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Learning from China

Learning from China

Under this caption, much has been written, but very little has been done. As a China watcher for over three decades, I have been lamenting, about our obstinacy and obduracy, as a nation that refuses to learn from its closest friend and neighbour. China gained independence two years after us. We had, in 1947, a combined population of East and West Pakistan of 75 million people and China, in 1949, had a population of 541 million, to feed, clothes and shelter.

Obviously an uphill and arduous task. They did it, in less than 75 years. We ruined ourselves, successively, both politically and economically, in the past 75 years. The malaise of economic and political landslide is still predominant, with no end in sight. We have taken as a nation a permanent residence, on the crossroads.

Directionless and rudderless, we float on borrowed money. Such is the nature of our national psyche that we, on an all inclusive basis, celebrate, sadly, borrowings. As a borrower, we are demanding the lender to explain why we were not invited to a sideline meeting of BRICS that China recently hosted.

We have caused for ourselves a diplomatic embarrassment; the Chinese Foreign Office spokesperson, had to remind, that there are protocols of trade blocs that need to be respected. The first lesson we must take from this episode is about how to attain, maintain and exhibit diplomatic maturity, pragmatism, with guarded use of diplomatic offensiveness.

Recently, China celebrated the 101st Anniversary of the founding of The Communist Party of China. In this connection a function was organised by the Karachi editors club, which had the Chinese Consul General, Excellency Li Bijian as the chief guest, besides a battery of other guests.

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The communist party was formed in Shanghai in 1921, by two well-known stalwarts, namely, Chen Di Xiu and Li Dei Zhao. Mao Zedong became its Chairman in 1943, after a dedicated service of almost 22 long years as ordinary cadre comrade, of over 13 years. That’s how long it takes to acquire a leadership position. His Parents did not hand over the keys of leadership of China. No Royal ascension. There was no room then or today for hereditary politicians. It is about the power of the people. He received recognition for serving his country. His comments and observations were sincerely accepted, by all the tiers of the party.

His Chairmanship from 1949-1976, saw no apparent criticism. The fallout of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward becomes insignificant, if one examines the history, dispassionately, where the party had to bring order out of chaos. To do so, the leadership was bold to take courageous decisions, right or wrong, is now irrelevant, for they have proven to be the impetus for China’s amazing growth.

During the course of the proceedings of the conference under discussion here, it was revealing, not for the first time though to many, amongst the audience, that we have enjoyed the most cordial of relations with our great neighbour, for over 70 years.

For any relationship to be enduring, be it individual, societal, political or even between nations, there has to be sound ground that emerges from commonality of views and objectives. While both nations’ relationship has withstood the vagaries of global political dynamics, there have been shifts, to suit each country’s unique interest.

The changing patterns of the international political scene, inclusive of the demand of vested interest of each, hasn’t altered the fundamentals of the political friendship with China.

The emergence of China, with its full political and economic might, that began in the 1980’s, obviously changed the course of its trading and investment patterns. China wasn’t just a regional player, it was to become the dominant global market constituent. New trade blocs were created and with no wonderment, China invariably was invited to join them. Flexing its economic muscle, China began on its well planned and later equally well orchestrated, the ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project, an initiative that allows China to touch the borders of 68 countries, stretching from Vietnam, in South East Asia to the heartland of Europe, and to the warm waters of the Gulf, through the major stretch of CPEC, starting from Kashgar to Gwadar.

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This communication web, which essentially will become the bedrock of technological innovation, with full potential of transfer of technology to and fro, will help China establish new trade corridors. Already in place, China has a well-planned strategy of “Looking at Africa”; in this venture Gwadar port is of critical importance to China. Napoleon is reported to have said,” China is a sleeping giant, let him sleep; for if it awakes, he will shake the world”. Indeed, the giant Panda has woken up.

Li Bijian, the consul general in Karachi, spoke about how the party has successfully guided China in its quest to achieve independence, both political and economic. Albeit he spoke about his country, but softly, like a true and seasoned diplomat, was pointing on how we could as a nation achieve similar success. For me and possibly the rest of the audience there were several takeaways. He eloquently explained how different facets go towards nation building.

The areas Excellency, Li Bijian, spoke upon is of relevance to us. We can, if we wish to, learn so much from their history (recent) and experience. Taking a cue from his talk, I shall elaborate on what the features are that will render yields and dividends of progress. The following are my views, not his. I have merely borrowed the pointers.

