When will the fifth modernization of China?
The pro-democracy demonstrations of recent weeks in Hong Kong are reminiscent of the Tian’anmen revolt. The Chinese government then responded by sending its special intervention troops, muzzling all efforts to establish democracy for the next 40 years or so.
The Tiananmen revolt of 1989 occurred at the time when Deng Xiaoping initiated the “four major modernizations” concerning the agricultural world, the development of industry, science and technology, and national defense. . To succeed in these reforms, China has decided to open its borders by increasing the volume of its trade and its market.
The result was spectacular. With a value of about US $ 8 billion, respectively, exports and imports accounted for no more than 5% of China’s GDP in 1978 at the end of the 1970s, compared to 20% and 18%, respectively, in 2017. US $ 2418 billion current and US $ 2208 billion current. This is an exponential and dazzling growth.
But after all this success, the Chinese government still shows no openness to democracy or freedom of the press. The opposite case would have been the “fifth modernization”, an expression used by Chinese students during the Tiananmen revolt.
The commercial success of China is largely linked to massive investments in its maritime infrastructure. In 2016, 64% of trade (in volume) between China and Europe was transported by sea. In 2015, of the ten largest ports in the world, eight were Chinese, the other two being Singapore and Rotterdam. The four largest ports – Ningbo, Shanghai, Tientsin, Taican – alone accounted for 23% of the total capacity of the world’s 40 largest ports, which is almost the entire world capacity.
In order to ensure the foundation of its international trade, China will continue to focus on its maritime economy, but this time by investing outside the country. The project called “The New Silk Roads or The Belt and Road Initiative (BIS)” was revealed in 2013 by Xi Jinping. It consists in developing an immense project of infrastructures on sea and on earth connecting several continents. In total, the Chinese government intends to spend more than US $ 1 trillion on this huge project. It is considered that China already controls nearly 10% of Europe’s port capacity, mainly as a result of investments in the port of Piraeus, a few kilometers from Athens and the concession of the port of Trieste near Venice.
The stakes remain considerable. According to the European Council of Foreign Affairs, the area covered by the Silk Road project (land and sea) covers 55% of the world’s GNP, 70% of the world’s population and 75% of the known energy reserves.
Despite the attractiveness of investments, this project has provoked a veritable controversy in democratic countries, especially in Europe. In particular, one wonders about standards, standards and rules of cooperation concerning maritime infrastructure projects.
Some accuse China of wanting to ensure its hegemony through its massive investments and to monetize them against support for its domestic policies in international forums. By allowing these investments, we would not want to be complicit in a repressive regime that restricts freedom of the press and does not consider human rights. Germany and France have refused to sign the Silk Road MOU, a protocol that China is seeking to sign bilaterally with several countries. The European Commission, an institution of the European Union, has for its part undertaken work to clarify the rules of the game of the European Union concerning infrastructure projects with foreign partnerships.
In conclusion, China’s economic success and major reforms should bring about the advent of democracy and freedom of the press in China: as if, in a natural way, the four major modernizations had paved the way for way to the fifth. In order to reassure its economic partners of its real intentions, it should now demonstrate such openness, otherwise its silk route project will remain greatly compromised.