How China's Leaders Steer a Massive Nation

In China, good governance is primarily defined as the government satisfying the material needs of its people. The people along China's east coast, in particular, have been able to enjoy rapidly growing prosperity. Deng Xiaoping, the reformer, deliberately chose to develop the coastal regions first. Under Deng's policies, the losers were primarily in rural areas and in western China.

Nowadays, when Shanghai residents take a taxi they can learn about the best temperatures for wine by watching advertising clips on a screen in front of their seat. Meanwhile, some farmers in western China live in caves because they can't afford brick houses. The government's response is a policy Beijing calls the "Great Western Development Strategy."

The central government attaches great importance to the strategy, as evidenced by the fact that it has appointed a special "leadership group" headed by Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as a separate agency, to manage the program. The new strategy was adopted in 1999, under then President Jiang Zemin. Even though Jiang may have also been thinking about his legacy, China's "Go West" policy reveals a strength of Beijing's approach: Once something has been recognized as a national problem and defined as a national effort, it is addressed in a consistent and enduring way. A government that is not voted into office has no need to take voting blocs and elections into account. This is the economic advantage of an authoritarian system.

Ms. Li Yingming meets with us in a nondescript, gray concrete building in Beijing. She is the deputy director of the Department of Western Region Development, which is part of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Li is satisfied, at least to the extent that she can be today, in the second year of the 12th Chinese five-year plan. 'A Long Road'

Tens of thousands of kilometers of railways and highways have been developed, including the controversial rail line to Lhasa, built at a cost of about €3.3 billion ($4.06 billion), new hydroelectric power plants, airports, a gas pipeline and a fiber optic cable network. "The progress we have made in this area in the last 10 years is greater than the progress made in the last 50 years."

But when will the Chinese in the west and those in the east have the same standard of living?

"That's a long road," she says with a smile. It isn't the cities that she's concerned about. China also has the "Starbucks Index," which shows where the brand-conscious middle class can be found. In reality, there isn't a single Starbucks in remote Lanzhou, whereas Shanghai has almost 150. Li, however, is more interested in farmers and the illiteracy rate. In Gansu Province, for example, in 10 years, it has fallen from 14.3 percent to 8.7 percent in 2010. Nevertheless, it is still significantly higher than the 2-percent illiteracy rate in China's southern Guangdong Province.

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