For thousands of years, China, the “Middle Kingdom”, had remained a self-sufficient continental power founded and dependent almost entirely upon agriculture.
Despite continued invasions by different nomadic tribes from the north over the centuries, China had largely been able to maintain its cultural and political predominance in the region.
Through the unique “imperial tributary system”, the neighboring “barbaric” and culturally inferior vassal states would pledge allegiance and pay tributes to the ancient Chinese emperors.
However, the industrial revolution that swept across the West in the 18th and 19th centuries toppled China’s millennium-old supremacy in Asia for good.
And in the long period that followed, China was utterly humiliated and brought to its knees by the much more advanced western industrial powers.
For the first time in history, it was China itself which had become the culturally, economically and politically inferior vassal state.
In the face of relentless western invasion and bullying, making China rich and great again had become the shared dream of Chinese intellectuals and nationalists generation after generation.
And over the decades various leaders who rose to power in the mainland have adopted different approaches to making China great again.
For instance, Mao Zedong resorted to communist revolution to save his country and counter the imperialist expansions of both the US as well as the former Soviet Union.
As for Deng Xiaoping, he chose the path of embarking on nationwide market reforms and economic decentralization in order to lift the country out of poverty.
Deng assumed a low-profile stance when it came to foreign policies as he sought a peaceful diplomatic environment that would enable China’s energy to be focused solely on economic reforms.
Coming to the nation’s current leader, Xi Jinping, he is lucky because he has inherited from his predecessors a rapidly growing and thriving economy, which allows him to finally put the “China Dream” into practice.
To do that, he has adopted an outward development strategy through the clever “One Belt One Road” blueprint, which marks a concerted effort to enhance relations with countries along the modern “Silk Road” on one hand, and break free of US containment on the other.
Xi seems determined to make China great again and revive the “Heavenly Dynasty”.
But to achieve that, he needs to get three things done: maintaining the country’s economic growth, building a strong military and boosting China’s scientific capacity.
As we all know, throughout history, a strong and viable national economy always forms the cornerstone of any hegemon.
It is perhaps for this reason that Beijing has proposed the ambitious “Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area” project.
Likewise, any attempt to restore China’s greatness would prove futile unless Beijing possesses strong military capabilities.
It is because it still remains pretty much “might is right” in today’s world politics, and therefore a country isn’t going to have any say in international affairs unless it has strong military muscle.
Moreover, what is equally crucial is that our Beijing leaders must avoid being complacent about their wealth. Instead, they must retain their revolutionary spirit, stamina and combativeness.
In my opinion, the most important task lying before Xi right now is boosting China’s scientific and technological strength.
In particular, Xi must enhance the mainland’s capacity for scientific research and development (R&D).
It is because in the age of technology, scientific strength has become the undisputed key to success in the ongoing fierce competition among the great powers. And R&D is the “foundation of foundations”.
No wonder Xi has personally attended to the issue of scientific development in Hong Kong, and is committed to turning our city into an international R&D hub.
Apparently, from Xl’s point of view, Hong Kong has a key part to play in realizing the “China Dream”.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 26
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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