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The Global Development Initiative: China’s Economic Agenda at the Expense of Civil and Political Rights

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China has been making moves to promote its own values and way of life, pushing back against Western ideals. President Xi Jinping has proposed the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI), which calls for the West to stop promoting its values. This move is one of several suggestions by Mr Xi on how the world should be run, including the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI). Under the GDI, China has pledged at least $4bn towards helping poorer countries with everything from public health to cutting carbon emissions. However, this initiative puts economic benefits ahead of civil and political rights.

To put this in perspective, China still has over a million Uyghurs in concentration camps, they have implemented a vast oppressive surveillance state, and they are experimenting with a “social credit” system that prevents you from getting on a bus or using other public services if you are in a bad mood too often.

The GCI was announced at a virtual dialogue, organised by China’s Communist Party, of leaders of about 500 political organisations from more than 150 countries. The timing may have been deliberate: days later President Joe Biden was to co-host his second Summit for Democracy, also by video link (85 world leaders took part—China’s was not invited). “The practice of stoking division and confrontation in the name of democracy is in itself a violation of the spirit of democracy,” Mr Xi told his audience. “It will not receive any support.”

This initiative formally elevates China’s concerns about Western “interference” to a matter involving not just countries, but civilisations. It implies that any attack on China’s political system is an attack on its culture. The West is being called on to refrain from imposing its values or models on others and from stoking ideological confrontation.

Chinese civilization has long been one of Mr Xi’s preoccupations. He has convened Politburo meetings to discuss it. Mr Xi wants to highlight a cultural continuum, with a past full of glories that are now embodied in the party. Mao Zedong tried to suppress Confucianism, a philosophy that guided state and personal behaviour for centuries. Mr Xi has been promoting it.

In recent years, some Chinese scholars have embraced the idea of China as a “civilisational state”—a country whose borders also encompass a distinct civilisation. A book by a British author, Martin Jacques, published in 2009, helped to popularise the notion. Titled “When China Rules the World”, it became a bestseller in China, where its prediction that China would displace Western power without adopting Western values chimed with the party’s view.

China’s leaders are pushing back against Western ideals and promoting their own values and way of life. Mr Xi has proposed the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI), which calls for the West to stop promoting its values. This move is one of several suggestions by Mr Xi on how the world should be run. While these initiatives may have some benefits, such as helping poorer countries, they also put economic benefits ahead of civil and political rights. China is calling on the West to refrain from imposing its values or models on others and from stoking ideological confrontation.

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