On The Stork Tower
By Wang Zhihuan
The sun beyond the mountains glows;
The Yellow River seawards flows.
You can enjoy a grander sight，
By climbing to a greater height.
The opening of the address sets the tone in the style that has become a defining element of the writing and speaking style of Xi. Central to that style is the invocation of the past--not just any past but the most cultivated and meaningful literary past--now deployed in the service of a present objective. These invocations are of the highest importance; they signal the underlying message that Xi means to convey in a concise and literary way that reinforces his core position within social, cultural, political, and economic life. In this case Xi cites to the very well known poetry of Tao Yuanming (352?-427) the full poem here:春秋多佳日，登高赋新诗。
衣食当须纪，力耕不吾欺。The poem is meant to speak the propitious seasons for coming together among good neighbors who join together briefly to enjoy each other's company and returning to work miss each other's company. It is meant to invoke images of the assembled leaders as members of the same village enjoying each other's company (solidarity) amid their own work that contributes both to their camaraderie and to the knowledge that it would be unreasonable to abandon this communal life together. This greeting with substantial thematic meaning is then invoked in the name of three distinct centers of authority--the Chinese government, the people (two layers of collective organization in China), and in Xi's own name (an emphasis on the core in the core-collective binary at the heart of Chinese new era Leninism). These three distinct layers ought to be borne quite clearly in mind for what follows. We at the WGE also invoke that style and its layers of meaning in this essay (王之涣 《登鹳雀楼》) which the reader is invited to reconsider.
Here the importations of the poem and its meaning are brought home. Of course, those in assembly would hardly have been expected to understand a thing about these subtleties. To whom then would they be directed? First, of course, Chinese internal elites. Then (if listening states are astute enough) they might be directed to the security services of friendly and rival states whose services ought to have been considering the implied or buried message, but who likely would dismiss poetry as of little interest (and thus gain for China a discursive advantage). Now Xi can get down to business.
At first blush the long paragraph appears to be the typical opening set of remarks that highlight accomplishments. And so it is. But that is hardly the interesting point of the paragraph. Notice, instead the repeating words. Those serve as drum beats, as points of emphasis, and as the percussive biorhythm cadence that serves to underline the fundamental premise of BRI that they mean to convey. First there is the cadences of joinder: "joint pursuit," "joint efforts,""jointly meeting." Then there are the cadences of cooperation: "practical cooperation,""cooperation projects," "cooperation with China,""cooperation initiatives," and twice "Belt and Road cooperation." And lastly (for our purposes here, the cadences of development: "common development," "development plans," "development strategies," "opportunities for development." Joinder, cooperation and development are connected by principles of complementarity. Notable by its absence are notions of markets, of private activity, of integraiton, of the key words and phrases that sometimes are said to mark the traditional contours of the contemporary rules of engagement of economic globalization. Already the gaze is lifted from the market, and the private sector, to the state and to public macro-economic policy directed instrumentality by the entities at the center of this new world of cooperation. joinder, and complementarity--the state.
Here the remarks move from notions of bringing together among the community of states, to notions of connection with the past. This follows a deeply embedded pattern of thinking that inevitably links the past to the current to the future in a dynamic state of (forward) movement inevitably toward a goal (something better and inevitable). At the core of the allusions here are the central notions first thoroughly and officially articulated in the 19th Communist Party Congress--of the inevitable movement to a new era (e.g., Reflections on Jiang Shigong on ‘Philosophy and History: Interpreting the “Xi Jinping Era” through Xi’s Report to the Nineteenth National Congress of the CCP’ [ 哲学与历史 —从党的十九大报告解读“习近平时代” 强世功 ]). That new era might be marked first within China--and necessarily so because of the vanguard role played by the Chinese Communist Party in national (and now global) historical development. Thus the strong roots of the emerging era are those put down over the last 40 years by the global vanguard--the CPC, which is now at a stage where it might also serve the global community. This necessarily puts China at the center of historical development as the new era shifts focus from the old era focus on markets based globalization to the BRI formulation for the construction of a new era trading order, "just like an architect refining the blueprint, and jointly promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation." The structures of that architecture are then summarized in the succeeding paragraphs.
