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Cover Stories
Special> Boao Forum for Asia 2013> Cover Stories
UPDATED: April 15, 2013 NO. 16 APRIL 18, 2013
Creating Global Cohesion
Leaders in business and politics gather for worldwide conference
By Kerry Brown

Better development

President Xi Jinping's opening address mentioned the "China dream," a term he had used a number of times since becoming general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee last year and president in March. The phrase has been a topic of much debate, and the president's declaration that stability and security in the region were critical and needed to be preserved and maintained was taken by some as an indirect message to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which recently made a number of angry statements in the lead up to the forum, in particular about what the Korean leadership in Pyongyang interpreted as provocative behavior by the United States.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioned the DPRK more explicitly. This derives from Australia now having a seat on the UN Security Council for two years. Australia also announced deeper military links with China, and a number of important economic measures for trading of the yuan and opening up the service sector for more cooperation between the two countries. One commentator at the conference, however, questioned whether her plan was ambitious enough and what sort of vision Australia had toward China and the region.

Everyone wants prosperity, but it's an abstract concept. Some want material wealth, some want intangible cultural goods, and some crave a sense of security and strong national identity. In a diverse international gathering like Boao, the sheer variety of different perspectives around one term becomes clear. For many developing countries, just having enough food for their populations is a key objective. For others, it is delivering higher standards of public service and more sophisticated means of consulting with people.

Much of the value of discussions in international forums comes through hammering out common frameworks by which to approach tough developmental questions. With the current state of technology, there are too few resources available at any given time for people. In a discussion of food security, one participant came out with the sobering fact that every day 1 billion people lacked food, many of whom were farmers. This issue of the justice of the very producers of foodstuffs themselves being some of the poorest people on the planet raises tough questions about the synergies between developing and developed countries, and the ways in which inequalities remain profoundly entrenched.

It was clear at this year's conference that prosperity is linked in many people's minds, across the world, with education. Education is seen as one of the clearest paths to delivering better development. Many Chinese participants were keen to excoriate the national education system in China, saying that it did not encourage innovation or produce internationally recognized levels for competitive universities and qualifications. The lack of Chinese universities in global rankings of the best tertiary-level institutions in the world was a subject that came up across a number of different discussions.

Here again, however, there is a more complicated story. China produces as many talented scientists and creative figures as anywhere else. For an outside observer, the very self-critical language of some of the discussions about the educational system in China internally is well intended but probably accepts Western or external standards too readily. The elite-strong educational systems in the UK, or the United States for that matter, still fail to equip a large number of people with strong numeracy or literacy skills. Most would accept that the level of Chinese teaching in math and hard sciences is successful and produces better skilled people than in Europe or North America. What is preferable, producing a higher general standard of education without world-class elites, or world-class elites and a lower national standard in some areas?

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