China’s development: From a “native” stranger’s eyes

30 Jun 2015

By Zheng Yuan -

I’m commonly acknowledged as a terrible tour guide among my foreign friends, who are often surprised as how little I seem to know about Beijing; the city where I did my undergraduate. More often than not I find myself giving perfectly reasonable excuses – I have not lived in this country for 7 years and a lot can happen and change during such a long time.

Indeed, Beijing has transformed dramatically. New subway lines have been constructed and extended miles beyond the 6th Ring Road. Grand shopping malls have sprang, with all fancy and popular brands of fashion. Life has become much more convenient as it is increasingly “digitalized”: almost anything can be purchased online with fast delivery. In just 7 years, I’ve become a complete stranger to Beijing, and believably many other places in China, where choices of life have been greatly enriched by continuous development.

Undeniably, China has developed in leaps and bounds in recent decades. The progress report towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has recorded China’s remarkable achievements in varied aspects, ranging from reducing poverty and hunger, providing access to safe drinking water, sanitation and universal primary education, to combating HIV/AIDS. This has definitely built a healthier, wealthier and more competent nation. Moreover, this has enhanced China’s worldwide contributions in terms of economic growth and development. As the report said, China has since 2000 provided assistance to more than 120 developing countries through South-South cooperation - and this is constantly increasing. From 2010 to 2012, China distributed US $14.4 billion in foreign aid.

It is no wonder that China’s rise has caught the world’s attention. The new Global Governance Report that we’ve just issued at UNDP China, together with China Center for International Economic Exchanges and Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, highlights the key role of China – the largest emerging economy – in the reconfiguring of the global economic governance.

As our new study emphasizes, China’s domestic needs are tightly related to its international progress. China certainly did an incredibly good job in the MDG era, which has served as a solid foundation on which it has built itself and its global reputation today. This, however, is not enough to carry on the momentum. A few targets have been left somewhat unfulfilled, among which environmental degradation notably stands. In the meanwhile, additional challenges might emerge particularly with the advent of “New Normal”, which implies a fundamentally different model of economic growth. All of these, if addressed improperly, would complicate China’s journey in moving up the ladder of global governance.

But the good news is that China will host the presidency of G20 in 2016. And based on what other previous G20 chairs have accomplished, China could take this opportunity to prioritize development initiatives that deliver substantial and highly influential win-win global outcomes. To that end, UNDP always stands by to offer help. The report, as a first step, has suggested a list of areas which China could make use of to mainstream national plans, forge allies and welcome new institutions. These would help China strengthen its international profile, by advocating green, innovative and inclusive growth, backed up by a revolution of big data and international financial systems.

All of these, more importantly, lie at the core of a new, more comprehensive set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, from 2016 onwards, are expected to guide further global development, building on the MDGs. There are good reasons to take faith in China’s leadership. The discussion paper we’ve published at UNDP has attributed China’s attainment of many MDG targets to a proactive and development-oriented government. There are also good reasons to count on China to deliver excellent performance on the SDGs. As was mentioned in the most recent paper on China’s position on the post-2015 development agenda, the government has already placed economic growth, social progress and ecological conservation as its top priorities, and will therefore align closely with the future SDGs.

With this in mind, I have no doubt that I’ll keep being amazed by my motherland. Happily being a “stranger” of my own country, I look forward to witnessing more stunning development achievements in the years to come!