Talent in Chinese government is undeniably very strong: Peter Walker
Published: Aug 21, 2022 02:21 PM
A view of Gulou Square, Kaifeng city, Henan Province. Photo: VCG

A view of Gulou Square, Kaifeng city, Henan Province. Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

During the past decade, the world has increasingly witnessed a trend of "the East is rising, and the West is declining" in the spheres of economy, security and discourse power. 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 new solutions to global problems. By advocating win-win development, facilitating consultation and reconciliation and proposing a balanced and effective security mechanism, China is striving to build a community with a shared future for mankind.

In the 11th piece of the series, Peter Walker, speaker on China-US relations and author of the book Powerful, Different, Equal: Overcoming the misconceptions and differences between China and the US, told Global Times reporter Yu Jincui that in China, meritocracy contributes to China's achievements as the best and the brightest always aspire to government service. He also dismissed Western misperceptions such as Chinese people are unhappy, and government has not been serving the people.

GT: You have visited China more than 80 times, what do you think of changes in China over the past decade? 

My business in China really goes back probably 20 years and anyone who visits China frequently as I did can't help but be impressed by how the infrastructure has changed and how effectively things get done. 

I think the talent in the Chinese government is undeniably very strong, because if you go back to Confucian values, the best and the brightest always aspire to government service, not to business. In the US, the best and the brightest aspire to business and to make money, not to serve the government. 

In China, the Party is made up of, especially at the most senior levels, very highly educated and experienced people, they make long-term decisions in terms of investment. So, the investment in cutting-edge technologies, in terms of energy and microchips and renewables - all of those things - China has made 10-year, 20-year commitments, and you can't do that in a governance model where you have different parties coming in and changing direction. 

And China is also very good at executing things. I spent a lot of time in my book with people who were involved in the five-year planning process. And it's very thorough when that planning process is done, which is top-down and bottom-up, syndicated in every industry and every province, you have agreed to direction and goals and key performance indicators that everybody follows.

So, when China sets out to deliver strong economic growth or to make advances in science, it's because they set out to do it, they put the resources behind it to do it, and they delivered. So, I think China's progress over the last 10 years has been nothing short of amazing. I think it's likely to continue. Obviously, there are challenges. COVID-19 has presented problems. Supply chains have been broken up. But at the end of the day, China has always dealt with its problems as they come along and done it in a fairly efficient and effective way.

GT: Based on your observation and your experiences in dealing with China, what's the biggest misunderstanding in the US about China over the past decade?

One of them, I think, is that "people are unhappy" and that "people are oppressed." That is just not true. In the West they'd like to believe that, because communism has always been associated with the Soviet Union and a total lack of freedom. But communism in China is very different from communism in the Soviet Union. In China, you have a large group of very highly educated, experienced people who weigh decisions and make choices. And those choices have over time benefited the quality of life in China.

I got so tired of reading in the Western press that the Chinese people were unhappy and had no freedom because I never met those people. Wherever I went, I met people who were happy. They were proud. Their standard of living was increasing on a very steady basis. China had shifted its attention from building strong positions in commodities to being much more sophisticated and focused on advanced technologies. And so, the people see that every day. There's a phrase in the US "it's the economy, stupid!" The same is true in China. So as long as people in China believe that the quality of their life continues to improve, they're going to be happy. 

The second thing is you'll even frequently hear people say things like I like the Chinese people, but I don't like the government. When you think about it, that's a very illogical statement. The reality is when you look at the polls, what you discover is that the Chinese people are more committed to their government and have more trust in their government than people in almost any other country in the world. So how can you say we like the people, but we don't like the government when the people of China who are the ones living there actually support the government very strongly. So that's another misconception that the government has not been serving the people. It's obvious that the government has been serving the people. Otherwise, the standard of living wouldn't be as it is.

GT: There are many predictions about China's future in the West and different comments on China's development path. Are you optimistic about China's future development and prosperity?

You've had 40 years of reform and opening-up. If you look at the model, it's really very similar to the most successful model that the US businesses have been using for years. So, if you're a US business, what do you want? You want to have a board of directors that provides oversight and direction at a very high level. China calls that Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau. You want to advance people, meritocracy plays. If you look at the history of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, and its role in evaluating people in government, it makes sure that people are advanced after they have adequate experience in a number of different areas. So, people are advanced based on what they accomplish.

And then the next thing you have is a focus on strategy. What do we want to do long-term? China is investing in new technologies. The Belt and Road Initiative is another good example of a long-term investment that will improve China's relationships with other developing countries. And then if you combine that with short-term operational planning, which are China's five-year plans, you have a model that will always be effective at getting things done. 

Our model is very different. Our model in the US is based on the underlying idea that our country is not going to be defined by the government. Our country is going to be defined by the businesses. So, America is home to many of the most successful businesses on the globe. And that model, taking advantage of US ingenuity, hard work, creativity, innovation, is a very different model. And that's why I argue this is not about right or wrong. These are two very different models. They both have been incredibly successful in raising the standard of living in both countries. Therefore, rather than criticize the other model as wrong, why not accept the fact that it's different? 

I'm very confident that China is going to continue to be very successful. And we have to remember that the population of China is four  times the population of the US so it's inevitable that as China increases its productivity, China will become - there's no question just do the math - the largest economy in the world. 

As long as China's core model remains, you are going to have a unified government, not a divided one. You are going to advance people who are the most educated, have the most experience and have a track record of delivering results. You will be thinking strategically.

I think at the end of the day, the most important thing for China is to continue to deliver on the economy. Nothing is more important than China continuing to deliver that economic performance and not get caught up in ideology. And for example, favoring state-owned enterprises over private enterprise is a mistake. 

The great companies in the US were started by entrepreneurs who had a passion for what they were building. If you look at the US today, Elon Musk and what he's done is amazing, but that's a person who had the freedom in the American system to go out and build that and make it happen. China's great companies are private companies. So, it's very important that private enterprises continue to thrive in China, and that the opportunities to compete are there to create the next generation whether it's Huawei, Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent or Tiktok. China is very dependent on private enterprise being successful longer term.