Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”
As Malaysia welcomes the visit of China’s President Hu Jin Tao on 10-11 November, no one needs to be reminded how critically important China is both to Malaysia and China when President Jiang Ze Min last visited 15 years ago. China’s successful staging of the most impressive Olympics ever in 2008, her sporting prowess, huge engineering feats of the Three Gorges Dam or the 1,142 km highest railway track in the world and her space exploits all pale into insignificance compared to her USD 2.3 trillion in foreign reserves and economic achievements.
World Bank and International Monetary Fund(IMF) has predicted that China is poised to become the 2nd largest economy in the world overtaking Japan by 2010. China has become Malaysia’s biggest trading partner this year, surpassing Singapore, the United States and Japan. Between January and September this year, bilateral trade reached RM89 billion, accounting for nearly 13 per cent of Malaysia’s total trade during the period, according to Malaysian official trade figures.
Most important is that China is seen as the economic saviour to help pull the world out from the global economic recession. This is indeed a breathtaking economic journey for China that as recent as 30 years ago had minimal trade with Malaysia and was widely derided as the economic sick man of Asia. How did China manage this amazing transformation from an economic basket case to an economic superpower?
There was no doubt that quality leadership is a necessary condition for success. China was fortunate to have the required leadership in its critical moments of history. Leadership that was inspired, leadership that was intelligent and most important of all leadership with integrity such as Deng Xiao Peng, Ziang Ze Mi, Zhu Rong Ji and Hu Jin Tao.
Possessing 3Is leadership that is inspired, intelligent and integrity is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. The right policies must be formulated and put in place. Correct public policies are the sufficient conditions for economic success.
China had leadership that is inspired, intelligent and integrity in Deng Ziao Peng who liberalised the economy and opened up China thereby liberating the potential and opportunities of hundreds of millions of China; in Ziang Zemin who provided a steady hand in accelerating economic growth and allowed Zhu Rong Ji to pursue his commitment to fighting corruption; and finally in Hu Jin Tao who continued all those policies but also sought balanced development and forging a harmonious society.
The question now is whether this level of economic growth can be sustained to allow China to realise her potential of surpassing USA and become the largest economy in the world as early as 2027? China appears to have focused on 6 key economic and social policy areas that intentionally or otherwise allowed her to sustain her economic success. One, openness not in economic terms but in pursuit of knowledge. This is characterised by a purposeful and determined willingness not to be bound by dogma but to learn from successful models combined with willingness to explore, experiment and progress through change.
Two, a people-centric approach through continuous emphasis and engagement with China’s vast population by emphasizing education over propaganda, competency over political background and excellence over indoctrination. Whilst China natural resources may have helped, there is no dispute that the energy, expertise and entrepreneurship of its people were the critical success factors.
Three, seeking social cohesion and inclusion to achieve a harmonious society. Hu Jin Tao’s call for a harmonious society is a recognition that violence and repression can not bring peace, social order and unity.
Four, unbalanced growth must be compensated by the provision of development and social services that is inclusive – accessible, available and affordable to everyone. Efforts to develop China’s inner region have not stopped continued growth of the coastal areas. Provision of developmental assistance has helped to reduce the grievances of those regions left out.
Five, seeking new sources of growth such as a green economy. Green economy refers to a sustained growth model which features environment-friendly technologies, renewable energy resources and low carbon emissions. China has been building up hydro, nuclear, solar and wind power capacities in a bid to increase renewable energy consumption to 10% by 2010 and 15% by 2020. By 2008, China had the largest wind turbines fleet in Asia, with a total power-generating capacity of 12.21 million kilowatts, which is ranked the fourth in the world. Almost 40 percent of China’s 4 trillion-yuan (586 billion U.S. dollars) economic stimulus package had gone to green projects.
Six, a determined effort to brand China as synonymous with quality, safety, reliability and with peaceful intentions. Only the best and fittest survive in the marketplace. By projecting China’s peaceful intentions of offering overseas assistance and humanitarian aid not tied to any conditionalities provides a contrast to the western powers. Many times I have heard from African nations’ displeasure at the West for its lecturing and patronising attitude especially of the need to comply with IMF guidelines. The Africans nations’ unhappiness is complete at the perceived hypocrisy of the West in not following its own advice when dealing with the collapse of the financial system.
China’s progress to the top of the economic ladder is by no means assured. There are still many problems and critical junctions to navigate in relation to democracy, human rights, peaceful intentions, environmental degradation, health, rule of law and corruption. Despite having the 2nd largest economy its 2008 per capita income using purchasing power parity, China was ranked 133th at a paltry USD 6,000, behind Turkmenistan, El Salvador and Namibia.
However there is no doubt that in Napoleon’s words that the dragon has awoken and that China can take pride in its peaceful transformation into an economic powerhouse. China’s challenge at the next stage is to sustain its success and retain its dynamism. Perhaps with the confidence of its economic success, China’ rulers can muster their faith and trust in their people to “let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools contend”.