AS I reviewed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s Report on the Work of the Government to the third session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing, it was hard to believe that this report was only the highlights of the government’s work for just one year! Such a diversity of goals and priorities could not be achieved by other nations even in a decade! The most obvious example is how China has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill Brown poses for a group photo with stewardesses of Xiamen Airlines on returning from the U.S. on March 21.
China, the most populous nation on the planet and, in theory, the hardest place to control a pandemic, has indeed brought the coronavirus under control. Other countries are also opening up, but not because they have controlled the virus but rather simply because they have no hope of controlling it. In the U.S., for example, mayors, governors and the president, as well as local, state and federal judges, are all fighting over whether it is legal or not to quarantine people, or to even make them wear masks. Officials in some places are not even allowed to politely ask people to wear masks, and protestors with semi-autonomic weapons are fighting the oppressive requirement to wear a face mask.
For all its economic might, China is still a developing country, with great needs, yet it never questioned its priorities – people first, then profit. Because China’s priorities were never in doubt, the war against the pandemic never degenerated from a scientific battle into a political squabble. And China succeeded because it used targeted pandemic alleviation measures – even as it is using precisely targeted measures to eliminate poverty.
Another big issue on Li Keqiang’s report was, of course, China’s ending absolute poverty in 2020 with targeted poverty alleviation. Yet again, it is astonishing to me that the most populous nation on the planet with some of the greatest challenges has become the nation to lead the world in battling poverty.
China has been so singularly successful in battling poverty, and the rest of the world has done so poorly, that in 2017, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “China’s targeted poverty alleviation is the world’s only way to help the poor, and reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Another element of the report that I appreciate is China’s goal of providing nine million urban jobs. The entire world is struggling with urbanization but China is approaching the problem proactively rather than reactively. China has improved rural areas so much that many migrant farmers are leaving the cities to return home and seize the new business opportunities.
Another extremely strategic long-term move is to improve domestic consumption. Poland was the only European country that grew even through the Great Recession, and it owed its growth and stability to two main factors: massive investment in infrastructure (like China) and the very strong domestic demand it helped create and insulate from global volatility.
China’s success at reducing regional disparities in growth has provided lessons for other nations, but China must indeed do more to increase domestic demand, because this will improve the lives of people across the country and also, very importantly, help insulate China from the dangers of being too overly reliant on an export-oriented economy, especially when the nation must face the unscrupulous political practices of nations that would attempt to destroy a Chinese industry on the pretext of national security when, in reality, the truth is that they simply cannot compete commercially.
The proposed free trade zones and integrated bonded areas in central and western China will also help alleviate regional disparities and be of great benefit to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which in itself will help build the vast western region of China.
The beautiful scenery on the Bund in Shanghai attracts tourists to linger on. A new couple poses for pre-wedding photos on the promenade on May 12, 2020.
I am especially excited about the expansion of the BRI. My youngest son Matthew and his wife do volunteer medical work in Africa, and in every corner of the continent, he can see Chinese working to build railways, highways, power plants, harbors, and airports. As Chinese often say, “To get rich, you must first build roads,” China is using its hard-won experience and expertise to help lift countries in Africa and elsewhere from poverty.
I was also happy to see that banks will increase lending to micro and small businesses by over 40 percent. In China and all other countries, most new ideas and innovations begin with entrepreneurs and very small companies. So, China’s new financial incentives, coupled with the Internet Plus initiatives, will help give free reign to China’s entrepreneurs and small enterprises, and indirectly also boost the larger companies such as the two that make my Huawei phone and Lenovo computer.
It is difficult to comment on specific areas of Li Ke-qiang’s report because the entire report is encouraging and strategic. I was of course excited about the government’s commitment to meeting the needs of 300 million retirees, as an aging population is a problem facing most of the world – and I’m getting up in years myself.
Protecting China’s food supply is also important. At present, China relies heavily on imports. Given recent actions by some foreign politicians attempting to destroy Chinese companies, I would not at all be surprised if they tried to manipulate China with food exports as well. If you have any doubts, consider this quote from a declassified August 1974 59-page report of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence Office of Political Research “Potential Implications of Trends in World Population, Food Production, and Climate,” which saw the millions starving in Africa not as a humanitarian crisis but as a political opportunity: “In a cooler and therefore hungrier world, the U.S.’s near-monopoly position as food exporter would have an enormous, though not easily definable, impact on international relations. It could give the U.S. a measure of power it had never had before – possibly an economic and political dominance greater than that of the immediate post-World War II years.” China most definitely needs to increase self-sufficiency in food and reduce over-dependency on agricultural imports from any one nation.
In summary, if a politician from any other country on the planet gave a report like that shared by Premier Li Keqiang, I would just assume it was typical political promises and rhetoric. But after three decades of watching China move forward steadily, step-by-step, overcoming adversities and learning from success and failures alike, I have no doubt that China will accomplish all that it has set out to do in 2020 – and more.
The Chinese Dream is alive and well – and if other nations can swallow their pride and learn from China’s example, perhaps it can become a World Dream as well, and the nations can finally leave poverty behind us, and embrace peace and a moderate prosperity ahead of us.
Dr. BILL BROWN is a professor at the Xiamen University MBA Center and academic director of its OneMBA program.