On Tuesday last week, October 1, China mounted a huge celebration to mark 70 years since Chairman Mao Zedong formally proclaimed formation of the Peoples Republic of China and the coming to power of the Communist Party of China, CPC. Also being marked was China’s rise to global power status. There was a lavish military parade involving 160 aircraft, 580 pieces of military equipment as well as 15,000 military personnel. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army [PLA] is already the world’s largest standing army with two million active members.
At the huge event at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Chinese President Xi Jinping said “there is no force that can shake the status of this great nation. No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead.” What was on show was not just China’s military prowess but a celebration of its emergence as an economic juggernaut, achieved through painstaking vision and sacrifices. China was one of the world’s earliest civilizations which pioneered writing and invented papermaking, compass and gunpowder.
A civil war had raged in China during the 1930s between the Communists and the Nationalists led by Marshal Ching Kai-shek. It was interrupted by Japanese invasion and resumed in 1945 before the Communists triumphed in 1949 when the Kuomintang’s forces retreated to the island of Taiwan. China was so poor in 1949 that some of its 17 remaining war planes were reportedly ordered to fly by twice to make the country’s Air Force seem larger than it was.
The turning point for the country came with the introduction of economic reforms in 1978 led by the late Deng Hsiao-ping. With this, China’s GDP grew from $150 billion in 1978 to $13.28 trillion by 2018. Since 2010, China has been the world’s second-largest economy by nominal GDP and since 2014, the largest economy in the world by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). China is also the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state with the world’s second largest defence budget of $250 billion in 2018. Indeed, China is an emerging superpower, mainly because of its massive population, economy and military.
China’s miraculous success is partly because it learned to hold on to its traditional values while the Communist Party and government adopted highly pragmatic economic and social policies. It made the education of the Chinese people a top priority as it also held on to its age-long Confucian principles. Even when China was dirt poor, it encouraged quality education, offering the majority poor illiterate adults with free classes, sometimes making attendance forceful in some regions.
CPC government also integrated macroeconomic central planning with free market economy, promoting entrepreneurship and competition while pursuing policies that helped incubate startups. In addition, state-owned companies play a central role in the provision of egalitarian society through social welfare schemes, medical care, education, financial and infrastructural development.
There are lessons for African nations, especially Nigeria. First, China’s unprecedented growth was largely driven by their government’s intense focus on technology-driven agricultural development. Through this and other initiatives, nations need to learn how a country of over 1.4 billion citizens have just 70 million people living in extreme poverty (compared with 300 million in India, 100 million in Nigeria and 25 million in Ethiopia). China reached the 2015 deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) several years before the set date. More importantly, an astonishing 439 million of the approximately one billion people lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990 were Chinese. In 2015, the UNDP calculated that China had contributed 76% of all global poverty reduction to date.
So, as China’s Communist Party and government celebrate its 70th anniversary, the world needs to look at those things that they did right. And they are many. Today, the country is an invaluable development partner for the rest of the world, especially African nations. China is Africa’s major trading partner and investor. While learning from its meticulous implementation of its vision, it should avoid the pitfalls of its ambitions.