China delivers a modern economy during 40 years of reform and opening-up

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/7 20:52:00

Stephen Perry, Chairman of the 48 Group Club. Photo: Courtesy of Perry

Editor's Note:

At a gala celebrating the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up on December 18, 10 foreigners received China Reform Friendship Medals, marking China's acknowledgement of contributions they made to help realize the country's remarkable progress. Stephen Perry (Perry), Chairman of the 48 Group Club, was one of the recipients. Global Times reporter Chen Qingqing (GT) recently had an interview with Perry, talking about his impressions and stories during the country's reform and opening-up.

GT: How did you feel when you were nominated and awarded China's Reform and Friendship Medal?

Perry: The period of reform and opening-up has produced many changes. It is a feature of change that it happens and you have to adjust. The nomination was a signal that China's leaders did not forget their old friends.

GT:  What impressed you the most during the 40 years of China's reform and opening-up?

Perry: The fundamental achievement of the 40 years is of listening to the people, identifying the main tasks and delivering them within 40 years as compared to 150-200 years in the West.

The capitalist and socialist market economies have similar targets - to deliver a modern economy that meets the needs of the people so they have very similar challenges. The big difference is that the approach is different - the scientific method versus organic development and the battle between rewards for profit versus redistribution of wealth is a difficult one for the West.

China has used the tools of the West but remained focused on the "socialist" outcome of sharing. While there have been many times when corruption and capitalist thinking has threatened to divert the Chinese plans, in the end the Chinese system has been able to save itself due to the inner strength of the Party.

GT: Could you describe your experience when you visited China for the first time? And how it would be different from today's China?

Perry: In 1972 China was suffering from the Cultural Revolution's bad points. But all around me were people who were very supportive of friendship with other peoples. The poverty of China was hidden from foreigners who could not easily access the countryside.

I executed the first big sales of American commodities to China in 1972 after then US President Richard Nixon visited China. I was then asked to develop sales of Chinese exports in the US. I decided to focus on ceramic dinnerware - a big import item in the US. Eventually it became clear that Chinese factories could not make the size of plates the Americans ate off. I spent two years learning porcelain technology and despite the Cultural Revolution was allowed to take American experts to Liling, Central China's Hunan Province, to help them change their production methods.

Changsha was freezing with no heating and snow. Every day we would get in to the warm cars to go to Liling and then into the cold factories, but the intensity of interest of the Chinese factory workers was just breathtaking. Every day they went into our ideas and machines in great depth.

Every evening we went back to Changsha and froze and drank brandy to try to stay warm.

GT: When and how did you make up your mind to help China reach out to the world by enhancing China-UK ties? What were the major challenges?

Perry: I wanted to be part of the China relationship quite quickly - within days. But I had so much to learn to be able to understand my future role. 

I worked at commerce and trading very hard and made many mistakes but I learnt fast and good Chinese helped me learn.

Eventually I knew enough by 1980 to propose a landmark deal to China. To get there required me to convince Chinese leaders to make changes. They were convinced and I could see how careful the system was to address change, but once convinced, they moved very fast to adjust.

I learnt so much in that deal which produced the first domestic joint venture of substantial size.

GT: As you mentioned before, people have misunderstood China in many ways. Is it still the case or has it changed as China has been more open?

Perry: China is so deep that it would take a lifetime to understand. But I think it will be hundreds of years until the new world accepts the deep roots of the old civilizations and there is a genuine modern world combining them both.

China is a microcosm of that. China is changing with peasants moving to urban life and a new culture developing there. New economic forces are about to change the world again and will also change China.

So one thing is constant: Change. And China is not a static phenomena. Understanding that, China is watching the changes as well.

GT: Amid rising protectionism, the EU, like the US, has also intensified national security scrutiny of China's technology investments, how do you see this trend?

Perry: All rising countries find ways to avoid the monopoly mentality of those who have control. It is a dialectic struggle. It gets out of hand sometimes but in the end a change of power happens if the old tries to contain the new forces.

GT: How do you see the China-US trade war? Do you think the two countries can avoid a new cold war?

Perry: The US thinks its problems can be put on the back of a foreign nation. History is full of attempts by national politicians to blame foreigners. The US needs to rebuild its industry and its infrastructure but it spends its money on other things.

They blame China. Will they wake up? It is hard to say. China should prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

This will probably go on for a few years as the US and some allies try to reform China. Their main goals will be unfair and China is ready for that.

GT: What's the most important lesson China has learnt from its reform and opening-up, and what should the country do in order to push forward the continuing opening-up?

Perry: Change is constant. There is no end to this. We cannot imagine the challenges of one hundred years time but they will be big.

Right now you are trying to touch the outside world, and it will transform China's relationship with the outside world over the next 100-200 hundred years.

GT: Some reports suggested that it was always China's golden era and the UK is a marginal player, how do you see this view?

Perry: Chinese like phrases. China is the big opportunity and the UK can be part of it. It is good for China to be patient and hope the UK continues to commit to a special economic relationship with China.


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