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China's leading private firms toe Party line
CHINA'S leading companies - Alibaba, Haier, and Dalian Wanda - have fallen in line behind president Xi Jinping's call for them to help the country attain socio-economic goals under the communist party's emblematic Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (SCC) policy.
President Xi wants Chinese companies to help reduce the income gap, one of the key objectives of the SCC that dates back to the Mao period and was subsequently refined by successive leaders from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping.
The richest men in China have voiced active support. Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group, has reportedly declared that Chinese businessmen who have become rich have a social responsibility to help others catch up. The chairman of Haier, Zhang Ruimin, has agreed with these remarks. And the property tycoon, Wang Jianlin, has confirmed that his Dalian Wanda Group has adapted its business strategy in line with President Xi's request.
The entrepreneurs are closely reading the policies of the Communist Party of China (CPC), according to state-run publications. For instance, Mr Ma has been quoted as saying: "I have read the Congress report many times", referring to the report of the 19th Congress of the CPC. "It charts out clear goals and direction for the country's future," Mr Ma adds. "Understanding policy, not waiting for favourable policy, helps an enterprise develop."
President Xi has explained the importance of reading party literature. "Study has taken Chinese Communists to where they are today. And study will lead us into the future."
As many as 45 study sessions have been held since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, covering topics ranging from Marxist ideology and state governance to green development and information technology.
The CPC is venturing into new terrain. It not only considers state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as the "backbone" of the economy, but it is also eyeing taking stakes in China's Internet giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and Weibo that dominate a sector considered to be the future of the economy.
Under the leadership of Mr Xi, the party has overseen the consolidation of many SOEs, but the party has also urged the SOEs to acquire stakes in private enterprises.
There are more than 150,000 SOEs in China, described as "red zaibatsu" that are being restructured into conglomerates that would dominate local and foreign markets through their massive size. Some two-thirds of them are owned by local governments and the rest are under the central government. The most successful ones are in shipping and train-manufacturing. They take about half of all bank loans, and since 2015 investment by SOEs has grown faster than private-sector investment, which used to lead the way previously.
So, what exactly is Socialism with Chinese Characteristics? At its heart lies the CPC's vision of creating national happiness and prosperity. In this endeavour, China has already been eminently successful by lifting 700 million people out of poverty over the last three decades, due to rapid economic growth. Under President Xi's new formulation of "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era", unveiled at the 19th Congress of the CPC last year, the country aims to lift another 55 million people out of extreme poverty by 2020.
This concept has been the guiding ideology of the CPC since the 1930s, in one form or another. The early communist leaders of China adopted, and adapted, European Marxism and Socialism to suit Chinese conditions. The CPC chairman, Mao Zedong, initiated the Sinicization of Marxism from the 1930s till the 1970s.
Sinificization made the language of Marx accessible to the Party and the common people, and ensured that the Party cadres were well-versed not just in Marxism but more importantly in Chinese history.
On the one hand, Mao urged the Party to transform abstract Marxism into something much more concrete that could be used in Chinese conditions and, on the other hand, he viewed Marxism as a concept of such fluidity that he could easily adapt it to China's needs.
To gasps of laughter from his audience, Mao declared in a speech to the Party school in Yenan in February 1942: "If we only know how to recite Marxist economics or philosophy, reciting from the first to the tenth chapters until they are thoroughly familiar, but are completely unable to apply them, can we then be considered Marxist theoreticians?"
After the death of Mao in September 1976, Deng Xiaoping led China from 1978 to 1989. At the 12th Party Congress in September 1982, Mr Deng stressed that China should integrate Marxism with the Chinese reality, and take its own road to "Socialism with Special Chinese Characteristics".
The Congress set the economic goal for the period from 1981 to 2000: to quadruple annual industrial and agricultural output value, from 710 billion yuan (S$149.60 billion)in 1980 to about 2,800 billion yuan in 2000.
The 19th Party Congress last year unveiled the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and set new targets. In the first stage, from 2020 to 2035, China aims to build on the foundation created by a moderately prosperous society, with a further 15 years of work to ensure that socialist modernisation was attained.
PRIVATE SECTOR PARTICIPATION
Mr Xi's vision is that by the end of this stage, China's economic and technological strength would have increased significantly. China would become a global leader in innovation. The rights of the people as equals would be adequately protected. The rule of law would be in place.
Further, China's cultural soft power would grow more influential. People would be leading more comfortable lives, and the size of the middle-income group would have grown considerably. Disparities in urban-rural development, in development between regions, and in living standards would be significantly reduced.
Mr Xi has also declared that in the second stage from 2035 to the middle of the 21st century, China would develop into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and environmentally beautiful.
The CPC has identified China's private companies as key participants in this massive exercise to attain the goals of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. A time-tested ideology, Chinese state-led socialism has produced wonders for the country's mass transformation. Now, the private sector is expected to play a larger role in helping China attain its future goals.
- The writer is editor-in-chief of The Calcutta Journal of Global Affairs and a historian; one of his interests is 20th century history of China.