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China has a very deep heritage spanning centuries. It is one of the countries that has experienced the least external interference with its growth and development. Since the construction of the great wall, China closed itself in and refused to engage in international relations as aggressively as other civilizations. This policy of non-interference manifests in Chinese foreign policy. China does not in any way attempt to interfere with the political issues of its trading partner nations. China has gone through many phases, kingdoms, and civilizations. At different times, there was different leadership structures used for government in China. China boasts of some of the most notable scholars of ancient time. Confucius leads the pack. His works get is wide audiences in the academic circles. He represents the cream of ancient Chinese thinkers. In fact, China uses his name for cultural centers it has established the worlds over referred to as Confucian institutes.
As a modern state, China remains one of the strong bastions of the communist system and an important member of the international community. Gill (2010) reported that, “China plays a critical role on global issues” (p. xvii). Communism is not as old as China but it sits well with the Chinese culture. When considering the last thirty years of Chinese development, communism remains a focal point. It has defined the Chinese relations with the world, as it has Chinese internal policies and political choices. China is emerging as a global power. Its manufacturing and trade prowess developed over centuries contributes immensely to the new China the world is seeing with today. It is behind the projected economic growth for 2005-2020, which is, “at an annual average of 6.6 percent” (Winters and Yusuf, 2007, p. 7). Indeed, a discussion of Chinese reforms in the last thirty years requires a focus on this phenomenon. China has become a natural manufacturing destination in the twenty first century, having some of the best manufacturing conditions the world over. Almost all countries in the world benefit somewhat from Chinese manufacturing. Pei (2006) noted that, “the economic modernization drive that China launched at the end of the 1970s rank as one of the most dramatic episodes of social and economic transformation in history” (p. 1). This paper considers Chinese reforms and opening up, in the context of the leaders who were at those moments.
Reforms under Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping’s rule succeeded Mao Zedong’s tenure, which took place between 1949 and 1976 and it forms a backdrop against which to look at China’s reforms since 1979. Mao Zedong himself was responsible for some very notable reforms in China within the period. The most notable, which has endured to this day, is the introduction of socialism. This affected the land tenure system and the distribution of human resource. When Deng Xiaoping took over Chinese leadership in 1976, the reformation of Chinese community from a feudal state to a socialist state was complete. Mao’s historical role in China was sanitized to deemphasize any atrocities he perpetrated to the point that he now has cult following. Kristoff and WuDunn (1995) reported that “taxi drivers started putting Mao pictures in their vehicles because they believed doing so would protect them from car crashes” (p. 293). After settling in power in 1980, Deng embarked on his own reforms dubbed, ‘economic reforms, and openness’.
During this period, Deng undertook to de-collectivize China and to develop its manufacturing industry, Deng promoted the development of light industries as a stepping-stone towards development of heavy industries. Song and Woo (2008) reported that the “marketization” of the Chinese economy “enabled the movement of underemployed rural labour into more productive industrial jobs in the new non-state sector” (p. 4). Arguably, this set the foundation of China as a manufacturing centre for the world as perceived today. Deng fronted for the idea of establishing special economic zones in China, which operated without much government control and interference. The goal was to attract international capital brought in by foreign investors. As a result, Deng seemed to promote capitalistic ideas and he actually ran into some trouble within his party. During Deng’s reign, the Chinese society experienced relaxation of the numerous government controls the Mao regime had instituted. However, the government retained a tight rein on politics and the political process in China.
Deng’s supporters claimed that under him, China experienced unprecedented growth in various sectors. They identify the growth of commerce and an increase in Chinese exports as some of the achievements under his reign. They point out to the emergence of an urban middle class as one of the results of his rule. They also list improved living standards and growth in GDP as evidence of successful reforms during Deng’s reign. Other areas they identify include improved literacy standards across China and improved life expectancy among the Chinese people. All these they say occurred in an environment where an average Chinese person had much greater personal freedoms compared to what they had during the reign of Mao.
