By IKENNA EMEWU
To see is to believe and especially in situation where the signs are palpable and glaring. That is the issue with China in 40 years of Reforms and Opening up.
Visiting Shenzhen, Guangdong Province of South East China in first week of June was a good reminder of those giant strides taken by the most populous country in the world. Over these years of steady and productive reforms, China dazzled the world, created a wonder never attained by any nation in history in such a short time.
From a weighty population with over 70% living below poverty line to one the World Bank announced in March 2018 that will reduce its poverty rate to half of a percent by the end of the year, is simply unimaginable.
When the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of the UN came to a conclusion in 2015 and ushering in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), the World Bank evaluation announced that China alone contributed 94% of global poverty reduction and the only country that attained the MDG goal in ameliorating poverty among her citizens.
That effort of lifting about 860m from poverty to affluence that today the country of 1.4b people boasts of the densest cluster of wealthy citizens of the world is a big testimony to the strides of the leadership of the country.
It was heartwarming walking through the pavilions of exhibitions in the cavernous Shenzhen Museum that rainy day. I was there first time in September 2016 as Fellow of the China Public Diplomacy and this time at the behest of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria for the commemoration of the 40 years of the reforms.
That move my teacher in the Renmin University, Beijing, Prof. Jin Canrong had said went far beyond the imagination of any Chinese, especially the government, is what the world celebrates today. It was quite interesting listening to the China’s government spokeswoman, Ms. Xi Yanchun repeat the same comment last week in her office in Beijing that whereas China embarked on reforms under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, no one envisaged it would come this far this fast to become a reference point for other countries.
It takes going through the documents and museum artifacts to believe that the awesome city of Shenzhen, now one of the top five in China, was a test ground for the reforms. In 1980, that’s 38 years ago, Deng arrived the town of Shenzhen, a fishermen little town of 30,000 inhabitants and announced the first China’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ)
From there the reforms picked up speed and in 2010, Shenzhen’s population was close to 11 million. Today, it has a major stock exchange in China at the status of Shanghai. It is rated one of the most innovative cities of the world and IT hub with so many big players like Huawei, ZTE, Tencent and many more located there.
The miracle that Shenzhen typifies has been replicated in almost all parts of China at the four cardinal points. Some of them are the Special Industrial Park (SIP) in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province developed in partnership with Singapore. More are in nearby Kunshan, the Shanghai Pudong project that created the awesome and most vertical downtown cluster in the Lujiazui financial district of Shanghai.
Hainan Island was not left out just as the minority ethnic group regions like the Ningxia/Hui region with its outstanding Nindong Power Base and the reclamation of desert into fertile lands thrive.
The rural and backward Hainan in the years prior to its creation as a province in 1988 today rules the Chinese tourism world with outstanding cities like Haikou, the impressive Sanya and Wanning, that is billed to be the headquarters of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)
In the city of Tsionghai, a tiny fishermen island of Boao has been elevated to a world class spot with the siting of the Asia Economic Forum base, the Boao Summit there.
At every spot in China, from Beijing to Jiangsu, from Chongqing to Shandong and finally now at the Guizhou mountainous province, the Guiyang Big Data project is rolling into a huge issue that would aggregate the country’s ICT and from there turn the once minor province to something akin to the US Silicon Valley. There is the fingerprint of reform all over China that if one is to visit every six months you are sure going to notice new things springing up.
Before I rounded up my fellowship and tour of China, the last visit was to the Fujian Province sitting across the sea to Taiwan. China is busy creating new cities that never existed for tourism such as the Double Happiness Island off the Zhangzhou City, the home place of then DG of African Affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing and now Chinese Ambassador in South Africa, Amb. Lin Songtian. Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, Fuzhou the capital city and of course Xiamen the port city. They all have marks of the reform and special economic zones that are rapidly turning things around in an amazing way. Fused to the Fuzhou outskirts to the sea is the Pingtan Island, another marvel rapidly being built into a tourism hub, just across the sea in a 60 minutes ride to Taipei.
I have travelled most parts of China, maybe half of the vast country by road and train, and can’t remember any parts that are left out in modern road facilities and railway – from Xi’an to Yan’an and Yanchuan and beyond, those deep and dizzying valleys have been crisscrossed with tunnels, highways and railways.
A 10-hour bus ride from Lhasa to Linzhi in the Tibet (Xizang) region was an amazing experience where China has conquered the Himalayan heights and valleys to construct roads through impossible terrains. It is difficult to find a nation doing more for the people than the daring road work between Linzhi and Lulang, a community deep in the valleys of the Himalayas heights. The best way to describe the road is that it’s akin to carving troughs on the trunk of a standing tree to create access for the people to a good life. In the same Tibet region with about five airports and over 76,000km of highways, according to the data the local government gave during a visit, the people have perfected solar power system, tapping into their sunshine benefits, and there is never shortage of power supply.
China’s reforms took along human resource development and an inclusive policy that caters for the weak and the minority. While the majority ethnic Han enjoys nine years of free compulsory education, the minority groups, over 50 of them, have access to 12 years of free education, apart from Tibet that has 15 years in consideration of the people’s developmental level. Such weaker groups get special grants and subventions from the bigger east China economic giants like Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Shandong. The Lhasa city stadium for instance, was built for the city by the municipal government of Beijing while some other provinces of means build schools, hospitals etc for them.
