What do China and Saudi Arabia have in common?
Two important developments took place last week, which will probably have an impact on the future of world politics. In China, the Communist Party of China (CPC) organized its 19th National Congress. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced a futuristic new development project called NEOM, which will fundamentally alter the Red Sea area and the Gulf of Aqaba, affecting the economies of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. What do these developments have in common?
Xi Jinping, the seemingly modest and timid leader of China, has brought a new momentum to China’s socialist heritage. Xi is the first President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who was born after the Second World War. This makes a difference. He grew up in a more peaceful world and was exposed to the conditions of the Cold War. He has witnessed the steady but gradual, sometimes obstructed, integration of his country with the world economic and political system. He has also experienced how the end of the Cold War has brought a new wave of insecurity, unpredictability and instability to those systems.
At the end of the 19th Congress of the CPC, China embraced Xi as the new ideologist of the party and the country. Xi’s “Thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” are now part of the world’s largest and most powerful communist party’s constitution.
This development makes Xi the third important leader to put his stamp on the ideology of the party and the country after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Many experts do not rule out that such a development may even prepare the background for possible constitutional amendments to ensure Xi’s presidency to continue for an exceptional third term of five years after 2022, the time when his legal two terms of presidency will come to an end.
What is new about socialism in China? Xi has not softened the party’s tight political grip on Chinese society. Civil society in China continues to suffer from strict control and censorship. In China, access to thousands of websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are blocked.
Yet Chinese socialism is adapting to the conditions of the market economy and China is actively campaigning for global free trade, free circulation of capital and labor. Xi’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) project, on the other hand, aims at further integrating the PRC into the world economy by means of enhanced transportation networks. Since the beginning of 2016,
Chinese families have been allowed to have two children too.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans to build a megacity around the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea area. The project promises to become the new driving force for social and economic reforms in what bin Salman has declared to be the Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia’s future. Saudi Arabia has also allowed women to drive, a minor softening of the grip of the state on society.
The most striking aspect of the Crown Prince’s vision is that Saudi Arabia aims to become the new bastion of “moderate Islam” and will transform into an adamant supporter of the fight against extremism. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is young and seventy percent of the Saudi population is in their thirties. They lived in an environment of growing religious extremism, increasing politicization of Islam and radicalization of socio-political life in their region. They are aware that this will affect economic stability, sustainable growth and welfare as well as politics. It has to change.
China and Saudi Arabia do not have similar political systems. Their lukewarm political steps, such as “one more child” or “women to drive” do not enhance democracy. As two important countries in the G20 group, both are adapting to the conditions of the twenty-first century. Both have significant budgetary problems. Both need to integrate further with the world economy and aspire to create better conditions for direct foreign investment in their countries in order to achieve balanced and sustainable growth. Political reform is still not in sight, but both countries are inspired with the same motives. It is the economy, my dear reader, it is the economy.