China both achieved miraculous growth and kept social stability: Zheng Yongnian
Published: Jul 03, 2022 02:36 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor' Note:

During the past decade, the world has increasingly witnessed the trend of "the East is rising, and the West is declining" in the spheres of economy, security and discourse power. The Western countries, particularly the US, plagued by internal woes, have sought the old path of passing the buck and instigating turmoil elsewhere to ease their own pressure. China, representative of the emerging countries, is proposing the new solutions to global problems. By advocating win-win development, facilitating consultation and reconciliation, proposing a balanced and effective security mechanism, China is striving for building a community with a shared future for mankind.

In the fourth of the series, Zheng Yongnian (Zheng), professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and president of the Institute for International Affairs, Qianhai, shared with Global Times (GT) reporters Wang Wenwen and Bai Yunyi over his understanding of the past decade both in political and economic terms.

Zheng Yongnian Photo: Courtesy of Zheng

Zheng Yongnian Photo: Courtesy of Zheng

GT: If you had to use one keyword to describe this past decade in China, what word would you pick? Why?

It's not easy to describe the development of China over the past 10 years, and if I could only use one term to describe it, I would choose the term "great change."

In fact, China has been in a process of changing over modern times, from the reform of the late Qing Dynasty and the revolution of Sun Yat-sen, to the revolution of the Communist Party of China (CPC). And after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the country has continued experiencing rapid change, both under Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. 

China has changed profoundly on all fronts since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, but in my opinion, the most significant changes have occurred at the political level. 

I think the relevant discussion is crucial, though there is not much yet. People can often see the dramatic changes in China's economy because of the clear, quantifiable numbers in this regard; some can also see changes at the social level, such as poverty alleviation, as there are visible indicators to measure the increase in China's middle class and the decrease in poverty. But the political and institutional-level changes in China since the 18th National Congress of the CPC are often overlooked by international researchers. 

I have long held the view that a country's external rise is an extension of its internal rise, and that the main sign of that internal rise is not just GDP growth, but the rise of the institutions it practices. For example, the rise of European countries such as the UK in modern times was the rise of a new set of system, so was the rise of the US after World War II. 

It can be said that the 18th National Congress of the CPC clarifies the model of China's modernization path and provides a possible model choice for developing countries that are seeking both development and political independence, which has a very profound significance. 

GT: Ten years later, how do you assess the significance of the 18th National Congress of the CPC to the process of China's political development?

Since modern times, it has been unclear what kind of political system and modernization path China should take.

In fact, we can see today that the separation of powers promoted in the West is gradually tending to split the three powers, and may even paralyze the government at every turn. Since the management and development of the economy is part of the government's responsibilities in Chinese civilization, if the Western system is copied in China, once the government fails to function effectively, problems will arise in the social and economic spheres of governance, and the consequences will be more serious than in the West. 

Some Western scholars always claim that China has only economic reforms, not political changes. This is not true. I have always made the point that since reform and opening up, China has miraculously achieved both sustainable economic growth and social stability - something few countries and societies have been able to do - and both have been achieved with the support and guidance of a sustainable political system. 

GT: In the long run, are you optimistic about the resilience of China's economy and China's unique political and economic model? Why?

Since the reform and opening-up for more than 40 years, the resilience of China's economy has been proven many times. China has not only survived the Asian economic crisis in the 1990s and the 2008 global financial crisis, but also made a huge contribution to the world economy.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has basically fully resumed work and production. Indeed, China's economic growth has slowed down under the dual pressure of the pandemic and the West's forcible decoupling from China, but if compared horizontally with the rest of the world, China's economic growth is still quite good.

Recently, many people have compared China with Vietnam, believing that China is being replaced or even surpassed by Vietnam. But we should not forget that in the early days when China's economy was small, it was easy to achieve double-digit growth. When a country's economy is large enough, it is normal for the growth to slow down. How many "Vietnams" can China produce in a year? The simplistic statement that "Vietnam replaces China" is just eye-catching, and it does not have much practical or rigorous basis.

In terms of resilience, I believe China may be one of the strongest economies in the world. But because of this, I am a little worried now: Due to its huge size and strong resilience, the Chinese economy has a strong ability in digesting problems, and thus it may be hard to sense ordinary small crises. This may give some Chinese people a misunderstanding that there is no need to open up. Once such a situation occurs, it will be troublesome. In this regard, we must keep a clear mind.

GT: You recently published your new book The Chinese Approach to Common Prosperity. What do you think are the keys and difficulties for China to achieve common prosperity? Which challenges should we be most aware of?

From a global perspective, it is already hard for a country to escape the middle-income trap and become a rich country and it is even harder to achieve common prosperity. Even in developed countries like the UK and the US, there are also obvious social injustices, which have led to the rise of populism in recent years.

Most of the countries that are now close to achieving common prosperity are smaller countries, such as welfare societies such as Northern Europe or city-states such as Singapore. This means that China will face more challenges to achieve sustainable development and become a developed economy with common prosperity.

I believe that in this complicated process, what we should be most vigilant about is the lessons of the rise of populism and social instability in countries like the UK and the US. Common prosperity is not robbing the rich to help the poor, nor is it simply dividing the pie. On the basis of the past 40 years, we should pursue both economic growth and social stability, and think about the issue in the long run and from the perspective of general interest of society.