Confident Dragon Lays Out Modernization Roadmap

Pepe Escobar, Strategic Culture Foundation, March 12, 2024 —

As Project Ukraine goes down the drain of history, Project Taiwan will go on overdrive. Forever Wars never die.

This is the Year of the Wooden Dragon, according to China’s classic wuxing (“five elements”) culture. The dragon, one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, is a symbol of power, nobility and intelligence. Wood adds growth, development and prosperity.

Call it a summary of where China is heading in 2024.

The second session of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was finalized on Sunday in Beijing.

The wider world should know that within the framework of grassroots democracy with Chinese characteristics, an extremely complex – and fascinating – phenomenon, the importance of the CPPCC is paramount.

The CPPCC channels wide-ranging expectations of the average Chinese to the decision level, and actually advises the central government on a vast range of issues – from everyday living to high-quality development strategies.

This year, most of the discussion focused on how to drive

China’s modernization even faster. This being China, concepts – like flowers – were blooming all around the spectrum, such as “new quality productive forces, “deepening reform,” “high-standard opening-up,” and a fabulous new one, “major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.”

As the Global Times emphasized, “2024 is not only a critical year for achieving the goals of the ‘14th Five-Year Plan’ but also a key year for achieving the transition to high-quality development of the economy.”

Betting on strategic investment

So let’s start with Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s first “work report” delivered a week ago, which opened the annual session of the National People’s Congress. The key takeaway: Beijing will be pursuing the same economic targets as in 2023. That translates as 5% annual growth.

Of course deflationary risks, a downturn in the real estate market and somewhat shaky business confidence simply won’t vanish. Li was quite realistic, emphasizing Beijing is “keenly aware” of the challenges ahead: “Achieving this year’s targets will not be easy.” And he added: “Global economic growth lacks steam and the regional hotspot issues keep erupting. This has made China’s external environment more complex, severe and uncertain.”

Beijing’s strategy remains focused on a “proactive fiscal policy and prudent monetary policy”. In a nutshell: the song remains the same. There won’t be a “stimulus” of any kind.

Deeper answers should be found in the work report/budget released by the National Development and Reform Commission: the focus will be on structural change, via extra funds to science, technology, education, national defense, agriculture. Translation: China bets on strategic investment, the key for a high-quality economic transition.

In practice, Beijing will be heavily invested in modernizing industry and developing “new quality productive forces” such as new-energy vehicles, biomanufacturing and commercial space flight.

Science Minister Yin Hejun made it clear: there was an 8.1% increase in national investment in research and development in 2023. He wants more – and he will get it: R&D spending will grow by 10% to a total of 370.8 billion yuan.

The mantra is “self-reliance”. On all fronts – from chipmaking to AI. A no holds barred tech war is on – and China is totally focused to counter “tech containment” from the Hegemon as much as its ultimate goal is to wrest tech supremacy from its prime competitor. Beijing simply cannot allow itself to be vulnerable to U.S.-imposed tech choke points and supply chain disruptions.

So short-term economic problems will not be causing sleepless nights. The Beijing leadership is always looking ahead – focusing on long-term challenges.

Learning lessons from the Donbass battlefield

Beijing will continue to steer the economic development of Hong Kong and Macau, and invest even more in the crucial Greater Bay Area, which is the premier southern China high tech, services and finance hub.

Taiwan of course was central to the work report; Beijing fiercely opposes “external interference” – code for Hegemon tactics. That will become even trickier in May, when William Lai Ching-te, who flirts with independence, becomes president.

On defense, there will be only a 7.2% increase in 2024, which is peanuts compared to the Hegemon’s defense budget now approaching $900 billion: China’s stands as $238 billion, even as China’s nominal GDP is approaching the U.S.

A great deal of China’s defense budget will go for emerging tech – considering the immensely valuables lessons the PLA is learning out of the Donbass battlefield, as well as the deep interactions part of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

And that brings us to diplomacy. China will continue to be firmly positioned as a champion of the Global South. That was made explicit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress.

Wang Yi’s priorities: to “maintain stable relations with major powers; join hands with its neighbouring countries for progress; and strive for revitalisation with the Global South”.

Wang Yi once again stressed that Beijing favors an “equal and orderly” multipolar world and “inclusive economic globalization”.

And of course he could not allow U.S. Secretary of State Little Blinken – always out of his depth – to get away with his latest “recipe”: “It is impermissible that those with the bigger fist have the final say, and it is definitely unacceptable that certain countries must be at the table while others can only be on the menu.”

