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Opinion
The Essence of Chinese Experience
China's governance experience indicates reasons of its successful development in the face of challenges
 No.47 November 23, 2017

A reader (right) leafs through a book of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China at a bookstore in Warsaw, Poland, on June 14, 2016 (XINHUA)

Why China can achieve successful development in the face of challenges? He Wenping, a senior researcher at the Charhar Institute and a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, made a comprehensive analysis on China's governance experience, indicating the reasons. The article was originally published on the November issue of China Today magazine. Edited excerpts follow:

When meeting with the then President of Tanzania Julius Kambarage Nyerere in August 1985, Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China's reform and opening up, remarked that the reform was not simply an experiment for China, but also for the world. Its success may provide valuable experience to under-developed countries and help advance the cause of socialism.

Since the launch of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, China has made outstanding economic achievements. Most impressive is the lifting of more than 700 million of its people out of poverty. Meantime, the country has become the world's second largest economy after the United States.

How has China achieved so much? And how has the Communist Party of China (CPC) strengthened its governing capacity and won such wide support from its people through reform and development?

Economic progress and political governance

The experience China has gleaned from its decades of reform and opening-up undertakings covers a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, industry, foreign trade, poverty reduction, culture and education, human resource development, and governance capacity building. Its economic progress has not only won applause from the international community but also provided other developing countries with experience in poverty reduction and economic growth.

In contrast to economic achievements, however, it is taking the international community longer to appreciate the country's political governance concept. Some have asserted that this revamp was confined to the economic sector, and that political reforms stagnated. Others believe economic reforms have been too rapid for the political system to keep pace.

Having withstood global challenges, such as the financial crisis in 2008 and the changed situation in the Arab world as of the end of 2010, China has neither been defeated by the financial crisis, nor challenged by political upheavals, as some international observers predicted. Instead, it has showcased the advantage inherent in its system of firm resistance to pressures and impacts. Consequently, China's experience in political governance has begun to draw world interest in recent years.

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China published in September 2014, in Chinese, English, French, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Japanese, and several other languages, has sold over 6 million copies in more than 100 countries and regions. Amazed at China's remarkable achievements, increasingly more governments and parties around the globe are seeking wisdom from Chinese leaders and the CPC. Developing countries in particular hope to learn from China in a bid to find a path for their survival and prosperity in an era when non-Western nations are making rapid and diversified progress.

Moreover, the international community has witnessed China's efforts towards Party building and anti-corruption since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012. It is clear that the Chinese model welcomes inter-party exchanges and dialogues between China and other developing countries.

Incremental reforms

Launching reform in progressive steps is another strand of the essence of Chinese wisdom. It means balancing the relationships among reform, development, and stability, guided by an outlook on development that keeps pace with the trend of the times.

In a developing country that is undergoing socio-economic transformation, any reform is bound to have impact on the social structure and stability. Stability is a prerequisite for reforms targeting development. China adheres to giving top priority to stability when implementing its reform and opening-up policy, a principle to which Deng always firmly held. A stable society constitutes a solid foundation for pursuing progress, while the progress of reform and development can reinforce social cohesion.

Radical economic reform is risky and mostly prone to failure, because it may cause oscillations in national economy. Taking this into account, the Chinese Government has adopted a soft landing—that of trial and error. Easier issues have been addressed ahead of difficult ones, and progress has been made on a step-by-step basis. What's more, pioneering policies are first carried out on a trial basis and later scaled up in wider areas, depending on their actual effects.

In the past decades, reforms have been adopted in such sectors as employment, social security, income distribution, and household registration. They include the household contract responsibility system and township enterprises run by farmers in rural areas, and revamps of state-owned enterprises and financial areas. Not least is the transitioning from a planned economy to a socialist market economy and the mitigation of the effect of this change on disadvantaged groups, and fending off potential risks imbued in reforms.

Meanwhile, reforms at the political level have been promoted on the premise of stability. Working towards political equality, efforts have been made to realize greater political participation and to facilitate democracy in elections at the grassroots level and intra-party democracy from the bottom up.

Progressive and orderly steps have deepened each round of reform, and ensured that this social and economic transition on such a grand scale has been more or less completed in a relatively short time period, in a harmonious and stable social environment. Development is integral to promoting reform, and is the solution to the problems that come with reform.

The outlook on development has been continuously innovated over past decades. From 1980 to 2000, China's economy maintained a double-digit annual growth rate. But some problems came with rapid development, including the unbalanced growth model, environmental pollution, and the widening wealth gap. The CPC refined its development policy at the Third Plenary Session of the 16th CPC Central Committee in October 2003. Guided by the Scientific Outlook on Development that champions people's interests and advocates comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainable development, success is now measured not simply according to GDP growth rates. Moreover, this outlook has rectified the excessive stress placed on economic indicators, material achievements, and short-term interests rather than social progress, humanistic values, and long-term well-being.

In recent years, against the backdrop of the complicated global economic environment, the CPC Central Committee has come up with five major development concepts—innovation, coordination, green development, opening up, and sharing benefits. President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pointed out that the extensive growth model that China has followed over the past will not be sustainable. The country must shift its economic growth to an innovation-driven approach.

Effective government and appropriate policies

An effective government devoted to progress, visionary leaders, and appropriate policies also constitute the essence of Chinese experience. An authoritative government and effective governance in certain periods and fields are critical to a developing country undergoing enormous changes, in order to build consensus among its people and pool the energy necessary to carry out economic, social, and political reforms.

The history of humankind has proven that political democracy in a Western political system is not a mandatory premise on which to achieve economic progress. A number of developing countries and regions, the Four Asian Tigers for instance, witnessed a rapid economic rise during the 1960s and 1970s. Western scholars have introduced the concept of the developmental state to explain the remarkable economic development of East Asia's emerging economies, notably China. They pointed out that a characteristic of those developmental states is the government-led development model, which is usually distinguished by a potent administration that aspires to economic advancement and which can mobilize and direct social resources to promote development.

The multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the CPC leadership—the basic political system in China, is usually perceived by Western countries as long-term one-party rule. However, objective analysts have now acknowledged that it is an effective guarantee of policy continuity. Today, China is embracing its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period . Since the first five-year plan was launched in the early 1950s, progress has been made in such areas as infrastructure, special economic zones, international cooperation on production capacity, and the Belt and Road Initiative, among many others.

On top of that, the CPC strives to build up its cadre teams by abolishing life tenure, adopting a collective leadership system, and selecting talents, with the aim of garnering popular support by virtue of satisfactory governance.

Although China's economic progress is a success recognized by all, the international community still shows less than adequate awareness of the fact that the country has simultaneously carried out economic, social, and political reforms. The nation's economic accomplishments must be attributed to decades of efforts towards social and political reforms. They are the step-by-step adjustments focusing on improving the supervisory mechanism to ensure a balance of power. They have ensured economic reform is constantly furthered, and with growing intensity, and that social harmony and stability are maintained amid dramatic social changes.

There are challenges ahead on the way to building a modern socialist country. Chinese people today enjoy increasing economic, social and political rights and development opportunities. This might explain why China's development concept has gained ground in increasingly more developing countries.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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