At last Friday's Munk Debate in Toronto, Henry Kissinger and three other global affairs experts heatedly debated whether the 21st century belongs to China. What is China's status quo? Does China have a bright future? These questions were at the heart of the debate.
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once said that China is both "big and small, strong and weak." His wise words, which echoed China's complexity, still ring true today.
Sixty-two years since its founding, and 30 years since economic reforms began, the People's Republic of China has awed the world with its stunning economic and social progress: More than 200 million Chinese were lifted out of poverty. More than a billion now have enough to eat. Our GDP totalled $5.88-trillion (U.S.) in 2010, making us the world's second-largest economy. We top the world in the number of cars produced and sold. Our highway network has expanded to more than 65,000 kilometres. Our high-speed rail construction is growing rapidly. And many Chinese people earn a decent living from hard work.
But we still face a number of economic and social challenges with a population of 1.3 billion people. Any trivial problem would be big when multiplied by 1.3 billion, and enormous wealth would look insignificant when divided by 1.3 billion. Our GDP per capita is about $4,000, less than a 10th of that of Canada. Based on United Nations standards, 150 million Chinese - nearly five times Canada's population - still live in poverty on less than a dollar a day.
China's foundation for economic growth is fragile. Our economic mix needs to be improved. Development is unbalanced between eastern and western China, between rural areas and cities. The rich are leaving the poor far behind. We are under growing pressure on medical care, education and housing. The road to better social welfare will be long and hard. And China's aging population is expanding faster than those of developed countries. Our modernization has a long way to go, and building social harmony will not be easy.
Yet, it is unwise to put China's future path in doubt simply because of these challenges. No country can avoid the "growing pains." A train that has been running at high speed for 30 years will wear out. Likewise, the problems in our fast development are natural. They can only be resolved through scientific development. In fact, you will see the vitality of our economy when you look at our government's measures for structural planning and restructuring to stimulate economic and social growth.
Several months ago, China released its Twelfth Five-Year Plan. It is our guideline for economic and social development in the next five years. We will try to raise the proportion of urban and rural income in GDP by 10 per cent in three to five years, and urban residents' disposable income per capita and rural residents' net income per capita by 7 per cent a year.
We will focus on energy conservation, environment protection, a new generation of information technology, high-end equipment manufacturing, new energy, new materials and new energy cars. We will transform our economy into one that features strategic new industries and is low carbon and green. Our goal is to ensure that every Chinese person lives a happy life with dignity. We want our achievements to benefit all, not some.
The Chinese people are very positive about China's future. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 87 per cent of Chinese are happy with the way China is going. And the latest polls by Reuters and Ipsos show that 78 per cent of Chinese are optimistic about China's future.
China's development brings growth and co-operation opportunities for countries around the world. In the past decade, China attracted more than $700-billion worth of foreign direct investment. Foreign companies shared China's development dividend by establishing themselves in the Chinese market.
While most major economies suffered negative or zero growth in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, China's economy maintained a high growth rate and led the world in recovery. Last year, our import of goods neared $1.4-trillion, making up 10 per cent of total global trade. Our foreign direct investment reached $60-billion, ranking first among developing countries.
Many countries' and regions' recoveries benefited from China's trade and investment. Canadian statistics show that China was Canada's only expanding export market in 2009, and accumulated Chinese investment in Canada grew by 70 per cent. As we implement the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, China's demand and potential will grow and create better growth opportunities for Canada and other countries.
We in China are confident about achieving fast and sound social and economic growth. We are willing to facilitate other countries' development and prosperity through that of our own. This is our solemn promise to the world.
Zhang Junsai is China's ambassador to Canada.