Chinese propaganda belts out the road to a fabulous future

China's "One Belt - One Road" initiative spans the world
China's "One Belt - One Road" initiative spans the world REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

Italy on Saturday became the latest EU country to sign up to China’s so-called Belt and Road initiative, following Portugal, Greece and a handful of eastern European countries. The numbers are begining to add up for Beijing.


“One center, two fundamental points,” was probably one of the sexiest catchphrases from China’s reform czar Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s. Deng came up with the expression to define China’s post-Cultural Revolution policies. His critics suggested he'd defined the bra.

During obligatory study sessions, Chinese party members and millions of workers were forced to learn the slogan by heart. But soon they found out that the “center” meant China’s Communist Party, while one of the two points was the “Reform and Open Door policy,” and the other was the “Four Cardinal Principles”.

These are “the socialist road, the people's democratic dictatorship, the leading role of the Party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong philosophy.”

Earlier on, in 1957, Mao Zedong initiated the “Let 100 Flowers Bloom” campaign, encouraging intellectuals to speak out against the government – and then arresting and killing them. After Mao, the “Four Modernisations” initiated in 1977, also by Deng Xiaoping, in agriculture, industry, national defence and science and technology became official policy.

Three Represents

But numbered slogans didn’t stop with Deng Xiaoping. Between China’s current president Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road,” and Deng Xiaoping’s “One Center” slogans, Jiang Zemin, who ruled China in the 1990s and early 2000s came with his own (and widely ridiculed) “Three Represents,” but its explanations were so complex that not many bothered to learn what it really meant. In case you're wondering, the answer is: “the Party must represent the requirements of China’s advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the people.”

Hu Jintao, the bookish-looking successor of Jiang Zemin – possibly inspired by Diana Ross - clearly intended to topple his mentor with his “Three Supremes”, a policy intended to reform China’s judicial branch. “In their work, the grand judges and grand prosecutors shall always regard as supreme the party's cause, the people's interest, and the constitution and law," Hu explained.

He then abruptly terminated any discussion on legal reforms by appointing an apparatchik without any legal training as Supreme Court president whose job it was to make sure courts let the first supreme (the party’s cause) rule over the other two (people’s interests and the rule of law).

OBOR: the road to tomorrow

Today, the world outside China has woken up to Beijing’s craze for numerological slogans.

We got the first glimpse of it with the hybrid, some might say, schizophrenic, “One Country, Two Systems” structure that Beijing invented to lure Taiwan back into its fold.

The idea was to incorporate the former British and Portuguese colonies Hong Kong and Macao into Mainland China while they would keep their own, capitalist system. Beijing, the plan had it, would only be responsible for diplomacy and national defence.

But 20 years after the implementation of the system, Taipei has seen an increasing influence of Beijing’s less-than-democratic interventions in these two territories, and politely continues to refuse Beijing's offer – for as long as it can.

Meanwhile, the “16+1 Cooperation” between China and sixteen countries in Central and eastern Europe (among which are 11 EU member states) started in 2012 as a precursor to the “One Belt-One Road” initiative.

As is now well known, the trillion dollar, continent-spanning “One Belt-One Road” Initiative itself involves a 'maritime silk road’ and a ‘belt’ of overland routes between China and the rest of the Eurasian supercontinent.

Conveniently it is reduced to “Belt and Road Initiative” or the more professional sounding abbreviation “BRI.” But hard core fans shorten it to “Obor” which to some may sound somewhat like a monster from Middle Earth that sparks fear among friendly hobbits.

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