A changing world
January 15, 2004
"Should we pay social security to these lazybones?" could be the headline of an article in the Spectator, the Sunday Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal or some other conservative publication. It did in fact appear in the Beijing Review, a Chinese news weekly. In an article that briefly discusses the social security system, in particular the `minimum living standard security system' for the urban poor introduced by the Chinese government from 1999 quotes are given from various publications which are for and against that allowance. An extract from the China Youth Daily which is against the allowance states:
" "Nobody should live by sponging off others" should be a guiding ideology for the building of a social security system. The social security system means to ensure every member's basic rights of subsistence, but meanwhile it should have a prerequisite - all people with the ability to work and with a work opportunity must actively work. Those who have work ability and work opportunity, but refuse to work, should be dealt with by public opinion or even forced to work."
Views supporting the allowance are quoted and the tone of the article is sober. But a glance at this or other modern Chinese magazines will show at once that there is a massive reform underway. For example no longer are these publications mere propaganda sheets for the ruling party, real world issues are discussed with increasing freedom and frankness. As a matter of interest, the cost of the welfare state has also become an important issue in Europe with its aging population and there is much public debate on possible curtailment of retirement, health, education and other benefits.
China has embarked since Deng Xiaoping on a massive programme of economic reform based on attracting new foreign private investment and some privatisation of state-owned industries. This has produced remarkable growth and, one senses, an increasing confidence, highlighted by the successful launching of its first manned spaceship. There are also major problems, such as over 23 million unemployed people in urban areas and more likely to follow as efforts are made to improve the efficiency of heavily overstaffed state-owned industries, an imbalance between rural and urban development and the need for much more spending on health and education including basic literacy. China is also a one party dictatorship with political prisoners. Yet even in this sphere there are indications of gradual change, partly because of the extensive corruption caused by widespread party political and administrative control.
In another article in the Beijing Review captioned, "The party must pursue political reform" two sentences are quoted from the communiquÃ© issued at the end of the Third Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC): "The CPC must consciously adapt itself to the new situations that arise with the development of the socialist market economy and reform and improve the way it leads and rules" and "(The CPC) must pursue political reform positively and properly, expand socialist democracy, improve socialist rule of law ...." Asked in an interview if this was mere rhetoric, a Professor of Political Science Wang Yukai, who works at the National School of Administration, expressed the view that though the party remains extremely powerful and will continue to play a dominant role, (and while he accepted that in a country as big as China economic reform within the current political system, the Chinese way, first outlined by Deng Xiaoping, was better than the Soviet way undertaken by the former President of the Soviet Union which dealt with political reform first and led to collapse) "if political reform lags behind economic reform, risks may arise." Noting that joining an organisation like the World Trade Organisation had already imposed constraints on the policies formulated by the party leadership he referred to the possibility of reform at what he described as the high end of the political structure namely the constitution, party politics, democracy and the rule of law as distinct from the lower end, such as the executive branch of government. He suggested that new forms of party leadership should be tested in special zones. He also described the decision that the Politburo would report and be responsible to the Central Committee as of great importance as signalling more accountability.
China has embarked on an almost open-ended reform with incalculable consequences. Yet what strikes even the casual observer almost immediately on reading the various publications is the extremely pragmatic attitude and tone of discussion that is becoming the norm. In the economic and social field, almost everything is on the table. China, contrary to its original isolation under Chairman Mao Tse Tung, is playing a prominent role in many international organisations. It is moving into the world of high technology. Skilled Chinese are being recruited globally for top level management positions in major state-owned enterprises, the emphasis is on training and productivity. Thousands of Chinese students, including children of the political elite, are in western universities. The role of ideology is increasingly muted by the effort to come to grips with the real problems of development.
In this changing world the difficult task of political leadership, particularly in small countries like Guyana, is to have a real grasp of what is going on in the region and the world and the opportunities that exist. China can be no role model for a variety of reasons including its size and the political system but the increasingly intelligent attempt of its leadership to focus on the urgent necessity to modernise China is worth studying. That should be the focus here but for the last fifty years energies have been diverted into ideological squabbling, ethnic disputes and various forms of nitpicking.