Letter from China

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IN 2001 the world was shocked by Goldman Sachs’s prediction that China would become the world’s number one economy in 2040. Eight years on, the only thing shocking about that prediction is that China is set to fulfil it 20 years early.

In as much as Jersey is a part of the global economy, any forecast of our fortunes cannot ignore the impact of China. The economies of the world are so intricately linked that Niall Ferguson, presenter of the Channel 4 series The Ascent of Money, calls China ‘America’s banker’ – because China lends the United States such a significant proportion of the $4 billion they borrow every day. How has this happened?

The key name you need to know is Deng Xiaoping. Jersey may have been transformed in recent decades by major shifts in the population and industry, but Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1985 instigated reforms which turned the world’s most populous country from being predominantly rural, agrarian and illiterate into the world’s second-largest economy and a nation that is 50 per cent urban, 80 per cent industrialised and 90 per cent literate in just 30 years.

When Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace in 1949, 90 per cent of China’s population was living in extreme poverty. After Deng’s economic reforms, that figure has dropped to 10 per cent. (By contrast, the figure for the whole world has not changed at all.)

It is no wonder that the Chinese State Circus divided their awe-inspiring spectacle at Fort Regent last week into a show of halves: the first drawing on traditions of the past, the second celebrating the dynamism of the modern nation.

The socialist ideals of the People’s Republic of China included housing, education and healthcare for all. In Jersey we enjoy extraordinarily high standards of public services – but what services would we be left with if the 66 per cent contribution to the States’ coffers that the finance industry makes were to disappear?

Thus, in the late 1970s Deng Xiaoping launched a process of ‘reform and opening up’ to generate the economic growth necessary to be able to realise China’s socialist ideals. He called it ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’

The reform was essentially a gradual shift to a free-market economy (what we think of as capitalism). Deng’s view was that the State could not provide for its citizens without funds, and the nation could prosper only if individuals were allowed to prosper – hence his famous quote: ‘To get rich is glorious. Let some people get rich first.’

Do we likewise need to review the way we regard the ‘wealthy’ in Jersey? The ‘opening up’ was a reversal of China’s previous closed-door policy of self-reliance with the recognition that in order to thrive, the nation would have to work with the rest of the world and not in isolation from it. China needed to acknowledge that it did not have all the resources it needed within its borders and that it therefore needed to create partnerships with nations it had previously regarded as enemies.

Deng urged the Chinese to swallow their pride, asserting: ‘It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.’ Per-capita income in China has been increasing at an average of more than 8 per cent per annum over the past three decades as a result.

Do we in Jersey need to reappraise the way we look at the rest of the world? If you had heard of Deng Xiaoping before, it is almost certainly not as the instigator of reform but rather as the conservative commander-in-chief during the military crushing of student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989. This is a topic exhaustively discussed in books and on the

internet to which I have nothing to add. My purpose is not to provide a definitive appraisal of Deng Xiaoping but to encourage meaningful dialogue by helping people in Jersey to understand why a man so reviled in the West is so venerated in China.

My feeling from living with ordinary Chinese is that the average person is appalled by the loss of life in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989, which made it untenable for Deng to continue as President. On the other hand, most other states with Communist governments collapsed that very same year.

The journey the Chinese people are on has been so long and bitter that the vast majority today seem relieved to have been spared the social chaos of political collapse at the very time when their lives were finally getting tangibly better year on year.

• To put any questions, or to share your views and experiences of China with other people in Jersey, sign up at http://www.jerseychina.com. To contact Tim Nash, e-mail tim@jerseychina.com or call 077007 CHINA (24462).

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