[VIEWPOINT]Leaders' Role in an Ascending China

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[VIEWPOINT]Leaders' Role in an Ascending China

According to the World Bank's report on globe development, the Chinese economy, which was far smaller than the Russian economy in 1991, was three times bigger than the Russian economy in 1999.

In those nine years, the Russian economy continued to contract for several years. Its gross national product, reported at $480 billion in 1991, shrank to $330 billion in 1999. In contrast, the Chinese gross national product for the same period jumped to nearly $1 trillion from $420 billion. The Chinese economy began to turn the corner in 1991, and ever since then it has been recording stellar growth. Many countries posted negative growth this year, but China alone has managed to grow 9 percent.

What accounts for the Chinese "economic miracle"? Professor Urma Adelmann of California University, who by the way served as counselor in drafting up Korea's second five-year plan from 1967 through 1971, says the engine behind the growth of a developing nation lies in the ability of its leaders.

This assertion is based on the "Leadership Sacrifice Theory." In the case of China, Professor Adelmann explains, that China's miraculous growth is because leaders such as Jiang Zemin, presented policies in tune with the stages of the country's economic development.

An example is the three policy goals laid out at the last Beidaihei convention: advanced productivity, advanced culture and broad-based profit-production.

However, Russia failed to adopt suitable strategies for their economy's development stage. Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in an article contributed to the JoongAng Ilbo Aug. 23, 2000 issue that "the minority groups within Russian government undermined the reform efforts by introducing such radical free market systems as the 'Big Bang' of the financial institutions to various social sector." In this regard, the Chinese leadership excels that of the Russian.

By the size of its population alone, China looms over in the international community as a power to be reckoned with. Transforming the massive communist country into a fast-growing capitalist economy can definitively be attributed to the ability of the Chinese leadership.

At the end of last year, I visited Beijing with a group of Korean scholars. It was my fourth visit since the opening of the Chinese economy. This July, I visited Shanghai after I attended an international conference held by the Harvard Business School in Pudong. It was my second visit to Shanghai in nine years.

The changes in the two cities were truly earth-shaking, telling of the enormous potential of the Chinese. And indeed, if China continues with its pace of high-speed growth, as many experts forecast, it may well be a matter of time before the Chinese economy catches up with the American economy.

According to standards published by the World Bank, based on buying power and personal income, China is no longer with the group of the least developed nations, but belongs to the group of mid-ranking developing nations.

Chinese leaders are well aware of the fact that their economy has moved up. It is time that they no longer think as they did when they were one of the least developed nations. They should devise innovative policies to boost the economy, which has entered a new phase of development.

President Jiang Zemin, in addition to announcing the three policy goals, pledged that the country will respect private property and allow individual entrepreneurs to be a member of the Chinese Communist Party. These kinds of policies will no doubt assist the Chinese economy in its next stage of growth.

Resistance from party insiders, intent on protecting their privileges, is to be expected. But China's expected entry into the World Trade Organization, hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, and the world trend toward the demise of socialism, will render that resistance weak in justification and practical gains.

The British weekly magazine, the Economist, has made similar projections on the future of the Chinese economy. China should be able to push forward by ten or twenty years the goal of reaching a per capita income of $4,000, which is targeted by 2049, the centennial of the country's founding.

China has produced and still produces world-class thinkers and leaders.

The Chinese people do not need to refer to Western thinkers such as Marx. Rather, by adhering to Jiang Zemin's goals of achieving safety and welfare of the people and steering its economy on a practical line of growth, China can become a center of the world, as the historian, Arnold Toynbee suggested.


The writer is a professor of economics at Seoul National University.

by Song Byung-nak

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