The Three New Chinese Revolutions

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The electoral period is bringing forth its usual catalog of “revolutionary” promises from our best think tanks. In the meantime, China continues to move forward in order to carry out its current three-pronged revolution: political, economic and environmental.

First of all, the political revolution. During the previous decade, public opinion emerged by means of the social media and this remains a real headache for the Chinese government. Not having succeeded in strangling it in time, Chinese leaders have resigned themselves to a démocrature [a combination of democracy and dictatorship] which combines listening “democratically” to the daily complaints of 700 million Internet users and applying unpopular measures dictatorially.

The result is the need for exceptional “enlightened” levels of ability at the head of this nation-continent. This means that President Xi Jinping is constituting his new entourage from among the elite of the business community. Traditional tensions within the Communist Party, between conservatives and reformers, are suddenly now giving way to a new ménage à trois, which has not yet fully taken shape.

Next, the economic revolution. This is taking place under the impetus of Schumpeter, who has never been so alive as in China: whilst the “new” China created 13 million jobs last year, the old China got rid of a mere 12 million.

The forced march toward digitalization, robotization and the rise of new industries like fintech are happening in coexistence with restructured industries. The latter are doubtless too slow, but the rise in the producer price index, which was positive at the end of 2016 for the first time in over five years, seems to indicate that excess industrial capacity is being tackled.

President Xi Jinping is now choosing his entourage from among the elite of the business community.

Finally, the environmental revolution. China has made a sudden 180-degree turn in this respect, as confirmed in its ratification of COP21 in advance of Europe or even of France. China’s consecration came with the firm of Ernst & Young crowning it the 2015 world champion of decarbonization, thanks to an annual reduction in carbon emissions of over 6%, twice the global average.

The fact that the Chinese started off from an unacceptable position has made it easier to make any major change of direction, but it has to be said that, especially in terms of air pollution, China is determined to surprise the rest of the world in the near future, starting by developing the electric car.

The forced march toward digitalization, robotization and the rise of new industries — these are all ongoing.

On these three fronts — political, economic and environmental — it is to be noted that new pressures are forcing China to reinvent itself in a truly revolutionary manner, even if its current leaders prefer not to use that term.

For President Xi Jinping still keeps Mao’s words in mind: “a revolution is not a dinner party”. Every day he calculates the risks involved in each unpopular measure in a country where there are almost 200,000 demonstrations every year.

But his determination, as shown in his anti-corruption campaign, is born of the vision which he has imposed on himself and his country: to go down in history as the man of the “Thirty Glorious Years” [a reference to the Trente Glorieuses — France’s post-war boom period] that will bring China back to a lead role in the world by 2049; after the “Thirty Pitiful Years” under Mao and the “Thirty Needy Years’ under Deng Xiaoping.

Article published in Les Echos, 5th April 2017

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