What makes China different?

By Ryan Perkins

July 1, 2021 marks the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Under its leadership, China has achieved remarkable progress. What makes China different from other socialist countries? And how should China respond to its current challenges from the U.S. and the West? On June 30, Beijing Review reporter Wen Qing had an exclusive interview with Kishore Mahbubani, a senior Singaporean diplomat and author of Has China Won?, to share his insights on the CPC and China. This is an edited version of the interview:
Beijing Review: In many of your interviews, you spoke highly of China’s development in recent years. Which aspects in your opinion are most impressive when it comes to China’s development?
Kishore Mahbubani: I think the most impressive thing achieved by the Chinese Government is that it lifted 800 million people out of poverty. That’s the largest poverty reduction exercise ever in human history. And I speak about that with some conviction because I myself experienced poverty when I was a child. I know how damaging poverty can be. Your life is miserable. If you can rescue people from poverty, that’s the noblest thing you can do. And clearly, rescuing 800 million people is an enormous achievement on the part of the Chinese Government.
What makes it even more remarkable is that China has the fastest growing middle class in the world. China’s middle class is about 200-300 million people, larger than that of the United States. It’s clearly a tremendous achievement to have accomplished, especially in 40 years.
What role do you think the CPC has played in achieving this progress?
Since 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, the CPC, the ruling party of China, has led China to achieve tangible progress. If China didn’t have a very strong central government, these achievements wouldn’t have happened. But what is interesting is how the CPC has changed and adapted to different times and different challenges in its history. Clearly, in the first phase its focus was making sure there was political unity in the country. And then after Deng Xiaoping took over, the focus was on modernization and reform to ensure that the economy grew and developed.
It was very unusual for a communist party to introduce so many market reforms, and to let the market decide how resources should be allocated. The Soviet Union collapsed because they couldn’t achieve that. It wasn’t possible for the Soviet Union to grow its economy in the way that China has been able to. The flexibility and adaptability of the Party is the real strength. There had been many movements practicing socialism/Marxism in many countries around the world, but few had been successful. What makes China different?
It’s a great mystery why China has been so much more successful than other countries in economic and social development. There’s no question that in terms of economic and social development, China has been the most successful country in the last 40 years.
So why did China succeed? When I was dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, I explained the secret formula of Singapore’s success which can be captured in three letters: MPH. M stands for meritocracy, P stands for pragmatism, H stands for honesty. In many ways, I think the CPC has also been successful, because it has implemented the MPH formula. Meritocracy is shown in the fact that you have to have exceptional abilities before you can be invited to join the CPC. In my book, I described how my research assistant in New York, who came from China, was disappointed that she ranked number two in a high school, because only the number one can join the CPC. That’s an indication of meritocracy.
The definition of pragmatism has been given by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping when he said it doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or the cat is white if it catches mice.
–The Daily Mail-Beijing Review News Exchange Item