2008, Seen by China as an Epochal Year


2008, with a global financial crisis to match the “Great Depression” of 1929 and the United States’ election of the first black president in its history, will probably go down as an epochal year when viewed from posterity. In the history of the People’s Republic of China also, 2008 is “a year of major tests rarely seen in history” (Wen Jiabao) paralleled by 1976.

Looking back on 1976, the deaths of the three heroes Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, and Mao Zedong, the Tangshan Earthquake, and the ensuing downfall of the Gang of Four formed a turning point to move to a system of reform and opening, abandoning the centralized quasi-war footing. A few years later with the prizing off of the caps on the two economic sectors consisting of the “planned economy” of the “shackled” urban areas and the “traditional economy” of the rural areas suffering from “absolute poverty”, the fountain of energy toward a market economy spouted high up into the air.

And then some 30-plus years later, 2008: the record-breaking damage from snow in the southern part of China at the beginning of the year, the Tibetan rioting and immediately afterward the trouble during the Olympic torch relays worldwide, the major earthquake in Sichuan which resulted in more than 400,000 dead or injured, the Beijing Olympics (the third in Asia), the extra-vehicular activity from the manned spacecraft Shenzhou 7, and the Lehman shock. 2008, with phases where the two extremes of “heaven and hell” were so very far apart, and joys and sorrows—the natural calamities, the severe tremors of politico-economic incidents, and the enhancing of national prestige from national events—became alternately interwoven, will probably be seen as a turning point which changed the course of modern Chinese history.

Within the unipolar global system centered on the United States which is provoking disquiet, whether the direction in which China is proceeding is aimed toward being a powerful country relative to the United States or not, that desire alone is growing stronger by the day. As to whether or not China—as the ideology for the people to support that—is ignoring the aspect of internationalism which socialist thought historically possessed, and the nationalism of “Greater China” is strengthening, a glimpse was given by the protection of the Olympic torch relay and the Olympic ceremonies. Blinkered patriotism, just as in Japan with its prewar super-power ambitions, will lead the country to its own ruin.

Furthermore, as to whether the political system—to a drumbeat of “socialism concerned about inequality” (the construction of “Hexie Shehui” [a Harmonious Society])—limits the factor of discretion without changing the “inseparable politico-economic structural links” (market utilization by central and provincial politics) and strengthens state intervention, the economic measure aiming at “Bao Ba” [literally “maintain eight”] (maintaining GDP growth at 8% or above) has already largely taken the helm in a reorientation from exports to the expanding of domestic demand.

In such a situation how does the “Yes, we can” Obama administration view Japan and China. To put it simply, the United States is continuing to place emphasis on Japan in tactical terms, and places emphasis on China in strategic terms. For the United States part, it has a localized relationship with Japan and a wide-ranging one with China. Accordingly Japan is regarded as an invaluable ally in Asia to maintain ample funds and technology to support discrete issues, including financial stability, environmental protection, the eradication of poverty, and the development of space technology.

Meanwhile China is regarded as a “Stakeholder” (responsible power) which is able to talk on global political, military, and economic stability and peace in the long term at an elevated level. Regarding the main plank of the United States’ China policy, it will shift away from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of State, and I think that there will be no room for antagonism on Taiwan, human rights issues and economic friction.

[Translated by ERINA]