Deng has critics. They identified some areas where his performance was below par. They argued that through the reforms, he brought about the exposure of China to numerous social ills form other countries. They said that the Chinese people became more materialistic in their thinking during his reign. The tight government control over politics brought about the labeling of Deng’s government as a totalitarian regime. Forces of political reform emerged and their efforts culminated in the protests staged at the Tiananmen Square. As a result, the government imposed martial law and declared a state of emergency to contain the unrest. During the protests in 1989, government forces killed four hundred to eight hundred people. For a brief period, western governments broke diplomatic ties with China because of the crackdowns, which undertaken under the Premier, Li Peng.
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A significant piece of reform that China undertook in 1979 under Deng, which has had significant effects in the Chinese community, is the imposition of the one child policy. This policy reduced incidents of child poverty as a positive effect. It has had a number of negative social effects. The notable one is that it has brought about the situation where there are more old people in China than the youth, and is a time bomb in as far as social security is concerned. The fewer younger people will shoulder the social security needs of the older generation. They are too few to do it effectively without significant economic consequences. There are allegations that some parents get rid of their children, especially girls, because of the perception that they are an economic liability over the long run. China has ended up with gender imbalance in its youth population.
The Jiang Zemin era
Deng diminished from public limelight after 1989, paving way for the emergence of the ‘third generation’. The new Chinese leader was Jiang Zemin, an engineer by profession. Jiang’s rise to power coincided with the fall of communism as an international political force. Jiang returned China to the path of a fast-paced economic growth but with it, a further destruction of the Chinese society by social corruption. During Jiang’s tenure, the Chinese social security system came under severe straits by the placing of demands on it by an aging workforce. In the same period, China was under trade embargoes from the international community, which severely limited its capacity to grow meaningfully.
Despite these challenges, Jiang maintained a steady economic predisposition for China. During his regime, China negotiated its way to the World Trade Organization, which greatly improved its trading capacity. During this time, he saw the peaceful return of Hong Kong to China by the United Kingdom, and the return of Macau from Portugal. They continued to maintain their own governance through. In the same period, China worked hard to reform its image and to improve its relations with the outside world. Another area of reform was in Chinese interest in Science and technology. During Jiang’s reign, China joined the scientific space exploration club. Under his leadership, there was a strong emphasis Chinese science and technology. As a personal contribution, Jiang wrote ‘Three Represents’ which is a list of guiding ideologies that the Chinese communist party uses to rule China. These writings have found their way into the national and the party constitutions. A significant achievement by China during Jiang’s reign was remaining afloat during the Asian financial crisis shepherded by the Premier Zhu Rongji.
Jiang had his own share of criticisms. Jiang’s came to power during the days of the Tiananmen Square protests, therefore fixing his image as a repression-oriented leader. In another criticism, some feel that he went too far in seeking to appease the United States and Russia at the expense of Chinese sovereignty. They add that he showed too much concern for his image at home, in the process impairing his political judgment. Environmental degradation features among Jiang’s failures. While this did not start with him, he did not do enough to ensure it does not become worse. During his tenure, Beijing endured sandstorms caused by the desertification of China. Environmental conservation remains an area where Chinese reforms falter.
HU Jintao Reforms
Hu Jintao, as a fourth generation leader took up Chinese leadership in 2002, succeeding Jiang Zemin as the current paramount leader of China. He had previously held many positions within the communist party and was the immediate vice president to Jiang before he took up the country’s leadership. His ascension to power symbolized the transition of Chinese leadership from the older hard-line communists to a new class of youthful technocrats. His regime is highly conservative to political reform within China. It has actually reestablished some controls on the economic sector previously relaxed by past regimes. Under Hu, China pursues a soft power policy. He seems to fulfill the worldview of her neighbors who “see China as desiring stability and peaceful relations with its neighbors” (Kang, 2005, p.7). This policy advocates for political non-interference with the internal politics of trading partners. This seems motivated by Chinese desire to keep out interference from its own internal issues by the international community.
