[Viewpoint]China changing from within‘I won’t go. I’m too scared.” This is what an acquaintance of mine told me over the phone after Whang Jong-il, a minister at the Korean embassy in China, died at a hospital in Beijing while undergoing medical treatment. That same day, several other close friends of mine also cancelled trips to Beijing.
Their fear is understandable. How could anyone spend a day at peace in a country where a high-ranking diplomat died within 10 minutes of getting an injection of Ringer’s solution at a hospital? The serious nature of the situation is highlighted by the “Ten Commandments for Surviving in China,” which is circulating among Korean residents in the country.
China is definitely a hard place to live. The standards for hospitals, products, food, water and even air quality are hard to trust. You have to be careful about cash, too. You can never be sure whether counterfeit money is being included. Also, you must always be on the alert when you hop in a taxi. The driver can make a detour while you are not paying attention. Almost everyone knows that most of the alcoholic drinks sold at bars are fake.
When we change the subject, however, completely different aspects of China emerge.
There are only three countries that have managed to launch manned spacecrafts. The former Soviet Union was the first, then the United States and the last, most recently, was China. China also became the fifth country to successfully launch satellites into space. It ranks third in the world for the number of satellites in space and is set to explore the moon this year.
The size of China’s foreign exchange reserve ranks first in the world, exceeding that of Japan. It is the second-largest creditor to the United States after Japan. China also takes pride in being a nuclear power.
There is more. The Davos Forum is an exclusive gathering where global leaders and multinational corporations get together to debate economic issues. It takes place in Davos, Switzerland, every year.
A “Summer Davos Forum” was established this year, in which leading global corporations invite newly emerging international corporations.
China has been selected as the permanent host country of the forum. This year in September, the forum will be held in Dalian, Liaoning Province, in northeastern China. Next year, it will be in Tianjin.
The U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue is a forum involving high-level government officials of both the United States and China. It takes place every year, alternately in the United States and in China. This is the only event in which all of the leading members of the U.S. government’s economic branches, including the secretary of the treasury, participate.
With this backdrop, the image of China as an underdeveloped country that’s hard to live in overlaps with that of a strong country that can stand up to the United States.
Which one is right?
They are both right. China is a strong power as well as a developing country. That is the dilemma of this huge country, with a population of 1.3 billion. Next year, China will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the announcement of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and open-door policy. In the meantime, the country has succeeded in forming unity among its people.
However, it has neglected its duty to elevate the standards of human rights and systems.
Other national tasks have become too burdensome for China and the sheer size of the population is simply too huge for the government to manage.
However, things are different now. Ahead of the Beijing Olympics next year, China launched a “national reconstruction” campaign three years ago.
The campaign is designed to reform the country’s system. This is a difficult job for a country that is under the rule of the Communist Party.
First, China focused its attention on human rights. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress held its 28th session on June 24 and passed a revised law that, among other things, stipulated protections for lawyers while they are practicing.
The duty of a lawyer was also redefined, from simply acting as “a representative in legal affairs,” to “a legal counsel who precisely carries out the law and protects social equality and justice.”
Protection against eavesdropping while interviewing clients was also granted. These are the natural rights of a legal counsel, but it took 58 years after the establishment of the people’s republic for that law to see light in China.
In April, China’s Public Security Department announced a “civilization ordinance.” It exemplified 10 things citizens like to hear and 10 things citizens do not like to hear. The aim was to recast the image of the police as “servants of the people.” It also introduced a new system for registering citizens’ complaints, in addition to regular inspections of security officers.
A plan calling for a thorough structural reform of officialdom was also presented. Among other measures, it stipulated that all official payments should be made by credit card, and set ceilings on expediency funds available to the rank-and-file.
The security department inaugurated an emergency telephone hotline for citizens, 12345, so people could ask the government for help or call in to report corrupt behavior of government officials 24 hours a day.
There are dozens of similar measures that have been taken by the Chinese government in the past two to three years.
These are, of course, not enough. But China is now changing, not superficially from the outside but from the inside, and not top-down but from the bottom-up. China specialists are calling it a “second revolution” to build a powerful China.
This is the aspect of China to which we have to pay attention. We must not cling to the old view that China is only “a developing country.”
*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Jin Se-keun