Drawing a New Roadmap
Government clearing the way for people-centered governance
By CHAI MI
The Chinese leadership has abandoned a soaring GDP as their top priority, as was evidenced at the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March, when Premier Wen Jiabao put forward only a moderate 7 percent growth target for the year ahead, despite a record annual GDP growth of 9.1 percent in 2003.
“It is a realistic and pragmatic goal that will help maintain the continuity of China’s macro-economic policies,” said Qin Chijiang, a NPC deputy who is also deputy secretary general of China Finance Association.
The goal, if materialized, will bring China’s GDP to 12 trillion yuan ($1.45 trillion) in 2004, laying a solid foundation for the implementation of the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05) and building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects, according to Qin.
The low-profile growth rate will ease the pressure on resources and the environment after years of rapid economic growth, and put an end to the practice of seeking economic growth at the expense of all else. This will improve the quality of economic performance and adjust economic structures, NPC deputy Zhang Kui from north China’s Shanxi Province pointed out.
In fact, the government’s 7-percent growth target is just a reflection of a new concept of development that is energetically advocated by the Chinese leadership. In nearly half a year since the convention of the Third Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) last October, the Chinese people have become increasingly aware of the inspiring new guidelines that is crucial to China’s modernization drive in the future.
In their October meeting last year, the CPC’s top decision-making organ adopted a resolution on further improving the socialist market economy, calling for “people-centered development, which is comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable for the promotion of overall harmonic development of economy, society and human beings.” It also stresses “coordinated development between urban and rural areas, among different regions and between economic and social development, harmony between humans and nature and coordination of domestic development and opening to the outside world” as a means of pushing forward reform and progress. CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao summed it up as a “scientific concept of development.”
This February, the CPC Central Committee sponsored a six-day high-level seminar at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee in Beijing for major provincial and ministerial-level officials throughout the country, where the participants listened to a speech delivered by Premier Wen on the establishment of a scientific concept of development. Foreign media also paid close attention to the seminar, relating it to a gathering of the Chinese leadership to pledge mass effort to achieve the strategic adjustment of the country’s development approach.
The scientific concept of development is China’s second-generation development strategy that sums up its experiences in national rejuvenation over the previous five decades, Hu Angang, Director of the Center for China Studies in Tsinghua University, told the official Xinhua News Agency, adding it is consistent with China’s national conditions and the global trend. The first-generation development strategy of China was put forward by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping after the Third Plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, which highlighted development enabling some people to become prosperous first, in efforts to emancipate and stimulate production forces.
“While placing more emphasis on comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development and common prosperity, the second-generation strategy establishes the principle of “putting people first,” thus answering the question of “what the ultimate goal of development is,” said Hu.
In the past 25 years, China’s annual GDP growth averaged more than 8 percent, greatly improving the country’s overall economic strength. In 2003, its GDP grew by 9.1 percent despite the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), hitting a new record not seen since the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s. However, overheated investment in some economic sectors also resulted in a growing pressure on resources and environment. As a result, sober-minded officials and economists have repeatedly warned of the perils of the current development mode.
“Due to the overemphasis on GDP, many unavoidable and essential economic, social and political problems failed to be tackled properly in the past few years,” said Wu Jinglian, a prominent economist and member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body in China. In his opinion, these problems include a growing gap between urban and rural and between the rich and the poor, imbalances between economic and social development and the escalating conflict among economic development, ecology and natural resources.
Last year, China consumed 31 percent of the world’s total coal output, and its consumption of iron ore, steel and cement accounted for 30 percent, 27 percent and 40 percent of the global output, respectively. Despite this, the country contributed less than 4 percent of the total GDP worldwide.
Official statistics also showed that China’s annual increase of desertification acreage rose from 1,000 square km to 2,460 square km in the last 20 years of the 20th century. After years of the industrialization boom that swallowed 6.67 million hectares of cropland, the country’s per-capita cultivatable land had dropped from 0.13 hectare in 1980 to 0.095 hectare in 2003. In 2002, the total discharge of industrial wastewater and domestic sewage across the country was 43.95 billion tons, 82 percent more than the total environmental tolerance. In the meantime, water quality of 40.9 percent of its seven major river valleys (Yangtze, Yellow, Pearl, Huaihe, Haihe, Songhuajiang and Liaohe rivers) could not meet the standards for agricultural use and 75 percent of its lakes countered a predominant problem of eutrophication.
“Economic growth powered by huge resource consumption and sacrifice of the ecological environment has come to a dead end, as environmental deterioration and resource exhaustion are threatening China’s sustainable development,” noted Zhao Jie, a doctoral student at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.
Worse still, not all the Chinese population have benefited from the high-speed growth over the past years.
According to a blue paper on Chinese society, released by a research team of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) earlier this year, the country’s registered urban unemployment is on the rise and the income gap between urban and rural residents keeps widening reaching 3.2:1 in 2003 from 2.72:1 in 1995. In 2000, the average schooling time of the Chinese citizens was less than eight years, while about 9 percent of the Chinese adults were illiterate.
It is clear that some people, mostly farmers, have shared little of the growing national economy as a whole. Imbalances between economic and social development are still evident in such fields as education, science and technology, culture, public health and employment.
In the spring of 2003, the unexpected SARS epidemic sounded an alarm to China’s weak public heath system. But misfortune may be an actual blessing, as many observers now hold that the deadly outbreak has prompted the creation of the scientific concept of development.
“Creation of the scientific concept of development at this point time indicates the urgency to solve some problems,” according to Niu Wenyuan, leader of a research team for sustainable development strategy studies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Experts maintained that, since China’s per-capita GDP topped $1,000 in 2003, its economic and social development have ushered in a totally new era as it has been vindicated by the experiences of many countries in the world. In this period of time, income gap between urban and rural areas, between different regions and trades and between people with access to different resources will continue rising and the aggravated gap will complicate the already prominent contradictions among various interest groups. So long as the economic transition and optimization can be smoothly advanced in the following days, the national economic development will make a new leap forward; otherwise, it is very likely to stagnate and lead to social turbulence.
Owing to this, some people have made an analogy between China and a car at a fork in the road with one way leading to a moderately prosperous society and the other to a “bad” market economy or crony capitalism.
Wang Mengkui, Director of the Development Research Center under the State Council, stressed that the connotation of the scientific concept of development lies in comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development. He said that comprehensive development will focus on overall progress in economy, society, politics, culture and ecology, with coordinated development emphasizing interconnection and benign interaction among various aspects and sustainable development attaching equal importance to the needs of both the contemporaries and future generations.
The top priority of the scientific concept of development is no doubt development, Li Junru, Vice President of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, remarked. He pointed out, “All the solutions to the problems that China currently encounters are geared to its development. But to understand what is development, as well as why and how to achieve development, it requires a clear-cut concept.”
The scientific concept of development has been a hot topic worldwide for more than 20 years, according to Li. Traditionally, development is viewed as nothing but economic progress or just GDP growth.
“But a lot of countries have gradually realized that such a mode is ineffective to many concrete problems arising from there,” Li noted. “So some people have called for people-centered development modes, while others propose sustainable development or human development. This is not a mere academic study, but indicates an deepened acknowledgment of the rules of the modernization process.
Li added that the implementation of the new concept of development also shows a responsible attitude of the CPC, the largest ruling party in the world, and China, the most populous country on earth, to the development of humankind.