|By Jerry Wen Yang / Translated from Chinese by Robert Goh|
Chongqing, a provincial-level municipality in southwestern China located 1,500 kilometres from the coast, is a mega-city with an urban and rural population of 32 million.
This city has attracted international attention in recent years because of several astounding economic performance indicators:
Firstly, in 2008, while the world's major economies were struggling in the mire of a financial crisis and China's Gross Domestic Product growth that year correspondingly slowed significantly to nine percent, GDP growth in Chongqing reached a staggering 14.3 percent, its foreign trade increased by 28 percent, and foreign investment utilization by 151 percent.
Secondly, when China's economy was facing difficult structural adjustment challenges because of a steep drop in exports, Chongqing produced this report card in advance– domestic demand: domestic consumption accounted for 57 percent of GDP, and domestic investment at 62 percent of GDP; external demand: Net exports (exports minus imports) were -19 percent of GDP. The corresponding Chinese national average figures were 49, 42 and 9 percent respectively. Its leadership in this area went above and beyond.
Experts and scholars have flocked to Chongqing, having seen beyond these remarkable economic indicators, known as the "five Chongqing constructions” (Livable Chongqing, Smooth Chongqing, Green Chongqing, Safe Chongqing and Healthy Chongqing), “sing red and crackdown black”, its "ten measures about people's livelihood", and "reduction of three inequalities" programmes. From all this, people can perceive that this Western China economic centre’s robust economic performance has been propped up not by just one or two special advantages, but a full package of plans, an integrated system. This "Chongqing Model" has been forging ahead.
Therefore many people think that in this "Chongqing Model" lies the answer to solving China's problems. It points out the way and inspires hope. Indeed, the New York Times correspondent called it the "Chinese model city of the future."
However, for a city whose population is equal to that of all Oceania, any kind of problem would be not simple one. How to understand the "Chongqing Model" and how to explain this economy's success have sparked off hot debates in academic and media circles.
Prevailing Western viewpoints believe this model must come with problems. Big government, socialism, authoritarianism, rule of man, red culture etc. Not to mention it’s completely out of tune with what is advocated by liberalism – small government, market economy, freedom, democracy, rule of law etc. Since the concept of liberal market economy still holds the moral high ground any model inconsistent with it cannot be without problems. Even if on the surface there are no problems, there must be some lurking internally; and even if there are no problems now, the future will certainly bring some.
Critics comfort themselves when they try to demonize this model by digging up some dark sides as supporting arguments; they’re having this problem now – as well as in the future. It’s not difficult to go about it, but it’ll be more or less irrelevant. For instance, with regards to the problems of high-speed trains, it’s said that the train designs weren’t ideal, and sooner or later they would have to be retired. Well, that’s true of course, but these assertions won’t affect the on-going advances in high-speed travel, and they also don’t affect the immediate benefits brought to their passengers.
I myself have seen that the "five Chongqing" constructions have yielded concrete results; in particular, "Forest (Green) Chongqing" and "Livable Chongqing" indeed have earned themselves well-deserved reputations.
Looking around the new urban areas of Chongqing and seeing lush green trees and gardens everywhere, it is conceivable that if the present model is sustained without let-up for the next 10 to 20 years, there’s no wonderful landscape that can’t be created there.
Putting aside for the moment the potential implications for big government and strongman politics, the dangers of those above the law and their legacy, and also leaving aside Red culture and Red nobility in China’s politics today, if the "Chongqing Model" does indeed create an economic development scenario where "state advances while private sector advance as well (Guo Jin Min Ye Jin)", and "the poor become rich, and the rich get even richer,” then it is actually trying to solve some fundamental problems that haven’t been well addressed by both traditional capitalism and traditional socialism.
When I heard from Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan’s say that his municipal government, through various measures, would tweak the gap between rich and poor by precisely controlling the Gini coefficient to a certain level, and furthermore, fine-tune it down to its last two decimal places, my theoretical knowledge alerted me: here’s what many people call "scientific socialism."
If the day should dawn when a spate of social disasters in old days are blamed on capitalism and socialism being, to some extent or other, insufficiently scientific or precise, or too indulgent or too extreme, then today's "Chongqing Model", is perhaps at least trying to strengthen the science and controllability of both ideologies.
In any case, setting aside the philosophical and moral debate about capitalism and socialism, and addressing directly the problems of their mechanisms and techniques by using new knowledge and means to improve them, is always an effort worth giving a go.
I believe this is just what the people of Chongqing are doing right now.▉
4 October 2011
Jerry Wen Yang
The United Chinese Press