“It’s all about China.” Our President, Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch, started his introduction to Prof Dr Horvat’s lecture at the Café Ministerium with this statement of fact. China is huge. Over the last twenty years, its national economy grew by 9% year after year.  We cannot ignore China. It is of enormous importance to us. Prof Tiroch justifiably concluded that China would be the power of tomorrow.

The global balance of power is shifting. In 2017 Karin Kneissl wrote that we are witnessing a “Changing of the Guards”: Europe hardly plays a geopolitical role anymore, is only an extra on the world stage, while nothing works without China. The EU is busy with itself and its crises, and the US’ heyday is over. Both Europe and the Americans overestimate their importance in the southern hemisphere. The economic power of China, on the other hand, is appearing to be more and more self-confident. Politically too. One sees oneself again in the imperial “Middle Kingdom” role as the civilisational superior centre of the world.

Prof Dr Horvat’s lecture on “China’s Five Year Plans for Economic and Social Development” was such a vast but equally a subject of such enormous importance that he felt compelled to apologise for its length by paraphrasing the former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, the fabled Austrian Roi Soleil: “Unfortunately I had no time to prepare a short statement.”

Ignorance and arrogance, rumours instead of facts, seem to dictate our understanding of China. Of course, China is a One Party State ruled by the Chinese Communist Party founded in 1921. Still, when we believe we have to dismiss out of hand their Five-Year Plans by mistakenly comparing it to the Soviet-Style Five-Year Plan, then we ignore that the Chinese word for “Plan” has metamorphosed to “Blueprint or Vision”, an evolutionary progress led by highly professional men (are there actually any women?) with a minimum age of 45 years. The result: a seemingly booming Socialist Market Economy.

Dr Horvat used the term “Vertical Democratic Meritocracy”: democracy at the lower levels of government and political meritocracy at higher levels of government, with political experimentation in between. Democracy refers to the idea of politics by the people, and political meritocracy refers to the notion that the political system should aim to select and promote public officials with above-average ability and virtue. This idea of vertical democratic meritocracy should be used to evaluate the political reality in China, but not necessarily elsewhere. The ideal of political meritocracy has a long history in China. For example, more than 2,500 years ago, Confucius defended the view that exemplary people have superior ability and virtue instead of the earlier belief that exemplary people have an aristocratic family background.

The system promotes a process of community building, which requires a general Social Consensus. Hence, so Prof Horvat, it is wrong for us to see the Chinese Parliament as a merely rubber-stamping institution.

There appeared some anxiety in Prof Dr Tiroch’s face when the questions of our very knowledgeable members demanding answers from Dr Horvat made the minutes seem to stretch out even further, and he had to remind us in the end, sternly, that the iced cucumber soup was getting hot, not to mention the beer.

The evening continued in the most convivial atmosphere, enjoying the, by now, famous Café Ministerium hospitality with sheer endless supplies of food and drink.

By the way, good fortunes were guaranteed towards the end when a few glasses were smashed: because “Scherben bringen Glück!”

Wolfgang Geissler

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