China has made great achievements in improving people’s livelihoods, as described in the white paper titled China’s Epic Journey from Poverty to Prosperity, published by the State Council Information Office in September.
The Belt and Road Institute in Sweden, in a paper, has argued that since China is a unique nation with a unique history and political system, it is important to understand China’s journey from a poverty-stricken country in the 1960s to the world’s second-largest economy. Other countries cannot blindly “copy” China’s policies, but learn its experiences and lessons from that journey.
The challenges China has faced and overcome, in addition to the new ones it faces now, are crucial and will become increasingly important as China’s cooperation with the 140 economies that have joined the Belt and Road Initiative deepens.
Vision and practice
Xiaokang (moderate prosperity) has become a key component of the vision and practice of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Chinese government and the Chinese people.
The white paper describes the work done by the Chinese leadership and people in the 40-odd years since the launch of reform and opening-up, and gives an insight into what China has accomplished in building a moderately prosperity society in all respects.
At the start of “epic journey”, about 80 per cent of China’s population lived in rural areas and 70 per cent of them were employed in the primary sector with the country’s GDP being a mere $149 billion. These figures reflect the sort of challenge China and its people faced on the road to transforming the country into a modern, moderately prosperous society in all respects.
Moderate prosperity refers, among other things, to sustainable and sound development, expanding democracy, a flourishing cultural sector, improvement in people’s wellbeing and better protection of the environment.
According to the white paper, as part of China’s industrialisation process, a massive internal migration from rural to urban areas has taken place. As such, how to strike a balance between the rapid growth of urban areas and the backwardness of rural ones is a major challenge.
Primary to secondary and tertiary sectors
Among the aspects the white paper highlights is the shift of the economy – and thus employment – from the primary to the secondary and tertiary sectors and, despite that, the increase in food production thanks to high-tech development.
China has built the largest integrated infrastructure system complete with the largest high-speed railway network in the world, making it easier to travel and transport goods across the country, which in turn has helped build efficient industrial supply chains within the country.
One of the most important aspects of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects has been the eradication of abject poverty by the end of last year－lifting about 770 million people out of extreme poverty in 40-odd years. In the process, China’s per capita disposable income increased by nearly 100 times to 32,189 yuan ($5,032) in 2020 from 343 yuan in 1978. The gap in the per capita disposable income in urban areas (43,834 yuan) and rural areas (17 131 yuan) is still wide, though, and a matter of concern.
China has made remarkable progress on the environmental front, too, especially in reducing pollution to ensure the skies remain blue, the waters clear and the land pollution-free.
By the end of 2020, China ranked top globally in terms of trade in goods and foreign exchange reserves. China is also the largest recipient of foreign direct investment, and the largest trading partner of more than 50 countries and regions, and one of the top three partners of over 120 countries.
The dynamic character of China’s growth, and the potential and stability of its economy have been augmented by its population of 1.4 billion in pursuit of prosperity through hard work. “This includes a middle-income group of over 400 million people that keeps expanding－offering a supersized market growing faster than any other place in the world”, the white paper said.
That China has realised “moderate prosperity in all aspects” and eliminated absolute poverty a year before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC means it has achieved its first centenary goal and is on its way to achieving the second – that is, developing China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful, and realising national rejuvenation by the middle of the century.
But before that, by 2035, China intends to achieve “basic socialist modernisation”– raising technological advancement, innovation and living standards to the highest level in the world.
According to the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden, the decisive factors in China’s “epic journey” were urbanisation and building new city clusters; massive investment in infrastructure; raising the productivity of society through industrialisation and education and by raising labour skills; rural development including agricultural development and reform; and technological advancement and innovation.
The most striking aspect of the “epic journey” is the consistency of vision, planning and implementation to reach the targeted goals at each stage. That has been possible due to the political and social system led by the Party.
This efficiency of command, combined with the trust and hard work of the people and the Party cadres, has managed to move mountains. Therefore, this aspect of China’s development remains unique.
What can be generalised globally are China’s vision and long-term development goals with the help of the five-year plans. For other nations to succeed in their efforts, the commitment of the political system to such goals and the support of the people are necessary.
Yet it is important to keep in mind that China has maintained a balance between sustainable development and tackling ever-changing internal and external economic challenges. Due to its sheer size, capabilities and organisation, China has succeeded in navigating the stormy seas without changing its course. After every crisis, from the Asian financial and global financial crises to the Covid-19 public health crisis – which has paralysed the global economy – China has managed to quickly recover and continue contributing to world economic development. Other countries should study how China managed to do so.
Although it took a relatively long time, China succeeded in improving the living standards and productivity in rural areas. This helped make the countryside contribute to national economic growth instead of being a hurdle to development. Once again, massive investments in infrastructure, transfer of technology and Party members’ efforts to train rural residents in new skills were decisive factors. Other countries can learn a lot from them.
In building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, China has also advanced the building of a community with a shared future for mankind through the Belt and Road Initiative.
The white paper identifies the challenges facing China: “Unbalanced and inadequate development still poses a stern challenge. Reform tasks in key areas are incomplete; the capacity for innovation is insufficient to underpin high-quality development; the foundations for agricultural development need further consolidation; income disparities and the gap in development between urban and rural areas and between regions remain a severe problem; eco-environmental protection requires more effort; and weak links still exist in safeguarding people’s welfare and in social governance.”
Global uncertainties remain a big challenge
The opposition to economic globalisation in some countries and the impacts of the pandemic are some of the other challenges facing China. In particular, the instability and uncertainties that conflicts around the world have given rise to have made it difficult to safeguard world peace and promote common development.
Challenges pertaining to the internal dynamics and disparities are not unexpected bumps on the road to success. Also, China has already identified income gaps and insufficient innovation capacity as hurdles to achieving its development goals. Wisdom lies in not sweeping the problems under the carpet but dealing with them.
The white paper can help economists and policymakers around the world to understand the epic rise of China. That China has shared this knowledge with other countries is another sign of its generosity and goodwill toward the world.
Hussein Askary is board member of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK