There are laws of history, and they work in China’s favor

The latest issue of Bill Bishop’s excellent Sinocism newsletter pointed out an interesting speech by Kevin Rudd analyzing recent Xi Jinping’s official pronouncements on foreign policy. Here is the section that jumped out at me:

There is a second element to the June 2018 Conference which grows out of the first. It is Xi’s deeply Marxist, dialectical-materialist view of history based on permanently evolving “contradictions” between what dialecticians call thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In Xi’s view, this in turn gives rise to defined “laws” of historical development which are both prescriptive and predictive.

This may sound like old-fashioned Marxism. That’s because it is. The intellectual software of generations of Chinese leaders has been shaped by this conceptual framework for interpreting and responding to what they define as scientific, objective reality. And Xi Jinping belongs to that tradition. Remember he has already convened special study sessions of the politburo on understanding both dialectical and historical materialism in the past.

According to the conference report: “Xi suggested to not only observe the current international situation, but also review the past, summarise historical laws, and look towards the future to better understand the trend of history.” Furthermore, according to the same report in Xinhua, to obtain “an accurate understanding of the overall situation, Xi underlined not only the observation of detailed phenomena, but also a deep appreciation of the essence of the overall situation in order not to get lost in complexity and the changing international situation.” Xi concludes on this count by stating that “throughout human history, the development of the world has always been the result of contradictions intertwining and interacting with each other.”

Once again, all this will seem more than a little arcane. But in the ideological dialect of the Communist Party, it seems to mean several things. First, that there is nothing random about what is unfolding in the world today. Second, these reflect certain immutable laws of political and economic development. Third, the business of Chinese foreign policy is to use this dialectal prism to understand precisely what is happening in the world today, why it is happening and what to do about it. And fourth, applying these disciplines to the current period, it means that the global order is at a turning point with the relative decline of the US and the West, with this coinciding with the fortuitous national and international circumstances currently enabling China’s rise.

This sounds very much like a conclusion that I also have come to: Xi Jinping’s thinking really comes out of a 19th-century social-science worldview. He has a high degree of confidence that objective laws governing the workings of society and the economy exist, that knowing these laws does not pose any particular philosophical or practical difficulties, and therefore that these laws form a solid basis for government policy (see my post “Reading the Communist Manifesto with Xi Jinping“).

Since the Chinese Communist Party has figured out these rules, it can have a high degree of confidence in the success of its policies. Far being a cynical post-truth manipulator like Putin, Xi gives every sign of being a true believer in his brand of pseudo-scientific, authoritarian, developmental Marxism. His confident nationalism in foreign policy and confident interventionism in economic policy are both underpinned by a high degree of epistemic confidence that he knows how the world really works.

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