[Netizens’ voice]A Chinese lesson on merits of inequalityKoreans visiting Shanghai for the first time are amazed to discover just how far the city has progressed. Seeing that development in Shanghai surpasses that in Seoul in speed, quantity and now perhaps even quality, Korean visitors are being jolted into a sense of urgency. In the past, despite being unfamiliar with Shanghai, Koreans had looked down their noses at it.
A few years ago, the Shanghai city government unveiled an urban development plan that it hopes will make the city the equal of New York’s Manhattan district by 2020.
Public workers and technical experts are brimming with confidence. A spirit of ambition permeates Shanghai that must be at least as strong as that of 1930s New York, when that city emerged as the global hub for trade and finance.
Now let’s take a closer look at the greater Seoul area. Controversy continues to hold up progress on easing restrictions on building new factories and whether to allow domestic students into Songdo International School. The situation is deeply worrying. It seems like some people are leering at the capital region and trying to hold it back, despite the fact that greater Seoul is the most competitive area in the region. What is their reasoning? Do they want developed regions to apply the brakes and wait until others catch up?
Let’s reconsider the controversy surrounding growth and equality through the experience and current status of the People’s Republic of China, which has yet to renounce its socialist policies.
After China opened its gates to the outside world, major development took place in special economic zones and the East Coast area. This resulted in big disparities in the level of development in different regions. Critics frequently urged the government to reconsider its policy of developing select areas. But China’s leaders and many of its people recognized that while the eventual goal was for everyone to get richer, that shouldn’t require all areas to develop at an identical pace.
In a research paper, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences concluded that regional differences in development were the result of pursuing Deng Xiaoping’s theory that the rich take the lead and the rest follow. The research institute also made it clear that checking growth in developed regions would be a “leftist” error.
Before China enacted economic reforms in the late ’70s, it had tried to control the speed of growth through a planned economy and, more drastically, the Cultural Revolution. But it learned the hard way that the end result was poverty for everyone. It now acknowledges that having a certain number of people at the top is better than having everyone suffer. China calls its system Chinese socialism, Chinese market economy or the market socialist economy system.
Through suffering from the Cultural Revolution as well as enforcing rigid egalitarianism on production and everyday life, China has learned that seeking perfect “balance” or “equality” is impossible in reality.
Any Korean policymakers or “experts” on regional development who persist in thinking that equality and balance are by definition good should take heed of China’s example.
by Park In-sung