What the Arab World Can Learn from China!

What the Arab World Can Learn from China

 Written by David Miller – Smith World Oct 14, 2009

 Discipline, education, hard work, unity, pride in their ancient civilization, an enthusiastic embrace of modern technology, good governance, and above all nationalism, these are also virtues and values which the Arabs would do well to adopt.

 Anyone surfing the net, watching TV or reading newspapers this past week could not fail to have been impressed by the grandiose celebrations on 1 October of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Rarely in modern history has the birthday of a state been commemorated with such splendid pageantry and overwhelming pride.

 “China has stood up!” the Communist leader Mao Zedong declared in 1949, when he finally routed his nationalist opponents. His triumphant phrase echoed round the world. Today, after six decades in power, China’s Communist Party bosses could legitimately go one better. They might proudly say, “China stands tall.”

Is there anything the Arab world can learn, and perhaps emulate, from the “Chinese miracle”?

 It may be that China’s most extraordinary success has been to limit its population to around 1.3 billion by insisting on a harsh one-child policy. Only a strong state, able to enforce strict discipline on its citizens, could have implemented such a policy. The contrast with the over-crowded Arab world is striking.

 When Gamal Abd al-Nasser and his Free Officers seized power in Egypt in 1952 there were only 18 million Egyptians. Today there are 80 million. Any visitor to Cairo cannot fail to notice the great weight of population. One unfortunate consequence is that Egypt today has to import 50 per cent of the grain it needs.

Egypt is not alone in wrestling with the curse of overpopulation. The same is true for Algeria, Syria, Yemen, and indeed for almost every Arab country.

 China is not a democracy, as the word is understood in the West. It remains under tight one-party rule. President Hu Jintao, the country’s chief executive, is secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But nor is China any longer a Communist state in any accepted sense of the word.

 It embraced market capitalism 30 years ago in the late 1970s, freeing its people to work where they want, to travel overseas, to buy property, to build businesses, to trade and make money in every possible way — and to spend it as they please. For the first time this year, China became a bigger market for motorcars than the United States.

 It is often said that modern China has no ideology. Indeed, if it has an ideology, it is nationalism.

 How does this compare with the Arab world? Like China, many Arab countries are under the rule of a dominant political party. But have Arab talents and energies been freed? One can hardly say so. On the contrary, all too often they are stifled by petty regulations, incompetent or corrupt bureaucrats, and the sort of crony capitalism, which allows those close to power to benefit, while others struggle to survive.

 Undoubtedly, the greatest achievement of modern China has been to lift some 400 million people out of poverty within one generation. Here lies the Chinese Communist Party’s real claim to the people’s loyalty and its most important single source of legitimacy.

 After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping was the Chinese leader who unleashed China’s extraordinary potential by loosening the state’s hold on the economy. Writing in the International Herald Tribune on 1 October this year, Zhang Wei-Wei — who was Deng’s senior English interpreter in the mid-1980s — claimed that China’s enormous success was due to the government’s focus on eradicating poverty. This, he argued, was the most fundamental of all human rights, more important than the civil and political rights on which the West has tended to focus.

How does the Arab world compare with this achievement? All too often Arab leaders ignore the civil and political rights of their citizens, but — unfortunately — they have neglected poverty eradication as well.

 Although authoritarian, even dictatorial, the Communist Party has given China skilled, sound and effective governance. A massive stimulus package has allowed the country to surmount the current global economic and financial crisis. While much of the rest of the world floundered, China achieved 8 per cent growth this year — after averaging an amazing 10 per cent growth every single year over the past two decades.

 The figures speak for themselves. At $2,100 billion, China’s foreign exchange reserves are the largest in the world. Its major companies are scouring the world for access to raw materials and to sources of energy in Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, Angola, Nigeria. Moreover, having long since developed higher education and embraced the IT revolution, China is now leading the world in the search for renewable sources of energy, such as solar power. It is the world’s biggest manufacturer of solar panels.

 Next year China is expected to outstrip Japan as the world’s second-largest economy after the United States. It seems set to overtake Japan as the largest motor-vehicle manufacturer. A Chinese company, BYD, the world leader in electric vehicles, plans to start selling all-electric sedans in the United States next year. In fact, by switching from internal combustion engines to alternative fuel vehicles, China is pioneering an attempt to leapfrog an entire generation of technology.

 Economically, China could well outstrip the United States itself within a decade. The current crisis has already seen a profound shift of economic power from the West to Asia. The familiar pattern of global geopolitics is changing before our eyes.

Of course all is not rosy in that vast country. There are doubts whether China’s rapid growth rate is sustainable, and whether — as export markets dry up — it might not result in dangerous overcapacity in steel, cement and chemicals. Millions of casual workers have lost their jobs and been forced to make their way back to the countryside. The large apparatus of the Communist Party is by no means free from corruption and influence-peddling.

 This past summer, riots by Uighurs in China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang have damaged the image of cultural harmony which the authorities have sought to propagate. The Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, complain bitterly that they have not benefited from the resources of their province and that massive Han immigration over the past decades have reduced them to being second-class citizens in their own homeland.

 Such blemishes apart, there is much the Arab world can learn from China’s remarkable experience, and especially the priority it has given to poverty eradication. But it is not the only aspect of the Chinese miracle to admire. Discipline, education, hard work, unity, pride in their ancient civilization, an enthusiastic embrace of modern technology, good governance, and above all nationalism, these are also virtues and values which the Arabs would do well to adopt.

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