With the novel coronavirus pandemic, it sometimes gets lost that this is an important year for China.
It is the one in which the country becomes a moderately prosperous society and eliminates all extreme poverty in time for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China next year.
It is a milestone that is not fully understood outside of China but it is nonetheless an important landmark on the road of China’s national rejuvenation.
It is something I have reported on and written about a great number of times in recent years. I am also currently interviewing a diverse range of international experts and academics for a China Daily series about xiaokang, the Chinese name of Confucian origin for the milestone.
These are all people who tend to have a deep knowledge of China and have engaged with it over a number of years.
They all have different perspectives on China reaching its goal but they are all agreed that it is something of global significance rather than just being specific to China.
Martin Jacques, the academic, journalist and author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and Birth of a New Global Order, is unequivocal.
He says that by achieving xiaokang and delivering 850 million people out of poverty, China has made a bigger contribution to human rights than any other country in modern history.
“It has enriched so many people’s lives and enfranchised them in a way that they would not have imagined 35 or 40 years ago,” he says.
“It is a colossal contribution to human rights. The world has been transformed by this achievement.”
This brings up the question of what the world would be like if none of this had happened and China had remained a largely agrarian society, as it was in the late 1970s before reform and opening-up.
Ian Goldin, professor of globalization at Oxford University and another interviewee for the series, makes the point that the world would have been a whole lot poorer.
“When you look at the global statistics of poverty reduction, much of what has been achieved has been driven by China,” he said.
“If you look at the (United Nations) Sustainable Development Goals, many of them just would not have been achieved without China.”
China’s development has not just reduced poverty but, of course, transformed the global economy.
China contributed just 1.1 percent to global GDP in the late 1970s, but by 2019, it made up 18 percent.
The center of gravity of the global economy has also firmly shifted eastwards as a result of China’s development.
In his 2016 presentation, The World Without China Cannot Maintain Sustainable Growth, Stephen Roach, senior fellow of Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs concluded that the world economy would have experienced a prolonged recession after the global financial crisis without China contributing a quarter of worldwide growth.
There is therefore much international focus as to whether China can play a similar role in the recovery from a pandemic-induced economic crisis.
Xiaokang, however, is fundamentally not about delivering benefits to the rest of the world but about China’s socialist modernization.
Apart from having a stronger economy, it is about improvements in education, investment in science and technology, having a thriving culture, a better environment and greater social harmony.
Once achieved, it will be clear that China will have one of the most cohesive and successful economic societies in the world. Looking at some other countries, this is clearly the case.
The 100th anniversary of the Party’s formation will be a great moment to reflect on the achievement.
It will not all be about reflection, however. China’s national rejuvenation has still a long way to go as General Secretary Xi Jinping made clear in this report to the 19th CPC National People’s Congress in October 2017.
By 2035, China has set itself the aim to be a global technology leader and to achieve a Beautiful China, reversing the environmental degradation of its fast development.
And then by 2049 on the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic, it aims to be a modern socialist country in all respects.
If what has gone before is a guide, China’s development over the next 30 years will also profoundly change the world for the better.
What can be said for now is that China is one of the few countries in the world with a clear sense of direction and a genuine desire for a better and more inter-connected world.