– Chinese Experts tell visiting African Journalists that the continent has the potential to boom economically
By William Q. Harmon from Beijing
The level of development that has taken place in China in less than three decades is a miracle that can be replicated in Africa, top Chinese government officials told a group of African journalists visiting that country. Africa has everything to make it as developed as any part of the world, said veteran Chinese media practitioner Yan Wenbin.
Just a little over a decade or two ago, China was just considered as any third-world country striving to define itself. Even the Chinese case was more difficult when compared to many of its counterparts who were striving for self-determination, given its huge population at the time, which many believed posed a grave threat to its forward march.
But with much determination, resilience, requisite policies and a focused leadership, China is being called a “miracle economy.”
The 35 media practitioners from 10 African countries may have heard about the Chinese economic miracle, but their prior knowledge could do little to hold back the shocks that reverberated through them when they landed on Chinese soil—beholding for themselves the tremendous economic and infrastructural developments that country is experiencing.
These journalists, almost all of who were visiting for the first time, were there on invitation from the Chinese government to attend the “2017 Seminar for Renowned African Journalists,” a two-week event. They all were amazed about how advanced China has become especially after attending lectures, visiting key historic sites and major institutions, including media houses, medical and other facilities.
The facts of the Chinese economic growth after the Economic Reform started in 1978 are undisputed: From 1978 until 2013, the economy increased by about 9.5% a year and became the second largest in the world a few years ago after the United States. Per capita GDP in China went from below $300 to over $6000 today.
To say that what happened to the Chinese economy after 1978 was unexpected would be a vast understatement. According to Yan Wenbin, the director general of Xinhua News Agency’s International Department, after the introduction of the “Great Leap Forward” by the Founding Father of Modern China, Chairman Mao Zedong, China appeared to have found the magic formula in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping. He re-introduced the goal of the Four Modernizations – of agriculture, industry, military, and science and technology.
“He talked of building a Xiaokang Society by the end of the 20th century. When he died in 1997, China was well on its way to achieving the income target of a Xiaokang Society and had already survived the traumatic events in 1989, yet there were still doubters at home and even more abroad who did not trust his successors to carry on further reforms to sustain the growth,” Mr. Yan said.
China’s high-speed economic growth has substantially increased the wealth of the country’s population, he told the journalists. “This is particularly the case in cities, where factory workers’ wages have risen strongly, giving them more disposable income – measured by one’s income minus their personal taxes.”
In spite of these improvements, China still faces some major challenges—some of these being poverty and pollution, as well as population control.
Despite vast improvements in urban life, earnings in the countryside have lagged behind. But people living in rural areas have seen a marked increase in their disposable income.
“This economic growth does in no way mean that we are free of problems. We have more problems than you could imagine. The issue of poverty is still a very grave one though our government is exerting every effort to improve this. China is still a developing country and we’ve got more to achieve,” Mr. Yan said.
In spite of the unprecedented scale at which the Chinese economic growth has unfolded, after 1978 it is second to none both in its explosiveness and longevity. West Germany may have produced “Wirtschaftswunder” (German for economic miracle) in rebuilding its economy from the ashes of the Third Reich, but the growth numbers pale in comparison to China, reaching 8 percent in the 1950’s and under 5 percent in the 1960’s.
How is that phenomenal growth rate possible, when other countries relying heavily on exports, like most African countries, have suffered major downturns and remain in the doldrums? Many, including the visiting journalists, continue to marvel at what has come to be known as the “Chinese Economic Miracle.”
Top Chinese diplomat Ren Xiaoping, lecturing on China and Africa’s development, said Africa is a great continent that has all it takes to witness the same economic boom that China has been able to experience since the late 80’s and 90’s, up to date.
Madam Ren, former Chinese Ambassador to Botswana, said the seeds of China’s rapid economic growth since the 1990s were first planted back in 1978 when the Communist Party started to introduce capitalist market principles, initially in the agriculture sector.
She said China has tipped Africa to be the next big economic miracle of the world. “You can make it because you have the potential to do so. Africa has the potential to accelerate development in all of the sectors that China is doing well in, especially agriculture.”
For this to happen on a continent that has been marred by rampant corruption and bad governance, it would take the right leaders who will put the people at the center of development, and sincere global partnerships.
“I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat. It’s a good cat so long as it catches mice,” the famous Xiaoping, Deng, who is credited for opening China to foreign investment, is quoted as saying. And the color of the mice is indeed a non-issue, since China has become one of the economic wonders of the 20th and 21st centuries.
If African leaders mean well, they must take cues from the Chinese experience.