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Africa-China: Continent must have its own modernization

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA)

By David Monyae

At the end of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China’s ruling party committed to implementing socialist modernization in line with its self-declared Second Centenary goal of “building a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious”.

While the concept of modernization, defined as a macro-process of social change and transformation away from the traditional towards the modern, originated in the West, China has appropriated it for its own development. However, the Chinese leadership did not just lift the concept of modernization from the West and applied it to their country unchanged.

Adopting foreign concepts without adaptation led to catastrophic development outcomes in regions like Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia. As wary and astute students of history, the Chinese leaders have insisted on modernization with Chinese characteristics. This means taking modernizing Chinese institutions and societies based on Chinese history, culture, values and national conditions.

What makes China’s modernization quite peculiar is the enormous size of its society with 1.4 billion people, a focus on common prosperity as social justice, the simultaneous advancement of the material, cultural and moral life of the Chinese people, the centrality of sustainable development and an insistence on peaceful development.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics, which is essentially adapted Marxism, will be the intellectual and ideological guide of China’s modernization drive. Thus, China’s modernization will be fundamentally different from that of the West in many respects. Whereas western modernization was centred on individualism, that of China is underpinned by common prosperity. One of the central elements of the West’s modernity is cultural and ethical alienation with excessive materialism, China’s modernization promises to be balanced, focusing not only on material development but also on cultural and ethical advancement.

Thirdly, the West’s model of modernization could not have happened without war, plunder and conquest and the relentless destruction of nature. In contrast, China’s modernization has consistently emphasized peaceful development and recently, Chinese leaders have incorporated sustainable development as one of the guiding principles of their modernization journey. As such, both on paper and no less in practice, China has convincingly debunked the notion of the universality of western modernity while advancing an organic and alternative version of modernity.

The content of China’s modernization policy as articulated at the CPC Congress is progressive and development-oriented. This involves the pursuit of high-quality development through building a high-standard socialist market economy at the core of which will be reformed and competitive state-owned enterprises.

The modernization of the industrial system to be accomplished by incorporating digital technology, and enhancing rural development while ensuring that development is inclusive of all regions are some of the policies that will be pursued under modernization. Importantly, the Chinese leaders realize that modernization will not be achieved if the country does not take full advantage of globalization.

Hence, the modernization process will be characterized by China’s opening up to more international trade and investment. China’s meteoric economic growth over the last four decades was made possiblethrough embracing science and education and imparting scientific skills within its workforce. The CPC is committed to laying emphasis on science in the education curriculum and to creating a conducive environment for technological innovation which will lead to the development of new products and services and production techniques that will make China even more competitive in the global economy.

Moreover, democracy and people’s participation in the making of decisions that affect their lives will be crucial elements in China’s modernization process. Public consultation at the grassroots level, building open institutions to foster public participation and forging patriotism and national unity and entrenching the rule of law and strengthening the justice system are essential elements of China’s modernization recipe. China’s 5000-year civilization was built on culture and this will not change as China pursues contemporary modernization.

The CPC acknowledges the importance of developing and nurturing a uniquely Chinese culture that will be the foundation of a shared value system and national identity.

Without a shared culture, it will be difficult for the Chinese people to achieve a consensus on important national questions. China’s understanding and implementation of the modernization process will have

far-reaching implications on its approach to its relations with other states and regions across the world.

Already, China’s principles of peaceful development and common prosperity for all which are key elements of its modernization strategy are reflected in its initiatives like the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the

GlobalDevelopment Initiaitve (GDI). Through the GSI China is taking responsibility for creating a stable and peaceful world in which its modernization policy can thrive. China has declared that global security

is indivisible which is the reason why it has emphasized a global perspective rather than a national perspective on security matters.

The GDI is based on the mantra of building a human community with a

shared future which is consistent with the principle of common prosperity for all. Through this initiative, China will seek to eliminate global poverty just as it has eliminated extreme poverty within its borders.

All said China’s modernization drive will not be without its challenges. The country must confront growing inequality among its people, the scourge of corruption within the government ranks, a rapidly changing society and geopolitical tensions with major powers in the West like the United States.

For South Africa and the rest of the African continent, China’s modernization proved that there are alternative models of modernization. First, modernization doesn’t mean westernization. Second, the post-Cold War IMF and World mantra of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) was never the only alternative for Africa then and now. Third, no matter how attractive Chinese modernization is to Africa, it should not be copied in its entirety.

Africa should find the most appropriate aspects of Chinese modernization drive and western modernization to build its unique modernization suitable to its cultural norms and values. The most shameful characteristic of African elites in government, business and civil society is the belief in western modernization as a panacea for all Africa’s ills. While it is important to send our students and staff for training in China and western countries, it remains absolutely critical to ensure that we do not mimic these modernization models. Africa must have its own modernization with African characteristics.

David Monyae is an Associate Professor in International Relations and Director of the Centre for Africa – China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.