What Kevin Rudd got wrong on China: Taiwan and the great rejuvenation twenty five years ago

Nov 20, 2022
Kevin Rudd Image: AAP/ Glenn Hunt

The renowned China hand mistook Beijing’s linking of Taiwan and the “great rejuvenation” as a recent development and failed to trace the origin of the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation back to at least 1997.

It’s comforting to see President Joe Biden, after meeting President Xi Jinping, said today, “I do not think there is any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan.”

That is because, for quite some time, there’s been a lot of talk in the United States that China has a 2027 deadline on Taiwan, and recently Admiral Mike Gilday, the head of the US Navy, even said China could move militarily on Taiwan in this year or next.

From the Financial Times on 20 October:
When we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window,” Gilday told the Atlantic Council on Wednesday. “I don’t mean at all to be alarmist . . . it’s just that we can’t wish that away.” …

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said the 2027 timeline was “baked into US thinking”, particularly in the Pentagon and the intelligence community. But she said it seemed to be based on an assessment of when China would have the capability to invade Taiwan rather than on intelligence that provided information about Beijing’s intent.

“We can’t rule out anything, but stating that there is a 2022 or 2023 window is sheer speculation. I think it’s irresponsible, said Glaser, who was sceptical of the view that China had set a goal to invade by 2027.

Beijing has never said anything that would substantiate the so-called 2027 window, let alone 2022 or 2023. Such speculation, especially by a current senior U.S. military commander, is not conducive to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, to China-U.S. relations or the entire Asia Pacific.

There is another, more deeply rooted Western myth about Taiwan. A high-profile example recently came by with Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia and renowned China hand who speaks fluent Mandarin, writing in Foreign Affairs on November 9, two weeks after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China:

“The CCP was previously hesitant to embrace any kind of public timetable or deadline for retaking Taiwan. Xi, by contrast, has stated that retaking Taiwan is critical to China’s “national rejuvenation” and that he aims to complete that rejuvenation by 2049”.

There are two errors here.

Xi was not the first Chinese top leader to link the reunification of Taiwan with China’s national rejuvenation.

Jiang Zemin said in his report (CHN) at the 15th Party Congress in 1997:

我们完全有决心、有能力最终解决台湾问题。不管在实现祖国完全统一的道路上还有多少艰难险阻,海峡两岸全体中国人和所有中华儿女,从中华民族的根本利益出发,携手共进,祖国的完全统一和民族的全面振兴,一定能够实现

“We are fully determined and capable of finally resolving the Taiwan issue. No matter how many difficulties and obstacles remain on the road to the complete reunification of the motherland, all Chinese people and all Chinese sons and daughters on both sides of the Strait, from the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation, hand in hand the complete reunification of the motherland and the comprehensive revitalisation of the nation, will certainly be achieved“.

The word  复兴 rejuvenation is basically synonymous with 振兴 revitalisation, but the Party replaced revitalisation with rejuvenation since the 16th Party Congress in 2002.

Jiang Zemin said in his report (CHN) at the 16th Party Congress in 2002:

国家要统一,民族要复兴,台湾问题不能无限期地拖延下去。

“If the country is to be reunited and the nation is to be rejuvenated, the Taiwan issue cannot be delayed indefinitely”.

Hu Jintao said in his report (CHN) at the 17th Party Congress in 2007:

两岸统一是中华民族走向伟大复兴的历史必然

“Cross-strait reunification is a historical necessity for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

Hu Jintao said in his report (CHN) at the 18th Party Congress in 2012:

我们坚决反对“台独”分裂图谋。中国人民绝不允许任何人任何势力以任何方式 把台湾从祖国分割出去。“台独”分裂行径损害两岸同胞共同利益,必然走向彻底失 败。

全体中华儿女携手努力,就一定能在同心实现中华民族伟大复兴进程中完成祖国统一大业。

“We firmly oppose the secessionist attempts of “Taiwan independence”. The Chinese people will never allow anyone or any force to divide Taiwan from the motherland in any way. The secessionist acts of “Taiwan independence” are detrimental to the common interests of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and are bound to lead to complete failure.

If all Chinese people work together, we will be able to accomplish the great task of reunification of the motherland in the process of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation with one heart”.

In all these Party Congresses featuring two predecessors to Xi, the “national rejuvenation” was linked with the reunification of Taiwan, contrasting with Rudd’s characterisation in Foreign Affairs on November 9.

(It’s perhaps only fair to add that the erroneous characterisation is certainly not limited to Rudd, who, despite this error, still stands out with his China expertise and ties.)

The CCP was previously hesitant to embrace any kind of public timetable or deadline for retaking Taiwan. Xi, by contrast, has stated that retaking Taiwan is critical to China’s “national rejuvenation” and that he aims to complete that rejuvenation by 2049.

