Tributes to Yuan Geng reflect nation’s belief in need to stick with reform program

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-2 23:53:01

The death on Sunday of Yuan Geng, one of China's most prominent economic reformers, ended the first month of 2016 on a sorrowful note, with a flurry of tributes and obituaries being circulated on social media in memory of one of the most significant contributors to China's reform and opening-up process.

The outpouring of feelings for such an important reformer, especially at a time when China's economy is feeling its way into a new reform period, perhaps hints at wide acceptance of the need to attune the world's second-largest economy more closely with market trends.

Yuan is well-known for having played a key role in establishing the Shekou Industrial Zone, the first in the country to be open to foreign investment. He was also one of the founders of China Merchants Bank, China's first joint-stock commercial bank, and also Ping An Insurance, the nation's first joint-stock insurer. Yuan served as executive vice chairman of China Merchants Group (CMG) from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s.

Yuan had previously been a senior military officer and diplomat and it was not until he was in his 60s that he moved into the corporate world. But his success in engineering the revival of CMG, a State-owned conglomerate founded in 1872, made him a legendary figure in China's contemporary history.

Yuan saw the need to implant market-oriented DNA in the Shekou zone in western Shenzhen, and it became one of the spearhead efforts in the course of the economy's opening-up. Also, there were barely any existing foundations to build upon, given that the country had just gone through the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), during which the economy was dogged by chaos and had turned its back on any capitalist ideas.

Still, Yuan was able to overcome a wide variety of difficulties to make Shekou a leading light of China's decades of reform and opening-up, and it's an achievement that should be recognized in today's China, with the economy now entering a "new normal" of slower but more balanced growth.

Inevitably, there might be some difficulties and setbacks in reforming the economy, but that is not an excuse for the country to go back on the promises that have been made to deepen reforms on all fronts.

Amid the country's efforts to liberalize its equity market and reform the yuan's foreign exchange regime, there have been some wild swings since last year. But instead of turning back, we must continue on the same path, despite the occasionally difficult conditions.

Given that Shekou has now become part of the new free trade zone in Guangdong Province and is continuing its pioneering spirit, there is good reason to believe that the faith in reform instilled in China by people like Yuan will not wither.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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