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Reflections on 40th anniversary of China's opening up

China.org.cn,June 22, 2018 Adjust font size:



Shantou, Guangdong province [Photo/Xinhua]


This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's opening up to the world. After more than two decades of involvement with my Chinese colleagues and friends, my overriding impression of the amazing progress achieved is that China has benefited greatly from leadership focused upon long term thinking.  

Economic and social development

Over the last 40 years, China has become the world's manufacturer. It is also the world's leader in infrastructure development. These and related developments have enabled China in an incredibly short time to bring almost a billion people out of poverty. China since 2009 has been the world's largest exporter and now is the second largest economy in the world. At its current rate of growth, it will pass the U.S. to become the world's largest economy by 2030.

China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have always played a major role in the country's economic development. The SOEs have great economic and political power and their reform has been a key to China's prosperity and increased competitiveness. They have also been the major investors in developing trade links and making investments in key markets around the world.  

Reflecting its future focus and potential, China is also a leading country in E-commerce with almost a billion people connected to the internet and M-commerce with over a billion utilizing mobile phones. Utilizing developments in the cloud and greater connectivity through the "Internet of Things" and taking advantage of its excellent infrastructure, China has created a vigorously competitive marketplace for new ideas, new business models and innovation. In E-government, too, China has been proactive in using social media to engage with and provide services to citizens. 

Legal reform

China's progress over the last 40 years would not have been possible without substantial and continual reform in all areas including its legal system. In terms of its economic development, China has substantially modernized and reformed its commercial laws governing contracts, corporations, competition, consumer protection, intellectual property, etc. These developments have helped to promote entrepreneurship within China as well as making China attractive to foreign investors. Just one of many indicators of this progress is the fact that China's patent and design registrations today rank among the highest in the world. China's literary and creative output (films, music, drama, art, computer games, etc.) have risen dramatically and become major exports as the rest of the world has taken a much greater interest in China. It is no wonder that China is now committed to stronger protection of intellectual property.  

Also significant is China's commitment to becoming a world leader in key 21st century industries such as e-commerce, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data analytics, green technologies, autonomous driving vehicles, space exploration/commercialization, nanotechnology and bio-tech. These and other developments have been greatly facilitated by significant legal reforms, for example, in the enforceability of e-contracts, digital signatures, creation of specialized intellectual property courts, privacy protection, internet security and consumer protection. 

Education

One of the most important institutions in society is education. China has made and continues to make substantial investment in education. For example, Shanghai came first and Asian countries dominated the top ranks of the PISA results measuring performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science across 65 countries. More than half a million teenagers undergo this assessment representing almost 30 million 15-year-olds in 65 countries and 80 percent of the world's economy. The performance in mathematics, especially, is a major predictor of future success in post-secondary education.

Today China enjoys one of the highest literacy rates of any country in the world. Chinese universities continue to rise in world rankings. Chinese academics have formed partnerships with leading academics from the world's top universities. The Chinese government has made a major commitment in the level of funding provided to its educational institutions. Innovative programs have encouraged many overseas Chinese scholars to return to China and/or partner with their counterparts in China. Thousands of Chinese students go abroad each year to study in leading institutions around the world. Most of these students will return and add great value to China's ongoing development in every area. China also continues to encourage foreign experts to come and spend time in China. An example is China's Global 1000 Talents Program in which I was honored to participate in. 

Ongoing and future challenges

Looking forward it is important that the country continues to make and demonstrate progress so that all sectors of Chinese society and geographic regions achieve successful and continuing development. Rising standards of living and wages mean that China has to shift to "value-added" economic models and areas for it will no longer be able to compete with cheaper labor costs in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and other countries.  

China is also aging rapidly and will face major challenges in meeting the expectations of its millions of senior citizens. Environmental challenges also remain. China will need to tap into the economic power that will come with increased consumption on the part of its growing middle class. China also needs to deliver on the potential and promise of its Belt and Road Initiative which will augment domestic economic growth as well as promoting and expanding China's trade links within the region and beyond, for example with Europe. China will have to continue its fight against corruption and seek rigorous enforcement of competition law, not only within the private sector, but also with regard to the continuing reform of SOEs. 

Small businesses are the greatest sources of new jobs. Small businesses that are successful grow into big businesses. China needs to do more to support the growth of small business. China also requires innovation from within organizations, i.e. intrapreneurship. All organizations in both the public and private sectors need to be transformed so that they meet the rapidly changing needs of an information age. China also needs more successful entrepreneurs to emulate Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others in using their wealth and skills of innovation to tackle major issues in society.

China will have to continue to balance the tensions between economic development and need for social stability. It will have to work on bridging the digital divide as well as the economic disparity by ensuring the benefits of progress are shared by and accessible to all Chinese citizens.

In terms of human resources, high level talent in this new Information Age environment is in short supply. China will have to continue incentives to attract foreign students and professionals who will be able to contribute to China's future success.

China will need to continue to bolster the rule of law and the special role of the judiciary as independent bodies who will remain neutral in their vital role of dispute resolution. China must also continue to develop and refine its many "soft laws," i.e. rules, regulations, guidelines, codes of conduct, etc. that are playing an increasingly important role in both public and private sectors.

Today's challenges increasingly extend across national borders. As a leading economy and political power in a global economy, China will have to play a leading role in bringing about the type of international legal and political climate that is conducive to building relationships and achieving genuine "win-win" solutions for all countries. It will be important for other countries, especially Japan, the EU, South Korea and the U.S. to partner with China in developing a stable global economy and supporting the infrastructures of the internet, finance, environmental security, food security and peaceful expansion of the world's economic pie. China needs to lead and engage.

Meeting all of these challenges will require China to balance many competing tensions and forces. These include:

• advancing socialism with Chinese characteristics while at the same time promoting a vigorous, competitive economy; 

• promoting economic development while at the same time improving and enhancing protection of the environment;

• advancing regional and local developments while at the same time achieving bureaucratic efficiency and effectiveness;

• continuing the move to greater urbanization so that more people may enjoy the benefits that major cities provide;

• achieving the appropriate balance between top-down and bottom-up policy development and implementation;

• being open to new ideas while remaining true to traditional Chinese values;

• simultaneously pursuing both collective and individual interpretation of the China dream;

• becoming a major economic, political and military power while working closely with other countries to ensure world peace and cooperative development.

Conclusion

At a time when many countries are becoming more polarized and more inward-looking and focused on conflict and win-loss outcomes rather than cooperation and win-win results, it is important to reflect on the tremendous achievements that are possible when people have vision, take a long-term view, remain open to reform and committed to putting in the hard work required to make a positive difference. Over the past 40 years, China has indeed opened up to embrace the world and the world is a much better place for it.


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