As the first days of 2021 are showing, the challenges will be great not only for China but for the whole world and the end of the pandemic and the recovery from its consequences require a new course with an approach towards multilateralism and constructive cooperation. And it seems clear that the Chinese people and their leadership see the path to progress as the only alternative to achieving the goals of further development for the benefit of themselves and all of humanity.
By Genc Mlloja
Many assessments of various specialized international political, economic and social circles have had in common the definition of 2020 as the 'Year of China', a year when this country managed to defeat the Covidian pandemic in a record span of time and withstand its devastating consequences by marking impressive political, economic, trade and social achievements.
Whatever 2021 will bring, there is no doubt that 2020 marked a success story for China, whose people and leadership are aware of what they have accomplished after facing unprecedented and unpredictable challenges since many decades. China has entered 2021 as the only major power in the world with an economic growth (an annual average of more than 2 percent) compared to other major powers like the US, the UK and many countries in Europe or other parts of the globe which have recorded significant declines in GDP and other economic and trade indicators with gloomy forecasts in the background.
At the same time this multifaceted success story has offered hope for a return to the global economic growth in the world at these unusual times when economic recovery appears unreachable for many major powers.
However, the Chinese triumph has not suited some powers, whose propaganda has returned to the old card of human rights, the alleged mistreatment of the autonomous minorities, Hong Kong and others like these issues that do not sound at all new to the domestic and international public opinion. Moreover this happens as this country has taken its seat as a member of the Human Rights Council for a three-year term starting from January 1 this year. The countries that supported its candidacy assessed that the Chinese authorities have expressed the belief that the attitude towards human rights is characterized by the will and belief to exchange experience in this field free from the outdated clichés on the matter.
‘Ordinary efforts created legendary stories’
Many answers to how China turned this disaster into victory, a situation which continues to be tragic from the human point of view with growing loss of lives and devastating in the economic and social aspects and widely compared to the post-World War II situation worldwide, have been given by President Xi Jinping in his New Year greeting message most recently through the China Media Group and the Internet.
President Xi called 2020 an extraordinary year, but he found the key to the victory in face of the sudden coronavirus pandemic among the people and the power of unity, perseverance and resilience. “Greatness is forged in the ordinary. Heroes come from the people. Every person is remarkable!” said Xi, who took care to commend each for the heroic work, sacrifices and bravery done in this confrontation when the epic of the fight against the epidemic has been written. “I am proud of our great motherland and people, as well as the unyielding national spirit. Only in hard times can courage and perseverance be manifested.”
According to him, the 13th Five-Year Plan has been accomplished in full and the 14th Five-Year Plan is being comprehensively formulated. “We are accelerating the pace to set up a new pattern for development, and are deeply implementing high-quality development. China is the first major economy worldwide to achieve positive growth, and its GDP in 2020 is expected to step up to a new level of 100 trillion yuan,” said Xi in his message noting among other things the breakthroughs in scientific explorations like the Tianwen-1 (Mars mission), Chang'e-5 (lunar probe), and Fendouzhe (deep-sea manned submersible).
China's example of the triumph over the coronavirus made the world turn its eyes more attentively to it and it has happened primarily due to the achievement to bring the pandemic under control in a country housing a population of 1.4 billion people within a period of time of less than 10 weeks. In addition what has attracted attention in the Chinese case in contrast to the vast majority of countries in the world is that it did not close in itself by not seeing what was happening in the world. While facing the pandemic inside the country Beijing’s leadership has extended its hand of solidarity to aid a great number of countries in different continents of the globe.
Historic agreement in pandemic times
With the fight against the pandemic in the spotlight China and the EU announced the conclusion of the talks on the investment agreement in the last days of December 2020, an achievement for both parties that has its beginnings since 2014. The announcement was made during a meeting between Xi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen via video link on 30 December 2020 marking the 'sealing' of this historic agreement within the timeframes as its final details were agreed during intensive meetings at the highest level especially during the period September-October last year.
The China-EU investment agreement reflects the determination and confidence of the Chinese side to promote high-level openness and will serve the mutual investment between China and Europe in lowering the threshold for market entry of the other side, creating the best business environment, providing stronger institutional guarantee and a brighter prospect of cooperation, Xi said. The treaty will also greatly boost world economic recovery in the post-pandemic era, enhance the international community's confidence in economic globalization and free trade, making significant contributions to the building of an open world economy, the Chinese president said.
Meanwhile the European leaders said that despite the impact of COVID-19, Europe and China had maintained close high-level communication this year and made important progress on a series of issues including the agreement on geographical indications. They said the completion of the investment agreement negotiations was an important milestone in the development of EU-China relations and will also help promote the recovery and growth of the world economy. The achievement of the accord once again showed to the world that although Europe and China have differences on some issues, both sides have the political will to strengthen dialogue and deepen cooperation on the basis of mutual respect to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results, they said.