China’s inclusive policy also took care of preserving the minorities as reflected in the one-child policy that exempted the ethnic minorities.
All these efforts accumulated into China sustaining an average GDP growth rate of 9.1% in 40 uninterrupted years, whereas no nation in history ever sustained 7% GDP growth for such length of time. China lives on 80-85% food sufficiency as agriculture subsidy remains a major concern of the governments at all levels.
Sixty five percent of China’s water production goes to farmers as subsidy and they don’t pay just to encourage food production with major cluster bases in Heilongjiang and Shandong Provinces. On the speed train track from Shanghai to Beijing, immediately after Nanjing, and approaching Shandong, what lines the two sides of the track are endless stretches of farms up to Tianjin. On the railroad to Qingdao from Jinan, bigger farms are cultivated.
The economy today has swollen the cities and opulence of the citizens, and the preponderance of Chinese products all over the world are undisputable indicators. At the World Cup going on for instance, while China is not a player, 80% of the souvenirs are made in China. It was the same story at the last Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 and had always been in past 20 years, according to a Chinese media report in 2016.
During my study years at the Renmin, a professor analyzing the history of China’s political development and diplomacy said that the country’s sustained growth till this 13th Development Plan since the 1950s has enjoyed an unbroken process. He analyzed that the Mao era focused on security of the country while the Deng generation targeted growth and expansion of the economy, a solid foundation he laid the present still builds on. However, today, the Xi Jinping era has inclination to attracting global influence to China and befriending the world.
That has been worked through several economic, socio-cultural and diplomatic bodies and there is no year China doesn’t host one intergovernmental summit or the other. The Boao Forum is domiciled in China just like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose 2018 summit in Qingdao ended two weeks ago. China is a major player in the ASEAN summit for the South East Asia, a key and Security Council member of the UN with the record highest contribution of troops for global peacekeeping and also in year 2000 created the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that has vigorously pursued its 10-point agenda consolidating deep friendship with African countries.
This year, China has furthered and enlarged that 53-party body, including the African Union Commission and China herself by establishing diplomatic ties for the first time with Burkina Faso and angling for another with Swaziland. The likely scenario is that Burkina Faso would feature and join the FOCAC during the upcoming September summit in Beijing. In around March 2016 China established diplomatic accord with The Gambia which I witnessed the first ambassador of the country’s arrival in Beijing about middle of the year.
Through the FOCAC and the $60b funding platform floated by President Xi in 2015 at the Johannesburg Summit, much has been actualized in assisting African development through infrastructure provision, loans, industrialization, human development etc. the FOCAC also operates the China Africa Development Fund (CADFund) with a capital base of $5b at inception which President Xi later raised to $10b in 2016 and the fund is devoted to engendering industrial development as China targets to outsource much of its production base.
As I lived in China, I met and knew of thousands of African students on scholarship in various Chinese universities and institutes and interacted with many. Most outstanding was meeting 50 Zimbabwean undergraduates in Qingdao studying there on the bill of a private power company.
Every year in line with the promise of the government, over 1000 journalists from Africa visit China for one form of interaction, course or fellowship. I was part of the one year fellowship in 2016 and there were 28 of us from 27 countries. The following year, some 30 journalists took part in the programme while the same number of journalists is there right now. This is the fifth year of the fellowship, and spawning some 108 journalism fellows from Africa.
The media exchange has also made possible Chinese journalists coming to African countries to know how the African world functions, including eight journalists that toured Nigeria last year. In August 2017 in Abuja, Mr. Guo Weimin, the deputy Information Minister of China visited just to interact with Nigerian senior editors at a dinner, with my humble self at the interactive.
In other spheres of influence and reforms, China also created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to finance infrastructure and industrial development. The young bank that took effect in January 2016 already has 84 state members and expanding its influence everyday.
The last major move in diplomatic influence on the world by China was on May 14 – 15, 2017 when the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum was launched in Beijing. It is a global body that seeks to create linkages in economy, culture, IT, education and other interdependencies with over 79 countries in attendance and 29 presidents present.
The BRI targets to link up Europe, Africa, Asia and America by seas, by land, by air routes and thereby foster world peace and prosperity which would tap into the China formula to fight global poverty which President Xi said in his inaugural speech is the only panacea to world’s crises, wars and abject poverty. It today operates several arms on green energy, agriculture, eco preservation, ICT, health, education and culture and many more. Between July and 10 thisn year, the BRI modern agriculture course for Africans would hold at the Guizhou University as part of the implementation of the initiative.
In the 40 years anniversary of the reforms, as I toured China again, touching major spots like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, the 55km world’s longest bridge connecting Zhuhai, Macau and Hong Kong, visiting the Shanghai Pudong district, the Yangshan Deep Sea Port, world’s largest container port of 15m container capacity, stretching to Beijing and seeing the mega media organisations like the CGTN in downtown Beijing, the China Radio International that has merged with the CCTV, China National Radio to form the Voice of China, I learnt more in journalism, foresight, good governance and the need for even personal emancipation.