The talk all week has been of plans and timetables, where everyone was going, who was staying in Beijing and how busy they were with all the things that had to be done before the holidays. But by Thursday afternoon, the roads were as quiet as on a Sunday morning while the pavements were full of families, couples and clusters of friends out for a stroll or chatting around cafe tables.
Makeshift stalls appeared on the roadside a few hours earlier selling mooncakes, round pastries the size of a large scone and stuffed with lotus seed paste or nuts and sweet-scented osmanthus. These are a traditional delicacy shared within the family for the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar, which falls on Friday.
While the mooncake sellers were setting out their stalls, shopkeepers, hairdressers and restaurant owners were sticking Chinese national flags into brackets outside their doors. Young men were lining some of the main streets with larger versions of the red flag with five stars and at the subway stations, small podiums were put out for sentries from the People’s Armed Police.
This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival comes two days ahead of China’s National Day and public offices and many businesses are closed for a week from Friday, known as Golden Week. But to make up for part of their time off, employees will have to work the following Saturday and Sunday, making for a long week when they are back.
The flags and sentries are part of a patriotic display that will include an event at Tiananmen Square on Saturday when Xi Jinping will lay flower baskets in memory of fallen national heroes for Martyrs’ Day. Created in 2014 to promote patriotism, Martyrs’ Day honours everyone who died serving China from the first Opium War with Britain in 1840 onwards.
But as the Communist Party leadership reflects on China’s national history, it is also preoccupied with the country’s role in the world today and the future of the global order. This week saw the publication of a White Paper called A Global Community of Shared Future: China’s Proposals and Actions, billed as a blueprint for a new global order.
The White Paper is published ahead of next month’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, marking the 10th anniversary of the initiative, which links China to three quarters of the countries in the world. Representatives of more than 130 countries are expected to attend, including Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Written in the elliptical Chinese diplomatic style, the document does not mention the United States by name but it says “traditional approaches to international relations” are no longer adequate for interpreting great power rivalry.
“There is no iron law that dictates that a rising power will inevitably seek hegemony. This assumption represents typical hegemonic thinking and is grounded in memories of catastrophic wars between hegemonic powers in the past. China has never accepted that once a country becomes strong enough, it will invariably seek hegemony. China understands the lesson of history – that hegemony preludes decline,” it says.
Xi has in the past few years gradually elaborated his vision for a new global order through the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI). The GDI, which is linked to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, has launched dozens of projects covering areas such as poverty reduction, health, food security and development finance.
The GSI and the GCI are less concrete but all three initiatives are part of an effort by China to lead a shift away from the US-led “rules-based order” towards a system centred on the UN. Although the White Paper calls for “true multilateralism”, it says the new order must move beyond “the narrow historical limitations of the so-called universal values” and instead promote “the common values of humanity embedded in Chinese civilisation”.
The document stresses the centrality of state sovereignty and respect for each other’s “core interests and major concerns” and for “the development path and social system chosen by other peoples”. It is a vision that has no role for international protection of individual rights and that leaves it for each country to choose its own definition of democracy.
“There is no single model of democracy that is universally applicable, far less a superior one. Democracy is not Coca-Cola, tasting the same across the world as the syrup is produced in one single country,” it says.
Attempts to monopolise the “patent” of democracy, arbitrarily define the “standards” of democracy, and fabricate a false narrative of “democracy versus authoritarianism” to provoke confrontation between political systems and ideologies are “practices of fake democracy”.