Sunday, October 18, 2009

Zimbabwe Can Take Leaf From China Miracle

Zim can take leaf from China miracle

By William Chikoto
Zimbabwe Herald

A RECENT visit to China has convinced me that if China can within a space of 30 years transform from a poor country to the third largest economy in the world, then the same can happen to the continent of Africa in general and to Zimbabwe in particular.

Many people will be quick to condemn China for its reluctance to adopt western inspired democratic reforms and for what they see as its poor human rights record.

But they cannot contest the fact that China has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Despite having such a vibrant economy, it still regards itself as a developing country because a big portion of its population is still poor and some areas are still developing.

But the turnaround of China has the whole world talking.

Even in China itself there is still debate on what really spurred on this rapid growth, which they now refer to as the "China Miracle".

Li Ling, a professor with China’s Centre for Economic Research at Peking University acknowledges that one cannot exactly put a finger on what triggered the wave of success.

There is still debate on whether this began with the reform and opening up about 30 years ago, or it goes another 30 years down the ladder to 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded under the leadership of Mao Zedong.

When China celebrates today, it traces its leadership triumphs to Chairman Mao but in almost equal measure acknowledges Deng Xiaoping, and the other leaders who set in motion and have continued the reform and opening up of the economy.

There is a special place for Jiang Zemin who passed on the baton stick to their present leader Hu Jintao.

The order of precedence in memory is Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Ju Jintao.

At national celebrations Jiang Zemin is always by the side of his protégé Hu Jintao.

This is an acknowledgement that the present success was built on the wisdom and sweat of the founding fathers of their revolution.

Deng Xiaoping advocated the "crossing-the-river-by-feeling-the-stones" approach, which is also known as the "step-by-step" reform strategy.

China opened up only four cities in 1980 to foreign direct investment and made a gradual movement to a market economy.

By 1984, the coastal cities had opened up. The process has continued ever since.

Deng Xiaoping is credited for his statement that "central government has nothing to offer but favourable policies", which saw China take a series of measures to create an environment friendly to business and foreign investment, without abandoning its socialist policies.

Today Chinese President Hu Jintao refers to the Chinese system as "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

The truth is that the market economy system is prevalent in China today, but there is a conscious effort to remain true to socialist policies of development and equal right to available health and education.

There is an attempt to carry everyone along the gravy train.

What they have in place today is a labour-intensive development strategy that makes full use of China’s population of over 1,3 billion people.

But according to Li Ling some critics believe that China has not established a special model but only followed the "Washington Consensus".

He wrote an article in the China Daily recently arguing that irrespective of whether or not China had been swayed to the Washington Consensus or is using the step-by-step reform approach, it is the only country that has kept a rapid growth rate in several consecutive decades.

Li believes the world should stop and take note of the features of China’s economic development.

He lists the outstanding features of the "China Miracle" as the science and technology system of self-dependence and independent innovation; a complete national economic system; a unified domestic market; hard-earned international status, and national security.

The first 30 years after the founding of the "People’s Republic" had laid the groundwork for China’s human resources reserve.

"After reform and opening up, China has adopted a labour-intensive strategy, taking advantage of its huge labour force which is youthful, healthy, low-cost and of high quality," he argues.

The investment that China made in a healthy and educated population is now paying off big time.

In that sense, the socialist policies that ensured that basic education and public health was available to people in both urban and rural areas meant that today China has a huge reserve of healthy and technologically aware people to drive its economy.

Life expectancy, which in 1949 was at 35 years, is now well over 70 years.

China appears to have remained true to Deng Xiaoping’s view that central government’s job is to create favourable policies, but the real work will have to take place in the provinces and regions.

China’s provincial governments are strong and development conscious.

Each province tries to be number one in contributing to the Gross Domestic Product.

Officials at provincial level will easily tell any visitor what their province contributes to the national GDP and whether or not that GDP is growing.

A visit to the southern most province of Guangdong reveals a people that are passionate about their economy and have a strong desire to see China emerge as a super power in the world.