Here Xi summarizes the three principal elements of BRI. The first touches on state to state cooperation grounded in the Chinese foreign policy principle of mutually beneficial cooperation. This principle has already been embraced by the UN Human Rights Council--a great coup for Chinese diplomacy (On the Internationalization of China's "New Era" Theory: Brief Thoughts on the UN Human Rights Council Resolution: "On promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights" (A/HRC/37/L.36)). And it is now to be transposed into the area of economic activity. The second touches on environmental cooperation. Here Chinese CPC Basic Line objectives and global consensus align in ways that draw the United States out (at least as a matter of official policy). But that is the problem. BRI shifts the gaze to the state sector as the only possible place form which policy can be sourced and action taken. It consequently undervalues (and rejects) the ordering potential or markets (as do many Western intellectuals). But in the process it knocks a critical supporting principle out from under current economic globalization--the centrality of markets (and private ordering) for efficiently ordering the world. China offers the alternative--state based and formal--undertaken through markets of course, but only under direction of the state. And there is no better place to slip that fundamental change in than where policy aligns. The third touches on the societal aspects of BRI as an ordering principle for trade--by extending trade well beyond the economic to the societal as well. Here one encounters the all-around nature of BRI and the consequences of substituting state management for market control. This aligns significantly with the CPC's own new era basic contradiction (a critical concept ignored in the West, especially with respect to its centrality as an ordering concept of internal and external policy). "As socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, the principal contradiction facing Chinese society has evolved. What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life." (Xi Jinping Report to the 19th CPC Congress). It is not for nothing, then, that BRI is meant to align the basic structures of global trade with the CPC's understanding of the fundamental contradiction (now global) of society, and then to fashion trade relation according to the logic of that contradiction: away form markets and wealth creation toward "a people-centered approach, give priority to poverty alleviation and job creation."
Xi moves now from general principles to specific elements that will serve to implement the greater vision. The first of this is connectivity. Connectivity becomes both a program of action and a metaphor. It serves as the concrete manifestation of linkages between the world and China--as the central node for global activity. But it also serves to underline the critical role of China as the driver of that connectivity. That central role is necessary because at the heart of the BRI is the principle that China is the core of the collective manifestation of economic activity whose pieces can only be sensibly arranged through the guidance of China, and within China, of its vanguard. Notions of core and collective, now native to the basic organization of Chinese political life, are transposed to the relations between China and its partners. I should emphasize, of course, that none of this is meant as judgment, just observation. Whether those princples and activities accord or fail to accord with the vision of other actors is for them to determine. But that should be done without illusion, or self-delusion.
Xi Speaks of the Chinese saying of "the ceaseless inflow of rivers makes the ocean deep." It caused me to think of an almost forgotten poem of Rod McKuen ("August 6," in In someone's Shadow, Cheval Books 1964): "The sea gets hungry every August, tired of eating only rivers." Here Xi moves from the organization of trade to the organization of finance. And here one sees nicely tied together the notion of BRI as the core of global trade, with the yuan as the core of global finance. That necessary union is critical to the displacement of older markets oriented and private flows (without much of a core (the central object of pre-new era and mostly American, global trade and investment principles at least formally) with a comprehensive approach in which trade and finance are again aligned (as they were 1945-2016) but now under new principles of operation. Xi emphasizes the concrete steps even as he is more discrete about its structural implications. At the same time Xi is correct to note the necessary identity between trade and finance policy--between being the center of global trading and having one's currency serve as the means through which that centering can be effectively operationalized and disciplined.
The state that controls innovation controls development. And control of technology can drive BRI as much as it drive power relations in every age that came before. But what makes this paragraph particularly interesting is the identity between societal, capacity building and technological advances now all bent to the benefit of the BRI states. BRI continues, in this way, the time honored tradition among leading states, of organizing and directing the flows of innovation in ways that aid the group but are managed at the center. At its heart, of course, is to displace the powerful network of innovation that now flows through the West with an alternative system that flows elsewhere. Multiple networks of knowledge production are always useful. But in this context the most important element of the project passes almost undetected--the use of BRI to implement a strong unified cyber infrastructure along Chinese models. Again, the focus moves form the economic to the political, and from production to the proper organization of society. Now the references to classical philosophy becomes clearer. “The ceaseless inflow of rivers makes the ocean deep” but those flows must be managed and the rivers must be directed toward the proper ocean. And again, “A tower is built when soil on earth accumulates, and a river is formed when streams come together.” And again, “plants with strong roots grow well, and efforts with the right focus will ensure success.” Towers and plants growing strong on solid foundations; streams to rivers to oceans. The visuals are worth careful contemplation.
Here again are allusions to the great new era fundamental contradiction described above. But here, as well a more overt effort to describe the manner of its internationalization. The concept of fundamental contradiction is then universalized, and once universalized (no longer merely a condition with Chinese characteristics) it can serve to drive (concurrently) Chinese international and globa.l policy. That identity between Chinese dynamic political theory and its international ramification is then woven into much of the rest of the remarks).
Just as BRI merges trade and finance, so it collapses the distinctions between economic and social objectives. Capacity building as as much about political work as it is about economics. Indeed, the pretensions of the West to a hard distinction between politics, economics, social, and cultural elements of interactions fall away in BRI. Though the initial steps are tentative to be sure--the direction is quite clearly outlined. One gets a better sense of the forms and effects by considering a more nakedly obvious version of the underlying principles as developed by Cuba and Venezuela through its state to state relations in their ALBA regional trade association ((On ALBA, see Cuba and the Construction of Alternative Global Trade Systems: Alba and Free Trade in the Americas).
The next several paragraphs then serve to make the case for China's leadership as the vanguard of the new era international order. That case is grounded on the success of the Chinese model internally, and of the critical element of the role of the CPC and its leadership of the nation towards that success. The model, then, is not merely an economic and social model, but a political model as well. his model is classically Leninist with the remarkable advancements in Leninist organization theory undertaken by the CPC over the course of the last forty years (here, here, and here). These paragraphs and the five point plan described below are worth a careful reading. They provide the roadmap for BRI, and provides as well a glimpse of the forms that such development ought to take. The model is clear, and clearly aligns Chinese interests with global interests. This is in a sense unremarkable, at least to the extent it reflects an effort to replicate a similar alignment between the IUnited States and the world in the construction of the post war world order after 1945. The remarkable thing is that China will seek to undertake this without the relative advantage of victory in war, though one wonders whether there is a suggestion here of a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to support its role as the core of a global community. The problem, of course, is that "mutually beneficial cooperation" principle, quite appropriate to a state in development, might not suit a state that seeks to serve as the foundation of a global order. Still, it may be too early to tell. And wholly absent form the analysis are the likely reactions of those countries that will serve as waypoints on this new global highway. The critical insight, however, is clearly delivered by Mr. Xi--to understand BRI in its international dimensions, look to the totality of China in its new era. That is indeed wise. The WGE will have more to say on the five point plan in later posts. For now it notes its central importance as a BRI blueprint.
Xi ends where he began, with the recollection of the allusions to farming, agriculture and its related themes of cooperation, growth, fruitfulness and an increase in material and spiritual things. But this puts me in a mind of another set of pastoral themes, these form Virgil's famous Eclogue 4:
Muses of Sicily, essay we now
A somewhat loftier task! Not all men love
Coppice or lowly tamarisk: sing we woods,
Woods worthy of a Consul let them be.
Now the last age by Cumae's Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew:
Justice returns, returns old Saturn's reign,
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.