When meeting with the then President of Tanzania Julius Kambarage Nyerere in August 1985, Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China's reform and opening-up, remarked that the reform was not simply an experiment for China, but also for the world. Its success may provide valuable experience to under-developed countries and help advance the cause of socialism.
During the BRICS Governance Seminar in 2017, representatives visit the stand of the book of "Xi Jinping: governance of China." [Photo/China Today]
Since the launch of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, China has made outstanding economic achievements. Most impressive is the lifting of more than 700 million of its people out of poverty. Meantime, the country has become the world's second largest economy after the U.S.
How has China achieved so much? And how has the Communist Party of China (CPC) strengthened its governing capacity and won such wide support from its people through reform and development?
Economic Progress and Political Governance
The experience China has gleaned from its decades of reform and opening-up undertakings covers a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, industry, foreign trade, poverty reduction, culture and education, human resource development, and governing capacity building. Its economic progress has won applause from the international community, Western countries included. On the other hand, China has provided other developing countries with practical knowledge relating to the main tasks of poverty reduction and economic growth.
In contrast to China's economic achievements, however, it is taking the international community longer to appreciate the country's political governance concept. Some have asserted that this revamp was confined to the economic sector, but the political reforms stagnated. Others believe economic reforms have been too rapid for the political system to keep pace. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama's declaration of "the end of history" sparked debates and predictions among Western countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, towards the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and consequent end of the Cold War, on whether or not China would eventually collapse. Although the country has been progressing stably and cohesively, negative attitudes have been constantly apparent among global opinions dominated by Western countries, presumably due to their biased understanding of China and the so-called Cold War mentality.
It was not until the turn of the millennium, against the backdrop of the evolution of globalization and economic and political turbulence around the globe, that these attitudes began to shift. Having withstood global challenges, such as the financial crisis in 2008 and the changed situation in the Arab world as of the end of 2010, China — led by the CPC — has neither been defeated by the financial crisis nor challenged by political upheavals, as certain Western observers predicted. Instead, it has showcased the advantage inherent in its system of firm resistance to pressures and impacts. Consequently, China's experience in political governance has begun to draw world interest in recent years.
"Xi Jinping: The Governance of China" published in September 2014, in Chinese, English, French, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Japanese, and several other languages, has sold over six million copies in more than 100 countries and regions. Amazed at China's outstanding achievements, increasingly more governments and parties around the globe are seeking wisdom from Chinese leaders and the Party. Developing countries in particular hope to learn from China's example in a bid to find a fit path for their survival and prosperity in an era where non-Western nations are making rapid and diversified progress. To some extent, the value of Chinese experience has also been weighed on a political level.
Moreover, the international community has witnessed China's efforts towards Party building and anti-corruption since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012. It is clear that the Chinese mode welcomes inter-party exchanges and dialogues between China and other developing countries.
Launching reform in progressive steps is another strand of the essence of Chinese wisdom. It means balancing the relationships among reform, development, and stability, guided by an outlook on development that keeps pace with the trend of the times.
In a developing country embracing transformation, any reform is bound to have impact on the existing social structure and stability. Nevertheless, stability is a prerequisite for reforms targeting development. China adheres to giving top priority to stability when implementing its reform and opening-up policy, a principle to which Deng always firmly held. A stable society constitutes a solid foundation for pursuing progress, while the outcomes that reform and development produce can reinforce social cohesion.
Radical economic reform is risky and often prone to failure, because it may cause oscillations in national economy. Taking this into account, the Chinese government has adopted a soft landing – that of trial and error. Easier issues have been addressed ahead of difficult ones, and progress has been made on a step-by-step basis. What's more, pioneering policies are first carried out on a trial basis and later scaled up in wider areas, depending on their actual effects.
In the past decades, reforms have been introduced in such sectors as employment, social security, income distribution, and household registration. They include the household contract responsibility system and township enterprises run by farmers in rural areas, and revamps of state-owned enterprises and financial areas. Not least is the transitioning from a planned economy to a socialist market economy and the mitigation of the effect of this change on disadvantaged groups, and fending off potential risks imbued in reforms.
Meantime, reforms at the political level have been promoted on the premise of stability. Working towards political equality, efforts have been made to realize greater political participation and to facilitate democracy in elections at the grass-roots level and intra-party democracy from the bottom up.
