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On the new journey


As the CPC celebrated its centenary, Xi rallied the Party to strive for even greater achievements

The closely watched speech of President Xi Jinping on the centennial of the Communist Party of China confirms the aspiration of the Party to lead the country to achieve the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.

In his hour-long speech on July 1, President Xi paid tribute to past leaders and reminded the audience that the founding spirit of the Party was to save the country from breaking up and restore national dignity following a series of foreign invasions after the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century. He said the commitment to serve the people and work for national rejuvenation is ingrained in the Party's ethos. Its pledge has driven the Party to deliver good governance and lead the nation successfully to achieve the first centenary goal.

About 10 years ago, the CPC set the goal to build "a moderately prosperous society in all respects" by the time the Party celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2021. Attaining that objective essentially would mean that China's economic development was inclusive and the lives of all people would be improved, particularly those living below or near the country's poverty line.

The Party has realized that goal. The country has declared that all its population was living above the official poverty line at the end of 2020. From 1978 to 2020, China lifted more than 800 million people out of abject poverty. The figure accounts for more than 70 percent of global total impoverished population during that period. The Chinese achievement is phenomenal.

By the end of 2021, the per capita GDP of the country will be around $12,500, almost matching the high-income country definition of the World Bank, which was recently set at $12,695. The per capita GDP increase is very significant given that the figure stood at just $156 in 1978 when China launched its economic reform. Thus, the claim of becoming a moderately prosperous society is right on the mark.

What China has achieved over the past 42 years redefines development and shows the world that inclusiveness is not a natural antithesis to economic growth. Moreover, President Xi's claim that the CPC will continue to lead the country in the future reflects his confidence that a party delivering good governance to the people will enjoy the population's support and stay in power.

It is not an ideological bias to say that the CPC has earned the power to lead China even though there were some bumps and mistakes in the past. A great majority of people around the world will be happy to hand over state power to any party who can deliver such performance.

President Xi enumerated nine historical lessons that the Party has learned over the past 100 years and urged his comrades to remember them on the journey ahead. The nine lessons focus on Party leadership and how to keep itself vibrant and relevant, and stress national unity, keeping the open-door policy and sharing the vision of a shared future for mankind. The lessons learned also stress a strong military to defend sovereignty.

Anyone who understands the Chinese culture knows the meaning of historic lessons in the Chinese context. They are action lists drawn from experience, and not just rhetoric. The nine lessons stress that the Party must focus on national development to achieve the second centenary goal in 2049 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China to build a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.

Achieving the second centenary goal would mark the realization of the Chinese Dream of restoring the past glory of Chinese civilization and regaining the national pride of a 5,000-year civilization.

However, the action list does not touch on global issues that many people associate with China as a rising power, such as the new international order and climate change. Instead, President Xi's speech clarified that the country's focus will stay on domestic growth dynamism and defending national sovereignty. There was no declaration of exporting the Chinese model, nor praising the Chinese system as better than others.

Instead, President Xi's narrative emphasized the CPC leadership and how it fits the Chinese people's needs. But his tone on national sovereignty sounded determined, and drew the most applause.

How China navigated the novel coronavirus outbreak surprised almost everyone. The country was the first to emerge out of the economic stoppage and social lock-down. It has not experienced a second wave. The country's growth momentum accelerated in the crisis, and it is expected to be the largest economy by the end of the decade.

The rise of a new giant on the global stage is always met with skepticism, fear and uncertainty. President Xi's speech at the centenary celebration should help to soothe some anxiety. Chinese culture takes the centennial very seriously, and speeches delivered during the occasion take on the significance of a proclamation. Foreign observers should not look at it as an ad-hoc political speech that will easily change.

The world needs to understand an ascending power, what it thinks, and its wants. The rallying call to focus on national development and defend the country's sovereignty are legitimate human aspirations true to everyone. A gentle, peaceful and friendly ascending China is good for the world.

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.