First is leadership. The leadership must speak with strength about its conviction. It must put on display complete command and control over all affairs. It cannot afford to be either tentative or indecisive. To stem political instability out of chaotic conditions requires political strength and character; no leader with any blemish should be accepted by the system as a leader.

Politicians with flawed character must be rooted out, ruthlessly. Political stability is a precondition for economic growth. If a country is steeped in poverty, the first task of the government/ leadership has to provide them with three square meals, clothing and shelter. Failure to do so will bring either a silent revolution or a violent one. Sri Lanka is a case in point. The aborted Arab Spring was in the same vein too. The people must support the party and the government. In all polls, not managed but real, the people must overwhelmingly support. The Chinese , 95 per cent of them in all successive polls have expressed their faith in their leadership. For the last 75 years, 100 per cent of us have been running down each other, through a vote of no confidence. This is not done as a democratic right in full view of cameras of the populace, but done surreptitiously, through palace coups, that get enacted on the floor of the parliament. Lesson to be learnt here.

What economic system a country embraces determines its future status. China, unwaveringly adopted the Socialist economic model. Its features were altered to suit Chinese characteristics. When there are a billion plus people to feed, the natural focus is on agriculture. China in quick time acquired self-sufficiency in food grains. The land of five rivers is part of us, we are still importing wheat. Lesson here. Economic modelling has to be done in step with the peculiarities of each country’s level of economic status.

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No single pill is the answer, for all economies. The society has to be transformed towards unity without expunging its diversity. National consolidation is essential for economic growth. China by its mature and pragmatic policies has integrated 56 different nationalities and ethnicities. Again this has been done remarkably, with full recognition of linguistic differences, spread over its vast geography. Lesson to be learnt, that good leadership finds commonality between people. It should not exploit differences. We have a single religion as a great facilitator for homogeneity to prevail, instead we have numerous divisions, based on the unthinkable. Lesson here.

Enlightened leadership will always put people first. All policy making will need to be people-centric. The common man must benefit the most from government policies. China did just that. We through conceit have been framing policies to enrich the powerful, the corrupt and the filthy rich. Look at the current finance bill, who does it tax? The common man. Unless we alter this attitude, things will continue the way they are … but, let’s also not forget, sometimes Nature gets impatient and corrects injustices, itself. Are we all working to provoke that? Question to answer, and lesson to learn.

To attain economic growth, there has to be an opening of the economy. The reforms must be carried out without fear, favour and sans individual business interest. In our understanding, the opening of the economy seems to be the selling of family silver. Policies have to be directed towards inducing investment, by giving tax breaks, holidays and creating an enabling business environment. These must be consistent, supported by legislative commitment. That’s how a country develops confidence about itself in the minds of the investors. Our dwindling foreign direct investment (FDI) and the lack of local investor interest is indicative of confused economic planning. Lesson to be learnt from China, the guarantees given to overseas investors in 1978-79, in the Special Economic Zones are still valid. That’s continuity. It can come only with political stability. Lesson here.

The economic policy must not be in conflict with the country’s foreign policy, and vice versa too. The two must remain intertwined. Again let’s learn from China, they dared to follow Deng Xiao Ping’s innovative thought of “one country, two systems”, while they were taking over Hong Kong, without a gun being loaded. That’s the art of negotiations, leadership must possess. China continues to attract investment from Taiwan, despite unresolved political issues.

Governance in our country is negotiable. Regrettable. Since it involves following a code of conduct that must be based on the high moral grounds of non-compromising, basic ethics, standards of morality and the adoption of best international practices, we are always short of meeting these requirements. China has zero tolerance to corruption; it is not to suggest, there isn’t any; but there is enough fear of law that the people know it will be applied with zest. Corruption is not, in China, a case open for plea bargain. Robin Hood’s if any are put to eternal sleep. A major lesson here.

Ceaselessly I have been writing for the last two decades to obtain from China, our friend, a blueprint on how to set up, manage successfully and create policies for the Special Economic Zones. The SEZ’s have changed China’s economic history. A major catalyst in the overall development of China. We don’t know our own geography, look at the selection of the sites for SEZs! Vested interests are so predominantly visible there. Why can’t we ask China to lend us their professionals for a few years to shape our SEZ’s? We can hire them as consultants and pay them too… hopefully from export earnings and not from the borrowings we have from China!.

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Let’s on this 75th anniversary of our independence, reset our relationship with the outside world. Let’s hit the reboot key. Let’s for now at least change, use friendship with this great neighbour, for economic policy making and resultant gains.

(The writer is a Senior Banker and China Watcher)

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