Progressive and orderly steps have deepened each round of reform, and ensured that this social and economic transition on such grand scale has been more or less completed in a relatively short time period, in a harmonious and stable social environment. In addition, Chinese leaders have adopted a development outlook that keeps pace with the trend and requirements of the times. Development is integral to promoting reform, and that it is the solution to the problems that come with reform.
The outlook on development has been continuously innovated over past decades, in accordance with the different challenges and tasks facing the country. In the late 1970s and 1980s, reviving the national economy after the "cultural revolution"— a tumultuous decade — was the pressing problem, and realizing modernization of industry, agriculture, national defense, and science and technology was underscored. It was during this period that Deng put forward his well-known philosophies – "development is the absolute principle" and "it doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it's a good cat," which stimulated the double-digit annual growth rates of China's economy.
Nevertheless, rapid development was inevitably accompanied by various problems, including an extensive model of growth, environmental pollution, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Having perceived these problems, the CPC refined its development concept at the Third Plenary Session of 16th CPC Central Committee in October 2003. Guided by the Scientific Outlook on Development that champions people's interests and advocates comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainable development, success is now measured not simply according to GDP growth rates. Moreover, this outlook has rectified the excessive stress placed on economic indicators, material achievements, and short-term interests rather than social progress, humanistic values, and long-term well-being.
Against the backdrop in recent years of an increasingly complex global economic environment, the CPC Central Committee, with Xi Jinping at the core has come up with five major development concepts – innovation, coordination, green development, opening up, and sharing benefits. President Xi has pointed out that China has a large but insufficiently strong economy, and its growth has been on a fast pace rather than on quality basis. He also noted that spurring economic growth through a model of extensive development which exhausts resources is not a sustainable approach. He urges the country to optimize its economy from factors and investment-driven to innovation-driven.
Viewed as a whole, putting development first and timely adjusting the outlook on development significantly contributed to China's becoming a representative developmental state.
Effective Government and Proper Policies
An effective government devoted to progress, visionary leaders, and appropriate policies also constitutes the essence of Chinese experience. An authoritative government and effective governance in certain periods and fields are critical to a developing country undergoing enormous changes, in order to build consensus among its people and pool the energy necessary to carry out economic, social, and political reforms.
The history of humankind has proven that political democracy in a Western political system is not a necessary condition to achieve economic progress. Numbers of developing countries and regions, the Four Asian Tigers for instance, witnessed a rapid economic rise during the 1960s and 1970s. Western scholars have introduced the concept of the developmental state to explain the remarkable economic development of East Asia's emerging economies, notably China. They pointed out that a characteristic of those developmental states is the government-led development mode which is usually distinguished by a potent administration that aspires to economic advancement and can mobilize and direct social resources to promote development.
The multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the CPC leadership — the basic political system in China, is usually perceived by Western countries as the long-term one-party rule. However, objective analysts have now acknowledged that it is an effective guarantee of policy continuity. Today, China is embracing its 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020). Since the first five-year plan was launched in early 1950s, progress has been made in such areas as infrastructure, special economic zones, international cooperation on production capacity, and the Belt and Road Initiative, among many others.
On top of that, the CPC strives to build up its cadre teams by abolishing life tenure, adopting a collective leadership system, and selecting talents through job bidding, with the aim of garnering popular support by virtue of satisfactory governance.
Although China's economic progress is a success recognized by all, the international community still shows less than adequate awareness of the fact that the country has simultaneously carried out economic, social, and political reforms. The nation's economic accomplishments must be attributed to decades of efforts towards social and political reforms. They are the step-by-step adjustments focusing on improving supervisory mechanism to ensure a balance of power and they have ensured economic reform is constantly furthered, and with growing intensity, and that social harmony and stability are maintained amid dramatic social changes.
Various challenges, such as the growing gap between rich and poor and regional development imbalances, are unavoidable amid development. Nonetheless, Chinese people today are enjoying unprecedented economic, social, and political rights in the country's history. This might explain why the Beijing Consensus, with an eye to development, has gained ground in increasingly more developing countries, and now shares the international arena with the Washington Consensus which advocated trade liberalization.
(The author is a senior researcher at the Charhar Institute and a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.)