CHINA’S ECONOMIC SHOCK AND AWE
The Globe and Mail, June 23, 2011
At last Friday’s Munk Debate in Toronto, Henry Kissinger and three other global affairs experts heatedly debated whether the 21st century belongs to China. What is China’s status quo? Does China have a bright future? These questions were at the heart of the debate.
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once said that China is both “big and small, strong and weak.” His wise words, which echoed China’s complexity, still ring true today.
Sixty-two years since its founding, and 30 years since economic reforms began, the People’s Republic of China has awed the world with its stunning economic and social progress: More than 200 million Chinese were lifted out of poverty. More than a billion now have enough to eat. Our GDP totalled $5.88-trillion (U.S.) in 2010, making us the world’s second-largest economy. We top the world in the number of cars produced and sold. Our highway network has expanded to more than 65,000 kilometres. Our high-speed rail construction is growing rapidly. And many Chinese people earn a decent living from hard work.
But we still face a number of economic and social challenges with a population of 1.3 billion people. Any trivial problem would be big when multiplied by 1.3 billion, and enormous wealth would look insignificant when divided by 1.3 billion. Our GDP per capita is about $4,000, less than a 10th of that of Canada. Based on United Nations standards, 150 million Chinese – nearly five times Canada’s population – still live in poverty on less than a dollar a day.
China’s foundation for economic growth is fragile. Our economic mix needs to be improved. Development is unbalanced between eastern and western China, between rural areas and cities. The rich are leaving the poor far behind. We are under growing pressure on medical care, education and housing. The road to better social welfare will be long and hard. And China’s aging population is expanding faster than those of developed countries. Our modernization has a long way to go, and building social harmony will not be easy.
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