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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

China: a developing nation with growing pains

Though 61 is a mature age for people, the new China, which celebrated the 61st anniversary of its founding on Oct. 1, is still in its adolescence, developing rapidly and full of the vigor of a young man.

Also like a youth, the country has experienced growing pains over those contradictions between its self-perception and recognition by its peers.

China has been on track for rapid development during the three decades since its reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, as gross domestic product (GDP) jumped to more than 34 trillion yuan (5.08 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2009, from 364.52 billion yuan in 1978.

Even the global financial crisis failed to slow the country's developing momentum, with an annual growth rate of 9.1 percent last year, outshining its developed counterparts, such as the U.S. and Japan.

Despite the impact from the economic downturn, China also replaced Germany as the world's third largest economy and largest exporter last year, and overtook the U.S. to become the world's largest auto market.

What's more, in the second quarter of this year, China's GDP exceeded that of Japan for the first time.

Zhuang Jian, chief economist with the Asian Development Bank, praised the achievements China has accomplished during the past three decades, saying its strong growth has boosted the confidence of the Chinese people and encouraged them to work harder for a better future.

As China's economic clout grows, so do suspicions, criticism and even intentional exaggerations. Different readings on China's development have caused confusion - is China still a developing nation or a developed one?

The Chinese government has reiterated its status as a developing nation, while some insisted that China could no longer be called an emerging economy, and thus held China accountable for more responsibilities in its trade surplus, exchange rate, emission reductions and energy consumption. There is also fear that the emerging China would be a threat to other nations.

Premier Wen Jiabao said in September at the UN General Assembly that China was still in the "primary stage of socialism" and remains a developing country.

"These are our basic national conditions. This is the real China," he said.

Wen stressed this point with data showing that, although China's GDP ranks it as the world's third largest economy, per capita GDP is only one-tenth of those of advanced countries. China's further development is constrained by its shortage of resources, as well as energy and environmental problems, he added.

Experts believe that the growing Chinese economy is too large to be ignored, despite it still being a developing economy.

Wang Jun, a researcher with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said China would continue its relatively fast economic growth for an extended time, a fact that would be difficult for some nations to accept in the short term. This also requires constant adjustments in how China views its own development, as well as how other nations see China, he said.

"Misunderstandings and conflicts are inevitable," Wang noted.

"I can't name another country in the world that has changed so much in so short a time," said Patrick Chovanec, an associate professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing. He has been coming to China since 1986.

Chovanec noted that China has undergone one of the most rapid and dramatic social changes in history, and "it is still playing out".

"People around the world have a lot of uncertainty over what a more powerful China would look like and what it would mean for them. A lot of cultural and political differences remain, and some of them are pretty significant," said Chovanec. So it is understandable that people have some fears and concerns, he added.

Further, to deal with misjudgments, Zhuang Jian said China should be more involved in explaining its true self to the world as it becomes more involved in the international community.

Patrick Chovanec suggested China should "try to empathize, and develop a thick skin ... As it becomes more powerful, China is going to be on the receiving end of more, not less, criticism. "

Sheng Hong, director of the Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics, warned of self-complacency and arrogance, saying the larger one's economy grows, the more cautious and humble it should become.

"China should take some criticism seriously, apart from that criticism based upon purposely harmful intentions, which could help step up its economic and political reform. Also, a clear understanding of its real strength would help the government to make the right decisions," he said.

Zhuang Jian said China's strong economic growth, mainly fueled by its large investment of resources and capital, is unsustainable, inefficient and energy-consuming, remaining vulnerable to the changes of the outside world.

China has a long way to go to catch up with the developed nations in terms of per capita GDP, and China is lagging far behind in terms of industrialization, Wang Jun said.

The biggest challenge that China will face in this century is how to achieve sustainable development, he said, adding that the imbalance of regional development, income disparities and the widening gap between state-owned and private firms are also among the difficulties China must face during its future development.

Additionally, Sheng Hong said China has to step up its reforms in becoming a market economy to achieve sustainable development. For the achievements China has gained have been attributed to economic reforms, because of which millions of Chinese workers can now unleash their creativity, rather than only their hands.

China should also accelerate political reforms, including restraining and effectively supervising its administrative power to match the economic reforms, said Sheng.

Source: Xinhua