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The Decision to Belong to the Age

The Decision to Belong to the Age

Monday, 30 October, 2017 - 08:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

In the past, we used to view China as being very far away from us geographically, but this has changed in the age of globalization and the birth of the “global village.” The development that took place in China last week therefore concerns us in our economy and security because it concerns global international and economic balances.

The 19th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party not only extended the term of President Xi Jinping for five years, but it went much more beyond that. It has enshrined Xi’s political thought on communism in the constitution. This is an unprecedented move that was only achieved by Mao Zedong’s successors after their retirement.

If we take into consideration that we are talking about the world’s second greatest economy and its most populous country, then the introduction of an extraordinary leadership there is a global event that concerns countries near and far.

It is true that the US economy is still on top and that its military is the most advanced. But it is also true that the American system is no longer able to produce a constant stream of extraordinary leaders who are immune to scandals created by journalism and the internet. It was also clear that Russia has, a hundred years after the Bolshevik Revolution, witnessed the rise of a new czar, as the Economist magazine reported. It is clear though that the new czar was able to improve the situation in his country in international balances, more than he did in rehabilitating its economy to be able to compete on the long-term.

The truth is that Xi owes a lot to Deng Xiaoping, who soon after Mao’s death sought to take the major and difficult decision to join the modern age. Deng was the first to give the signal that labels such as “Great Captain” were no longer suitable in our world. “Comrade Deng” took a firm decision to prevent Mao from ruling China from his grave. He preserved the sanctity of the grave, but he opened a window and buried many rulings of the “Red Book” after they were no longer applicable in a changing world. This is how Mao remained a party machine that includes some 90 million members, who are guarantors of stability, while Deng’s disciples embarked on a journey in search of prosperity.

Over the past five years, Xi played a major role in solidifying the image of a new China and in bolstering its position. The world took note of Deng’s students in helping hundred of millions of Chinese get out of poverty and the numbers backed the credibility of dreams.

On the outside, it is enough to point to the Belt and Road initiative, for which Beijing dedicated $124 billion, in order to bolster trade and its influence in new markets.

In January, Xi attended the Davos World Economic Forum where he delivered a speech that ardently defended globalization and warned against protectionist policies. It was said at the time that US President Donald Trump, who had only assumed his post weeks earlier, was the main target of this speech.

Mao’s successor stole the spotlight and it became clear that the Chinese age was coming, albeit a bit late.

As I sat at the forum hall, I felt dejected that the Arab world had not yet taken the decision to belong to the age.

Coincidence would have it that the final day of the Chinese Communist Party national congress took place simultaneously with the opening of the Riyadh-hosted Future Investment Initiative. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the conference was unprecedented in the Arab world because it brought together under one roof businessmen who control $22 trillion of the world’s wealth. Sovereign and investment funds and technology giants came together at an event that would not have happened at that time and place had the decision to belong to the age not been taken.

Belonging to the age is not an easy or light decision. It is a decision to adopt change, openness, coexistence and partnership. It requires a shift in regulations, mentalities and tools. It requires a comprehensive vision, executive plans and the ability to attract partners to join a workshop never before seen in the region.

I had many ideas while sitting at the conference hall, perhaps because I am a journalist who comes from a trend that gives priority to searching for the political mastermind. This trend gives precedence to generals in power or to the opposition. The truth is that the world has changed. It became clear that the decision-making power has been transferred from the old generals to the new ones, who manage financial institutions that are more powerful than countries. The old generals do not have a solution to the economy and they cannot improve the lives of people, except through finding agreements with the new ones.

I met in the hallways of the Riyadh conference Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group that runs some 400 companies. I asked him about the extent of his interest in the conference. He replied: “The best reflection of my interest is the fact that I have visited Saudi Arabia three times in three months. I believe that what Saudi Arabia is witnessing is very interesting. The quality of the participants in the conference demonstrates the world’s interest in Vision 2030 and the change that we have started to sense in the kingdom. I look forward to taking part in the massive futuristic NEOM project.”

“What is happening is very important. The Saudi Crown Prince is thinking about the post-oil Saudi Arabia. He is banking on the youth and their energies and Saudi women in developing the economy and society. He wants to attract Saudi capabilities and lure investors. It is remarkable to find a man who enjoys such courage and such a long-term vision. The truth is I have never met an official who has such a strong drive to succeed,” added Branson.

In the late 1970s, China took the decision to open its windows and belong to the age. It took the decision to belong to these successive technological and scientific revolts and employ them in improving the lives of the people. China is now picking the fruit of these efforts.

In Riyadh, the participants witnessed the irreversible decision to belong to the age. This led the generals of investment and technology to flock to take part in an experience, whose success will set an attractive example to the Arab and Muslim worlds.

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