Global Development Initiative a constructive approach toward building a cooperative system: Jeffrey Sachs
Published: Oct 09, 2022 04:36 PM
Photo: VCG

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 their 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 16th piece of the series, Jeffrey Sachs (Sachs), director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, told Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui that the Global Development Initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a powerful call for cooperation and is very helpful for building an open international cooperative system.

GT: You have visited China many times. How do you comment on China's development in the past 10 years? What impressed you most and why? 

Sachs: I've seen China change since my first visit in 1981. This has been more than 40 years, and China's continuing progress is absolutely remarkable. China went from a country that was filled with poverty to a remarkably prosperous country. And I always so much have benefited from seeing this remarkable progress and also learning from how China succeeded, because the lessons from China are very relevant for other regions of the world, such as Africa today which is still witnessing great poverty, but also has tremendous potential based on the kinds of strategies that China used.

Regarding China's development in the past 10 years, China has moved from being a prosperous manufacturing country a decade ago to becoming a cutting-edge global technology leader. This is of course a major step. China is also becoming a leader in a wide range of environmentally sustainable technologies. The shift to sustainability is crucial for China and for the world. 

GT: China has eliminated absolute poverty. You once said it's one of the most remarkable economic achievements in human history. Why did you give so much credit to it? What can other countries learn from China in terms of poverty reduction? 

Sachs: China showed that it is possible to go from pervasive absolute poverty to the end of poverty in 40 years, from 1980 to 2020. This is not only a wonderful and remarkable accomplishment, but also a road map for Africa and other places still facing extreme poverty. The key to China's success was high rates of investment in human capital (health and education), infrastructure (power, transport, digital), and business capital. The combination of long-term planning and market forces was essential, as was China's opening-up to the world.  

We know that in the 1970s and indeed, at the time of China's opening-up in the late 1970s, most people in China lived in rural areas in great poverty. The estimates vary, but by some accounts, the rate of extreme poverty was more than 60 percent of the population, even up to 80 percent by some measures. By 2020, this extreme poverty has been eliminated. I saw that with my own eyes, because at various times, government ministries invited me to join groups to visit different parts of China so that I could help make an assessment or give recommendations. And I visited some of the poorest areas of China on several occasions during the past quarter century. 

But even for those who were poor in China, I saw their living standards were rising. This was accomplished by a combination of measures, especially investment in people that is in education, healthcare, improving nutrition, investment, infrastructure, especially in transport, in power, in building new industrial zones, so that production and trade could take place efficiently, of course in a lot of hard work, because Chinese people worked very hard and very long hours for many decades, also in very high saving rates, so the Chinese people saved for the future. This allowed for these big investments to take hold.

So China demonstrated that a high level of investment in people and infrastructure would also attract a tremendous amount of business investment and entrepreneurship as well. China opened the economy to international trade and became the most important trading country in the world during this period and a great manufacturing economy.

So this is the kind of road map based on a large-scale forward-looking investment that I think is very relevant for other regions. I tell leaders in Africa to look at China's experience. It's possible in the course of two generations to go from a very poor country to a very prosperous country with no poverty.

Jeffrey Sachs Photo: Courtesy of Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs Photo: Courtesy of Sachs

GT: There are many discussions over China's economic development and prospect. How do you see the prospect of China's future development? Are you optimistic? 

Sachs: I am optimistic. China should continue the path of educational excellence, high investments in research and development, and continue outreach to the developing nations through the Belt and Road Initiative.   

I think the key that is occurring in China now is China's increasing development and innovation of cutting-edge technology. For a long time, during the past 40 years, China was a great workshop, a great manufacturing economy, with the skilled workers and using technologies largely from the West, actually. But then starting roughly 15 years ago, China's innovative capacity rose significantly. Now, you see in any weekly issue of a leading science journal worldwide, many articles coming from China. So is a tremendous amount of cutting-edge science and cutting-edge technology. And China has committed to developing technologies in the crucial sectors of sustainability. For example, electric vehicles and photovoltaics, renewable energy, long-distance energy transmission, 5G that enables smart grids and the so-called Internet of Things, a precision agriculture, new material sciences. 

These are several of the areas where China is devoting a lot of basic research and development and a lot of business development with business innovation. I think that this is really the key, because with China's innovation, the country will continue to be a world leader in industry, in manufacturing, in a range of services, including new digital services. It will be a key leader in the sustainability transformation. We know we cannot go on producing in the old ways; we can't have a coal-based energy system worldwide; we can't depend on fossil fuels the way that we did in the past, because the climate change will wreck the planet. So China, fortunately, is moving quickly to the zero-carbon energy systems and will be a leader in that. I'm sure China's technologies will help other countries to do the same.

GT: Many Chinese people once wanted China to copy the US path of development, but instead of doing that, China insisted on taking its own path. If China had completely followed the US one, what will it mean for today's world? 

Sachs: No countries should completely follow any other country's models because the circumstances, the culture, the history are different in the different places. And China, as a huge civilization, an enormous economy, an enormous population, is of course following a system with Chinese characteristics, as you said. And this is a mixed economy with a significant state sector, a significant private sector, and a significant effort at industrial policy for innovation and continuing technological development. It's a very distinctive model. It is China's own. But I think that it gives lots of indications for how other countries, especially those that are poor and trying to catch up rapidly, can make advances.
Now China will become a leader of innovation. And as I say, I very much hope and count on China becoming a leader for innovation in sustainability.

The US model has unfortunately become dysfunctional in recent decades. Inequality has soared, educational quality is mediocre for a large part of the society, and the energy transformation has been paralyzed because of vested interests in fossil fuels. Moreover, the US is turning inward and protectionist even in business and investment, which is also unfortunate for America's long-term future and for the rest of the world.  

In fact, all countries - including China - will need to invent a new economic system that is supportive of sustainable development, common prosperity, a high quality of life, the digital economy, and global cooperation. China, I am glad to say, is actively pursuing these various dimensions of an innovative economic system.    

GT: How do you comment on the Global Development Initiative (GDI) proposed by President Xi Jinping? 

Sachs: The GDI or the Global Development Initiative that President Xi launched and discussed at the United Nations is very important. The GDI says that China wants to cooperate with all the rest of the world, and especially with the developing countries to promote global, sustainable development and the sustainable development goals (SDGs). It is a powerful call for cooperation, and countries around the world have responded very positively to it.  

I really appreciate China's commitment to the SDGs and the GDI. We know that we are not currently on a course for most of the developing countries to achieve the SDGs. We need increased financing, increased focus, more cooperation globally, an end to the war in Ukraine and an end to the sanctions regime. We need an open international cooperative system. GDI is very helpful for that, but now we need to make sure that we stop this conflict in Ukraine through a negotiated peace agreement. 

We need to stop the harsh confrontation between the US and China so that the two countries can cooperate. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and ideas in the US for development finance initiatives could work together, and by cooperating together, we can really accelerate the progress of poor countries to sustainable development. This is the direction that I very much hope that we follow. And GDI is a very, very constructive approach toward building the kind of future we want.