Now, the second error, which is also not limited to Rudd

On November 29, 2012, leading his colleagues in the Politburo Standing Committee of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China to visit an exhibition titled 复兴之路  The Road to Rejuvenation in Beijing, according to the readout (CHN) by Xinhua.

Xi Jinping concluded by emphasising that:

习近平最后强调,我坚信,到中国共产党成立100年时全面建成小康社会的目标一定能实现,到新中国成立100年时建成富强民主文明和谐的社会主义现代化国家的目标一定能实现,中华民族伟大复兴的梦想一定能实现。

“I firmly believe that the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects by the 100th year of the founding of the Communist Party of China will be achieved, and the goal of building a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious modern socialist country by the 100th year of the founding of New China will be achieved, and the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be realised”.

This is what Rudd characterised as: “he (Xi) aims to complete that rejuvenation by 2049,” because the New China refers to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), founded in 1949, so “the 100th year” refers to 2049.

However, looking more closely, Xi was actually just adopting a more catchy and inspiring phrase – “the great rejuvenation” – to describe “the goal of building a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious modern socialist country by the 100th year of the founding of New China will be achieved.”

That means:

The great rejuvenation = the goal of building a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious modern socialist country by the 100th year of the founding of New China will be achieved

Put another way, the great rejuvenation was not born out of thin air; it was a catchy, inspiring, and more easily memorable rephrasing of a long, wordy expression.

That means tracing the origin of the great rejuvenation in the Communist Party of China requires going back to tracing “the goal of building a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious modern socialist country by the 100th year of the founding of New China will be achieved.”

So when was the goal first brought up?

Jiang Zemin said in his report (CHN) at the 15th Party Congress in 1997:

到世纪中叶建国一百年时,基本实现现代化,建成富强民主文明的社会主义国家。

“By the middle of the century, when the country is 100 years old, it will have basically achieved modernisation and become a rich, strong, democratic, and civilised socialist country”.

Jiang Zemin said in his report (CHN) at the 16th Party Congress in 2002:

到本世纪中叶基本实现现代化,把我国建成富强民主文明的社会主义国家。

“By the middle of this century, we will basically realise modernisation and build China into a rich, strong, democratic, and civilised socialist country”.

Hu Jintao said in his report (CHN) at the 17th Party Congress in 2007:

建设富强民主文明和谐的社会主义现代化国家

“Building a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious modernised socialist country.”

Hu didn’t mention a specific timing in 2007, but people like me know very well Hu famously added the 和谐 harmonious to 富强民主文明 rich, strong, democratic, and civilised.

Hu Jintao said in his report (CHN) at the 18th Party Congress in 2012 on November 8, 2012:

只要我们胸怀理想、坚定信念,不动摇、不懈怠、不折腾,顽强奋斗、艰苦奋斗、 不懈奋斗,就一定能在中国共产党成立一百年时全面建成小康社会,就一定能在新中国成立一百年时建成富强民主文明和谐的社会主义现代化国家

“As long as we have ideals and firm beliefs, do not waver, do not slacken, avoid self-inflicted setbacks, and struggle tenaciously, painstakingly, and relentlessly, we will certainly be able to build a moderately prosperous society by the 100th year of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious socialist modern country by the 100th year of the founding of the new China”.

21 days later, Xi led his colleagues to The Road to Rejuvenation exhibition where Xi Jinping concluded by emphasising that:

习近平最后强调,我坚信,到中国共产党成立100年时全面建成小康社会的目标一定能实现,到新中国成立100年时建成富强民主文明和谐的社会主义现代化国家的目标一定能实现,中华民族伟大复兴的梦想一定能实现。

“I firmly believe that the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects by the 100th year of the founding of the Communist Party of China will be achieved, and the goal of building a rich, strong, democratic, civilised, and harmonious modern socialist country by the 100th year of the founding of New China will be achieved, and the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be realised”.

(It’s word by word!)

In summary, the great rejuvenation replaced and rephrased what can be traced back to Hu and Jiang as far back as 1997 (CHN):

到世纪中叶建国一百年时,基本实现现代化,建成富强民主文明的社会主义国家

By the middle of the century, when the country is 100 years old, it will have basically achieved modernisation and become a rich, strong, democratic, and civilised socialist country.

(I didn’t go back further than 1997 because this is enough, it’s now quite late in Beijing, and my laptop is running out of battery.)

 

Edited by Zichen Wang and now hosted at the Center for China and Globalisation (CCG), a leading non-government thinktank in Beijing that takes no position on issues raised in the newsletter. Everything in this article represents the views of the author.

First published in PEKINGNOLOGY Nov 14 2022

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