The investment agreement between China and the EU that closed the 'cursed' year 2020 is, in fact, an accomplishment for both parties, but it can be said that this act marked an emancipation of the Union in terms of overcoming the tremendous pressures of the US administration of the outgoing president Donald Trump against the accord.
It is possible, according to some analysts, that the new US administration under President-elect Joe Biden will review previous US objections to the normal development of economic and trade relations with China, seeing that any isolationist effort is a futile and obsolete pattern of the 'cold war' time that now belongs to the past. The echo of European 'disobedience' to Washington will become even louder when Biden officially takes office on January 20, 2021.
Meanwhile in his congratulatory message on the election of President Joe Biden in November 2020, President Xi expressed hope to overcome the differences and improve the cooperation.
But it will be remembered for a long time and valued as an 'olive branch' extended not only to the US, the EU and other major powers but to the entire world what Chinese President Xi Jinping solemnly stated in his speech on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in September 2020 that China has "no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot one with any country”.
In this spirit of China's growing authority in the international arena it can also be seen the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on November 15 between China and the economic partners of Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Regarded as a ‘mega free trade agreement’, various analysts have highlighted the importance of the format of this trade bloc bypassing the US and their isolationist policies.
The ‘Silk Road’ in progress
As part of the mega-project 'One Belt, One Road', rail transport has undergone rapid development by shortening China's communication distances with Europe along the trail of the old 'Silk Road'. It may seem unbelievable but the reality speaks for itself: regular China-Europe trains made a total of 12,400 trips in 2020, which was a volume of 50 percent higher than in 2019. In a balance sheet for the past year announced in the first days of January 2021, China State Railway Group chief executive Lu Dongfu revealed the following: Throughout the year 2020, China-Europe express trains have made 12,400 journeys, sending 1,135,000 standard containers, respectively 50 percent and 56 percent more than a year ago. The level of container load reached 98.4 percent. And it should be noted that most of the Chinese anti-epidemic materials in the framework of international cooperation after the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic were transported by these trains, shortening to the maximum the transport time for these emergency solidarity supplies to many countries on the European continent.
Albania has also witnessed this kind of solidarity from China, which despite the difficulties, has donated to the Albanian side anti-epidemic medical materials several times. In addition, Chinese experts and doctors have exchanged experiences against the pandemic with the Albanian side virtually, said Chinese Ambassador to Tirana Zhou Ding in his congratulations to the Albanian people on the New Year.
On this occasion, Ambassador Zhou expressed optimism that the exchange and cooperation between the two countries in various fields are moving forward. "China continues to be an important trade partner for Albania. Albanian enterprises actively participate in the 3rd China International Import Expo (CIIE), as well as in economic and trade activities in the framework of ‘17 + 1’ Cooperation. Albanian qualitative agricultural products are increasing their presence in the Chinese market. We actively support and engage in Albania's post-earthquake reconstruction and economic recovery. We financially support the educational and cultural work of Albania, as well as families in need. I also had the honor, together with Albanian friends, to plant the forest of Sino-Albanian friendship in Lake Park as a gift for the 100th anniversary of the capital of Tirana."
The above was part of the balance sheet made by the Chinese top diplomat in Tirana in his message which he closed with the wish: "In 2021, I, together with the friendly Albanian people, will further deepen the friendship and cooperation between our two countries."
But overcoming the diplomatic format, Albanian analysts, including me, have not hesitated to express reluctance over the low level of Albania's cooperation with China, and they find no justification in the claim of the risk posed by the Chinese presence in Albania. Even more absurd and rather infantile make this claim the facts of the neighboring countries on their comprehensive development of relations with China bilaterally and in the frame of the ‘17 +1 ’mechanism and ‘One Belt, One Road’ project. There is no need to go too far out of the borders of Albania, but what is happening in the cooperation between Italy and Greece, the two key countries of the EU and NATO, with China is very meaningful.
2020 is rightly called the 'Year of China' as in addition to many significant developments, which cannot be included in a writing, the announcement by President Xi on December 4, 2020 that after 8 years of continuous effort China has completed its task of alleviating poverty in the new era according to the plan in December lifting out of poverty about 100 million people has been an extremely important event for the country and all mankind. There were many assessments inside and outside the country, calling it a 'historic achievement'. Thus China has entered the annals of history as the first developing country in the world to meet one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in terms of poverty. This achievement is all the more remarkable given the COVID-19 global pandemic crisis when the World Bank expresses concern that an estimated 88 million people added to the 115 million people living in extreme poverty worldwide in 2020 bringing this figure to the quota of 150 million.
2021 is the Year of the Ox and in Chinese culture oxen are symbols of wealth, prosperity, diligence, and perseverance. Although such a definition belongs to antiquity symbolically it fits the reality of things in China and the expectations for better days. But looking at the political calendar this year coincides with historic anniversaries culminating with the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, which was founded on June 23, 1921. It is also expected that the building of a prosperous moderate society will be proclaimed in the first half of this year which is a goal foreseen by Deng Xiaoping when the country opened to the world 40 years ago.