

    • Another reader commented that multiparty popular election democracies are the worst form of government for the betterment of the people.

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