Guangdong, with a population of about 94 million people, is the engine of China’s economic development.

According to Zhong Juanhui, the deputy director-general of the department of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation, the province now has trade relations with 230 countries that includes those in Africa and South East Asia.

The province enjoys an average annual growth of 22,4 percent in trade with foreign countries.

In 2008, the total trade volume of the province reportedly equalled that of South Korea.

It has over 80 000 enterprises involved in foreign trade.

It also enjoys huge direct foreign investment. About 190 of the Fortune 500 companies of the world have invested in the province.

The province still wants more, lest other provinces ‘topple’ it.

In China, a lot of the push comes from the provinces, with central government giving direction and approval.

According to Zhong Juanhui, the province is now looking at the expansion of domestic demand for goods and services and stabilising demand for foreign markets to remain at the top.

It is working to upgrade its industrial sector.

There is a quest for self-innovative development.

Leaders are worrying about how to reform pricing of water and electricity to promote industrialisation.

They are thinking about reforming the investment and financial sector.

The leaders are also thinking about how to improve the lives of the people such as offering better health care.

All this is done at provincial level and recommended to central government.

When one moves around the province everyone is busy at work in electronics, paper-making, food, beverages, automobiles and petroleum chemical industries.

The people are less visible in the streets than they are at the workplaces.

China has the capacity to mobilise people to work.

If one does not want to work, there is a ready replacement.

Shenzhen is one of the modern cities that rose to prominence in the last three decades.

It is a sprawling city of sky scrappers and has a museum where the story of reform and opening up is exhibited.

One of the interesting stories told by the museum guides is how the 53-storey International Trade Complex was constructed.

Even soldiers were mobilised from the barracks to work on it such that at the peak of construction work, one storey was completed every three days.

There are still many lessons that countries like Zimbabwe can learn from China.

One of them is the role of agriculture in the economic transformation of China.

The world can easily notice the hi-tech industries and textile factories.

Yet behind the scenes is a very vibrant agricultural system.

The output of grains, vegetables, fruits, meat and aquatic products is high.

In fact, China claims that it is feeding 21 percent of the world population with less than 9 percent of the world’s arable land.

Apart from the labour force, China has been improving its agricultural equipment.

According to a report by China’s Ministry of Agriculture, in 2008, the total power of agricultural machinery in the country reached 800 million kw. This is 66 times higher than it was in 1978.

The overall level of mechanised plowing, growing and harvesting has reached 45 percent. China has set a target to produce 540 million tonnes of grain by 2020.

The leaders are clear about what they want to achieve.

The report states: "Efforts should be made to ensure the effective supply of grains and other major agricultural products, promote sustained increase in farmers’ income and the transfer and employment of rural labour force, ensure the quality and safety of agricultural products, speed up the advancement in agricultural science and technology, stabilise and improve the basic management system in rural areas, enhance the protection of agricultural resources and environment, intensify the system to support and protect agriculture, open agriculture wider to the outside world and realise the sound and rapid development of agriculture and rural economy."

But while it has opened up its economy to the world, it has kept its politics closed, with the Communist Party of China at the helm.

There is a thin line dividing the party and the government and this has drawn much criticism from its detractors.

China has also been vigorous in claiming what it believes belongs to it.

It has successfully reclaimed Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, which it calls special administrative regions under the policy of one country, two systems.

Although they are administrative regions, they practise their own capitalist systems different from Mainland China and are prospering.

China has successfully shielded itself by strictly following a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

"Sincerity, friendship, equality and non-interference in each other’s affairs is an important feature of our relations with other countries," says China’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, Zhai Jun.

"From our own experience, we should not accept what other countries have imposed on us, be it ideology, or lifestyle.

In growing relations with Africa we will never impose our own ideology, values or lifestyle. Nor will we impose our own will. We will not attach any strings."

That includes how it runs the media. Asked by a Kenyan journalist whether or not China would also open up its media in the same way it has opened its economy, the Chinese minister retorted, "the current media system is China’s reality."

In other words, mind your own business.

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