I WAS recently in China as part of a group of local media practitioners invited by the commercial and economic counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Harare to attend a bilateral seminar for Zimbabwean journalists and editors.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
The idea of the visit was to share perspectives and exchange notes on media and other issues with our Chinese counterparts and officials.
The trip, with all its highs and lows, proved to be very useful in many respects. The Chinese treated us very well, but sadly the Zimbabwean ambassador to Beijing Paul Chikawa and his embassy staff were not as welcoming. Our brief meeting with them at the embassy proved to be a monumental waste of time.
Hurried and unstructured, while lacking form and content, the engagement was emblematic of the gross incompetence and chaos characteristic of the Zimbabwean regime. Overall, they lacked hospitality and sounded out of their depth during an intense but brief discussion about what Zimbabwe can learn from China.
Apart from giving us an opportunity to interact with the Chinese media, political and corporate players, as well as visit awesome historical features like The Great Wall of China, a Unesco World Heritage Site, museums, galleries, lush vineyards where the rich and eminent live, the beautiful coastal city of Weihai by the Yellow Sea and the island village of Gu Mu, among other places, the visit gave us a chance to make empirical observations on China’s economic miracle.
For it is a miracle that a country which was largely feudal and an economic backwater a few decades ago, reeling under repression and poverty, has risen from the ashes to become a global powerhouse effectively in 38 years after Deng Xiaoping’s ascendancy in 1978.
China has achieved within three decades the same levels of industrialisation which took Europe two centuries to reach.
Of course, the story of China’s rise is much more complex given its long civilisation, complicated history and authoritarian system. Although the third plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1978 — at which the reform and change agenda was announced — is widely recognised as the critical turning point in modern China’s 67-year history, the foundations of success had been laid during Mao’s era despite concomitant political repression, policy disasters and human rights tragedies.
Deng’s leadership and reforms were the game-changer. The reforms succeeded in triggering phenomenal economic growth, while also vastly reducing poverty and maintaining relative political and social stability. China’s success has allowed it to play an increasingly important role in the world economy and global politics. It is also now a key player in Africa through a mixture of aid, trade and investment.
There are a number of factors which influenced China’s success. The country capitalised on its crises to create opportunities. The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, for instance, exposed the flaws of Mao’s disastrous model and his successors learnt from that. Effective leadership, progressive policies and good governance ultimately made the difference.
China’s new model has moved away from ideology-driven policy-making towards an evidence-based approach under the mantra “seeking truths from facts”, which places a premium on science not dogma.
The country also embraced systematic and sustained reform. Due to China’s geographical and population size, and its social dynamics, a one-size-fits-all approach is unworkable, so a pragmatic and decentralised process based on local conditions is preferred. China has also found ways to reduce or overcome internal resistance to reform, and to fight corruption to move the nation forward.
As demonstrated in Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, top American intellectual heavyweights, it is man-made institutions, which can be extractive or inclusive, that determine the economic success or failure of countries, not culture, weather, geography or ignorance as some scholars previously thought.