China’s Development Model And Lessons For African Countries

Mr Li GehuaIn Francis Fukuyama’s influential essay ‘The End of History?’ published in the Summer 1989 issue of the quarterly “The National Interest”, the political scientist announced that the great ideological battles between east and west were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed.

He wrote: “What we are witnessing is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

With anti-communist protests sweeping across the former Soviet Union, it was hardly surprising that Francis Fukuyama should have proclaimed the end of the Cold War and a sweet victory for economic and political liberalism. Fukuyama’s declaration was indeed interpreted as an endorsement of Capitalism as the only path to economic prosperity.

The phenomenal rise of China in the twenty-first century, however, presents a bold challenge to such assumptions. The Chinese economy has not only grown to become the second largest in the whole world within a reasonably short period, but has also continued to register an astonishing growth rate annually. To the extent that the Government’s main preoccupation now is on slowing down the current growth rate and addressing issues about quality of development. Which brings into focus another question that has engaged analysts in politics and economics for sometime now: Can China’s economic miracle be sustained – or would it be a nine-day wonder?.

Listening to a presentation on “The Basic Situation of China” by Mr Li Gehua, a retired Director of the Research and Training Institute, State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPRFT) at a seminar for foreign journalists in Beijing recently has, however, shed light on the entire China story, as well as put to rest some of the assumptions and speculations alluded to above.

According to Mr Li, the Chinese success story has proved to the world that Western capitalism is not the only way through which economic prosperity and development can be achieved. He describes China’s development model as Chinese Socialism. “China has introduced to the world a new path to development which is based on the country’s peculiar circumstances, and which does not copy any of the Western models”.

Unlike most of today’s industria-lised nations whose quest for development brought about unfortunate events such as slavery, colonialism and pillage, China’s approach has been a peaceful one that poses no threat to other people. China began its economic transformation and reform policy in 1978, and from that moment on it has been all systems go.

In spite of a population overload of over 1.3 billion people, the country has consistently registered high economic growth for the past ten years, recording about 9.8 per cent growth rate annually. Little wonder, therefore, that its economy is second only to that of the United States.

In an effort to slow down the high growth rate, the government has set a 7.5 per cent growth target for the year 2014.

“As to whether or not the economic growth being witnessed now can be sustained into the future [as is being contemplated by others] the answer is Yes”, says a very confident Mr Li, citing economics scholars who predict the Chinese economy will continuously record growth for the next 25 years. He adds that even though the United States is currently ‘ahead of China in some aspects’, there are studies which suggest that the Chinese economy will surpass that of the U.S. in the next 10 to 15 years.

It is not only China’s economic miracle that is the talk of town, but equally phenomenal is its rising influence in Africa particularly in the last five years.

The country’s volume of international trade in 2013 amounted to $4.1 trillion, out of which $210 billion represented trade with Africa alone. Additionally, China envisages to put about $500 billion into overseas investments in the next five years, the bulk of which will go to Africa. Without any shred of doubt, China has become an indispensable friend of Africa within the last decade and its influence on the Continent continues to grow.

On the country’s ability to feed its multitudes, the former SAPRFT Director indicates that right from the onset, it has been the government’s policy that China should become self-sufficient in food production. To this end, it has deployed its financial, scientific and technological resources into agricultural research and development. Within the past five years, China invested about $720 billion in agriculture and had achieved about 60 per cent mechanisation of that sector by the end of 2013. It produced around 602 million tonnes of grain last year.

Education and job-creation are not left out of the equation. The government has pursued a free education policy for the past ten years, by which the State catres for the cost of education at the basic level (Primary and Junior High School). Each year, the universities turn out about 7 million graduates. Around 100 million jobs were created in the past five years, with a record of about 4.05 per cent unemployment rate, across the country.

And who ever imagined there could be more than 2,500 radio and television networks in China! From what was being heard about that country from other sources, one would have imagined ‘a nation of the station’ kind of scenario, where every citizen had to tune in to only one radio or television network. On the contrary, the people enjoy total freedom (provided they do not break the law – which is the case in every other country); the multiplicity of networks and the wide variety of television programmes continue to be a pleasant shock for the first-time visitor. Even though state-owned, these networks have complete editorial autonomy. Cell phones have become the largest source of internet access rather than computers, placing China ahead in the mobile internet age. It registered about 1.2 billion internet users by the end of 2013.

Considering the country’s sheer size and population, one cannot but acknowledge that China has made tremendous achievements in socio-economic development in the past 10 years but there is still much left to be done. In Mr Li’s view, the key challenges as far as China’s phenomenal rise is concerned include environmental pollution arising mainly from high energy consumption, uneven development between the urban centres and rural areas, and official corruption – in addition to how to slow down the fast economic growth rate.

Indeed, African nations have a lot of useful lessons to learn from China’s development philosophy, and it would be in the best interest of the people if African governments took advantage of the opportunities offered by the growing bilateral relations with China. The development of road, rail and telecommunications infrastructure could be one area of considerable emphasis, not forgetting mechanised agriculture and manufacturing/industry.

On the whole, the outcome of China’s reform/open policy which began about three decades ago has been very impressive. It has enabled the country to access foreign markets and encouraged healthy competition whose benefits are manifest in the magnificent infrastructure, efficient rail/road transport systems, and busy shopping centres.

Besides, the reforms have not only made it possible for China to export its culture and civilization to foreign countries but has also opened the Chinese society to foreign cultures and ideas – all of which may come along with positive as well as negative effects. The fact that China’s leaders are fully aware of the implications of globalisation but are still prepared to push ahead with the reform policy, is perhaps an indication of how serious and determined they are in the pursuit of an open society. In any case you have to break your egg if you want to eat omelette, I guess. A GNA feature by  Mohammed Nurudeen Issahaq

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