Strong governance is the key

Absorbing topic: Ouyang (top centre) with local academics (clockwise from top left) Dr Chang, Prof Wong, Dr Chan and Dr Ngeow discussed the factors behind China’s success at the recent ‘Governance of China: Perspectives from Southeast Asia’ webinar.

CHINA’s success in building a strong economy, eradicating abject poverty, curbing the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus and promoting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to benefit the world can be attributed to its strong governance capability, according to a recent seminar.

From a backward country in 1978 to an economic juggernaut today, the Middle Kingdom’s rise over the past 40 years has been spectacular. What has its leaders done to create one miracle after another? This question has spurred academics at the Institute of China Studies (ICS), Universiti Malaya, to explore factors behind Beijing’s achievements.

This former “Sickman of Asia”, invaded and humiliated by the West in the 19th and first half of 20th century, is now the world’s second biggest economy. It is also the world’s manufacturing powerhouse and the largest trading nation. It has lifted about 800 million people out of poverty since Deng Xiaoping introduced reforms.

On the technological front, China is a pioneer and global pacesetter in 5G rollout, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed railway, satellite navigation and space exploration.

In the “Governance of China: Perspectives from Southeast Asia” webinar, jointly organised by the ICS and the Chinese Embassy in Malaysia, Prof Datuk Dr Danny Wong highlighted China’s 1.4 billion people are enjoying a very high standard of living.

“China’s development plans and programmes are the envy of many nations. All these achievements speak volumes of the country’s ability to govern well – to be able to translate strategic plans into effective programmes that bring results.

“One of the things that struck me as important and relevant now is the manner China has been able to handle the Covid-19 pandemic very well. This is a clear display of China’s strong governance capabilities – both on the home front as well as in the international arena,” said Prof Wong, who is the dean of UM’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Prof Wong, also former director of ICS, shared his ground experience in witnessing China’s ability to plan and implement long-term education strategies.

Earlier this year, China announced economic goals for 2025 and 2035, and a carbon-free goal by 2060.

Analysing Beijing’s multi-decade efforts in poverty eradication, ICS director Dr Ngeow Chow Bing attributed the success to Beijing’s strong determination in eliminating poverty, market-oriented economy and government’s strong involvement.

China’s governance system is unique, Dr Ngeow explained. Within the system is a political structure with a very strong cadre/official mobilisation capability, target-based governance and pairing assistance between rich and poor areas.

The specialist in China affairs said: “Under President Xi Jinping, the ‘last mile’ (the last 99 million very poor people) of poverty eradication was targeted with precision. Party officials were stationed at remote areas and their problems solved with tailored solutions.

“While China’s institutional structure is vastly different from other countries and not replicable, its strategies in wiping out poverty can be learnt.”

Giving the official view, Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Ouyang Yujing said: “The secret of China’s effective governance is not enigmatic. It lies in the political system – the socialist system with Chinese characteristics adopted by the Communist Party of China (CPC).”

He said the “people-oriented” philosophy of the CPC in governance has won over the hearts and confidence of its people. This could be proven by surveys. And due to this, citizens are prepared to endure hardship and sacrifice to help the government achieve its goals.

A stark example is seen in the lockdown of Wuhan in combating Covid-19 last year, when residents showed a high degree of obedience towards the directive to stay home and sacrifice personal freedom for weeks.

Dr Peter T.C. Chang, deputy director of ICS, pointed out that China’s unique one-party state has enabled the country to choose its leaders in an effective manner. And the government has built up a trusting relationship with the people.

But he opines China should not be seen as a threat, despite the fact that it has become a global power with footprints around the world through BRI.

“China’s rise is comparatively peaceful and benign. CPC ideology is for China only. From Asean’s perspective, China is not a threat in colonisation. We do not think China harbours that ambition, although there are territorial disputes in the South China Sea,” said Chang.

Apart from the CPC, China’s state-owned enterprises (SE) have also played an important role in effective governance, according to Dr Li Ran.

Within each SE is a CPC party committee functioning as a governing body, similar to the board of directors in a company, she explained.

“This party committee ensures that the CPC’s policies and strategies are executed. And this structure has made SE become the visible hand to manage economic activities on behalf of the state,” said Dr Li, a Chinese national

serving at the ICS.

Many SEs have been mobilised to implement BRI projects overseas. In Malaysia’s ECRL, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and Exim Bank of China are the SEs expected to ensure this state-linked project will be a success.

But not all is rosy in SE governance as there are “zombie enterprises” that have incurred huge losses or production over-capacity. Some have even been dragged down by corruption and scandals. All these incidents have tarnished the image of Chinese governance.

However, under the leadership of President Xi, a lot of emphasis has been placed on rooting out corruption and improving SE performance, Dr Li observes. Harsh actions were taken against government officials and CPC leaders involved in wrongdoings.

But still, China has under-performed in terms of institutional indicators and qualities in the region when compared with four leading Asean nations, according to Assoc Prof Dr Chan Sok Gee.

Her studies, however, showed there is now more accountability in SEs, improved government effectiveness and political stability under the leadership of President Xi.

As China celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC this month to remind its people of the role played by the CPC in making China great again, its unique system of governance has emerged to be a key part of many analytical writings on China’s success story today.

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