This policy has seen the rise of Chinese influence in Africa and Latin America. Hu came to power amid large disparities between the rich and the poor. Politically, he inherited a country with rising and unprecedented nationalist sentiment. In addition, Hu found a China that had huge environmental problems with indicators such as fogs and sandstorms, and increasing international pressure for China to participate in international efforts to contain climate change. Jensen and Weston (2007) said that China “is one of the world’s largest polluters of air and water” (p. 4). Slow rate of reform, in a harmonious environment, both locally and internationally characterizes Hu’s China. Hu seems serious about tackling the social problems in China occasioned by the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. On the environmental front, there is mounting pressure on China to do more, now that it is the largest emitter of green house gases, thanks to its robust manufacturing sector which behind its recent phenomenal economic growth.
China has proved itself as a very capable nation. This was clear in the successful hosting of the Beijing Olympics that left critics gasping. Its manufacturing sector is very vibrant, with western countries outsourcing manufacturing to China. Chinese reforms have been slow and heavily calculated. The political process remains heavily mediated while the press remains on a tight leash. Indeed, the internet revolution seems not to have taken China by storm as it was projected. China has erected what some have called the great firewall of China, which filters the continent that the Chinese are able to view over the internet. While China has attained a lot of political, social, and economic progress in the last few years, it still requires much work to be at par with the rest of the world.
Shenzhen - A Chinese Success Story
Shenzhen city is in the Guangdong province of China. It lies north of the autonomous Hong Kong region. The city represents the story of Chinese reforms in the last thirty years. Kristoff and WuDunn (1995) referred to Shenzhen as, “the most open and prosperous city in China” (p. 26). It establishment as a special economic zone during the reign of Deng Xiaoping were the seeds of arguably one of the most successful of the special economic zones. During the late 1970’s there was a period of rapid investment in the region by foreigners bringing in capital. Since then, there has been the investment of more than thirty billion dollars in Shenzhen. It is currently one of the fastest growing cities in the world and it is home to the third busiest container port in China. The city benefitted immensely from Deng’s policies since it was the first among the five areas chosen for the establishment of special economic zones.
Its proximity to Hong Kong, where the British settled had at the time, favored its choice as a location for a special economic zone. The idea was to develop relationships with Hong Kong and to develop trading ties with it to attract foreign investment to the new special economic zone. This was a very successful experiment for the Deng administration, further strengthened by the common culture between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The city boasts the fourth largest GDP for any Chinese city and ranks second in industrial output. The products include IT equipment manufactured by companies such as IBM, and Apple. There are many large Chinese and foreign companies with a strong presence in Shenzhen. They include Baidu-the largest Chinese search engine, Huawei, and ZTE. The business climate in the city encourages foreign direct investment. Shenzhen stands as a city that represents Chinese economic reforms made possible by reforms in the political climate of China. In fact, Guthrie (2009) reported the Chinese stock exchange operates in Shanghai and Shenzhen, showing the significance of Shenzhen to the Chinese economy.
China has been able to maintain a policy of political non- interference with its trading partners, while at the same time encouraging a policy of openness to the world without allowing for the entrenchment of foreign ideas and practices among its people. China continues to maintain a heavily mediated political reforms process, which brings about a lot of discomfiture with international powers, especially democratically governed states. It has however been able to steer itself from very challenging points in history though these same controls it uses to stifle voices of rapid change to achieve a harmonious and coherent nation. The challenge for Chinese authorities is not a small one. As the most populous nation on earth, central government requires careful execution to maintain national cohesion. The world will continue to encourage reforms in China, in all its spheres for it to attain a greater degree of international harmony.
The changes the world hopes China can attain include economic reforms, greater political space, and social reengineering to ensure that the Chinese people remain global citizens as well. There is an increase in the voices requiring China to do more in the area of environmental conservation. With China as a leading contributor to green house gases, it warrants careful consideration by Chinese authorities on what role China must play in the conservation of the global climate. China must move towards the development of more acceptable international policies to govern its relations with the entire world, which may have differing value systems. As Guthrie (2009) reported, “China’s rise in power over the last two-and-a-half decades has been meteoric-and we are only beginning to feel the impact of that rise in power” (p. 7).
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