Thursday, July 9, 2020

Is China the ‘Jeanie in the bottle’ of the world?

BEIJING, CHINA – The question ‘Why China?’ has been asked several times and for all intents and purposes. Maybe it is time for Botswana to jump on the bandwagon and likewise interrogate why the world has placed a bird eye’s view on China. However, the answer to this famed question is yet to be truly defined. Meanwhile China remains and is increasingly becoming the subject of interest in the world economy.

Without question China is an important piece of the world puzzle, if not for the significant share of the world economy that it has amassed then for the contribution it makes to the global growth. The contribution it makes is bigger than that of the US and Japan. Two weeks ago beginning March 3, 2018 a series of presentations and press conferences were delivered at the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China in the capital Beijing. The importance of such meetings was not just in their convergence but was also marked by the attendance of close to 3000 Journalists, both domestic and foreign, with Botswana’s representative Journalist among them. This certainly proved the attention presently bestowed on China, and made it particularly relevant to keep close to the tide of unravelling ‘Why China’.

The First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China is in short the development plan, or blueprint if you will, that is generally used to take stock of past development activities and also chart the country forward into new frontiers of growth. It captures and delivers China’s development over a period of five years. It is somewhat of the equivalent of the National Development Plan (NDP) as it is called in Botswana, which also steers the country towards specific and deliberate developments.   

The report on the work of the government, released at the session, indicated important economic figures of China. Over the past five years China’s share in the global economy grew to roughly 15 percent, up from 11.4 percent and its contribution to global growth exceeded 30 percent. It would be remiss to make a like for like comparison between China and Botswana, for the obvious reason that one is a beast economy with an influential stake in the world and the other a participant in the world economy without a seat at the top table. China is in fact the most powerful developing economy.

There is however one particular way that China plays an important role in Botswana’s economy. Second to the US, China is Botswana’s second biggest market for its diamond. It would appear however that China is simply a consumer of Botswana’s diamonds but a mutual trade relationship doesn’t seem evident. It is diamonds that chartered Botswana’s economy to great heights but this resource will one day come to an end. If a country like China which doesn’t owe its economic success to mineral resources grew to be so powerful, one could seek to find out if Botswana can achieve the same after her diamonds are sucked out of the ground.     

Should Botswana learn from the ‘Chinese model?’ Based on the experience of China, that would depend on what Botswana does with the teachings. Perhaps then a more relevant question is ‘Why should Botswana care about China?’ A professor in the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, Prof. Wang Yiwei, told a group of African Journalists that the secret of China has been learning from others, particularly the West, and then localising the knowledge to come up with something that works better. That, in short, has been the ‘Chinese model’.

When he spoke to Journalists at the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China the NPC spokesperson, Zhang Yuesi, said that China does not regard its way of doing things a ‘one-path model of development’. He added that China does not seek to export its model. But “if countries are interested in its model, it is open to such discussions and does not seek to impose its model,” said Yuesi. Given the stark and obvious differences between Botswana and China, Botswana would have to think long and hard about what it would seek to learn and what it will achieve out of the knowledge.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.