BRI as a global accelerator

Crucially, Wang Yi re-emphasized the drive for “high-quality” cooperation within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework. He defined BRI as “an engine for the common development of all countries and an accelerator for the modernisation of the whole world”. Wang Yi actually said he’s hopeful about the emergence of a “Global South moment in global governance” – in which China and BRI play an essential part.

Li Qiang’s work report, incidentally, had only one paragraph on BRI. But then we find this nugget as Li refers to the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor – which links China’s landlocked southwest with the eastern seaboard, via Guangxi province.

Translation: BRI will be focusing on opening new economic roads for China’s less developed regions, diversifying from the previous emphasis on Xinjiang.

Dr Wei Yuansong is a member of the CPPCC and also the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party – which happens to be one of the eight non-CCP parties in Chinese politics (very few outside of China know about this).

He offered some fascinating comments on BRI to Fengmian News and also stressed the need to “tell China’s story well” to avoid “conflict and incidents” along the BRI road. For that, Wei suggests the need to use an “international language” in telling these stories; that implies using English.

As for what Wang Yi said in his press conference, in fact that was discussed in detail at the closed-door Central Conference on Foreign Affairs Work in late 2023, where it was established that China faced “strategic opportunities” to raise its “international influence, appeal and power” despite “high winds and choppy waters”.

The key takeaway: the narrative war between China and the Hegemon will be pitiless. Beijing is confident it’s capable of offering stability, investment, connectivity and sound diplomacy to the whole Global South, instead of Forever Wars.

That is reflected, for instance, by Ma Xinmin, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s legal advisor, telling the International Court of Justice that the Palestinians have the right to armed resistance  when it comes to fighting the colonialist, racist, apartheid state of Israel. Therefore, Hamas cannot be defined as a terrorist organization.

This is the overwhelming position across the lands of Islam and across the majority of the Global South – linking Beijing with fellow BRICS member Brazil and President Lula, who compared the genocide in Gaza to the Nazi genocide in WWII.

How to resist collective West sanctions

The Two Sessions did reflect Beijing’s full understanding that Hegemon containment and destabilization tactics remain the biggest challenge to China’s peaceful rise. But simultaneously it reflected Chinese confidence on its global diplomatic clout as a force for peace, stability and economic development. It’s an extremely sensitive balance that only the Middle Kingdom seems capable of pulling off.

Then there’s the Trump factor.

Economist Ding Yifan, a former deputy director of the World Development Institute, part of the State Council’s Development Research Centre, is one among those who’s aware China is learning key lessons from Russia on how to resist collective West sanctions – which will be inevitable against China especially if Trump is back at the White House.

And that brings us to the absolute key issue being currently discussed in Moscow, within the Russia-China partnership, and soon among the BRICS: alternative settlement payments to the U.S. dollar, increasing trade among “friendly nations”, and controls on capital flight.

Nearly all Russia-China trade is now in yuan and rubles. As much as Russian trade with the EU fell by 68% in 2023, trade with Asia rose by 5.6% – with new landmarks reached with China ($240 billion) and India ($65 billion) – and 84% of

Russia’s total energy exports going to “friendly countries”.

The Two Sessions did not get into detail on some extremely thorny geopolitical issues. For instance, India’s version of multipolarity – considering New Delhi’s unresolved love affair with Washington – is quite different from China’s. Everyone knows – and no one more than the Russians – that within BRICS 10 the biggest strategic issue is how to accommodate the perpetual tension between India and China.

What’s clear even behind the fog of goodwill enveloping the Two Sessions is that Beijing is fully aware of how the Hegemon is – deliberately – already crossing a key Chinese red line, officially stationing “permanent troops” in Taiwan.

Since last year U.S. Special Forces have been training Taiwanese in operating Black Hornet nano microdrones. In 2024 U.S. military advisers are deployed full time at army bases on Kinmen and Penghu islands.

Those actually driving U.S. foreign policy behind the Crash Test Dummy at the White House believe that even as they are powerless to handle the Houthi Ansarallah in the Red Sea, they are capable of poking the Dragon.

No posturing will alter the Dragon’s roadmap. The CPPCC’s political resolution on Taiwan calls for uniting “all patriotic forces”, “deepen integration and development in various fields across the Taiwan Straits”, and go all out on “peaceful reunification”. That will translate in practice into increased economic/trade cooperation, more direct flights, more cargo ports and logistics bases.

As Project Ukraine goes down the drain of history, Project Taiwan will go on overdrive. Forever Wars never die. Bring it on. The Dragon is ready.

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