The year 2008 marks the 30th anniversary of China's reform and
opening-up drive. China's Central TV Station, on January 13,
invited Li Yining and Wu Jinglian, two famous economists and
promoters of China's reforms, for an interview to discuss economic
successes and failures and to speculate about future reforms.
CCTV: Could you comment on the most successful
reforms in the past 30 years?
Wu Jinglian: One was the decision of the
central authorities to develop a commodity economy in 1984. This
proved to be the prologue for more reforms.
Second, the Communist Party of China (CPC) adopted a resolution
concerning the establishment of a socialist market economy at the
Third Plenary Session of the Fourteenth CPC Central Committee in
1994. A big stride forward in comprehensive reforms during the
1990s can be attributed to the 1994 market economy reform.
Third, the reform of the basic economic system proposed at the
15th CPC National Congress in 1997. The economy of coastal areas
has grown rapidly since the launch of this reform.
Li Yining: In 1978,18 farmers from Xiaogang
Village in Anhui initiated the rural contract responsibility
system, based on households with remuneration or incomes linked to
output. The reform was designed to break with egalitarianism. The
villagers took a great risk to promote the new contract system in
the initial states of the reform, but the outcome was an enormous
increase in agricultural productivity.
Second, a reform aiming at introducing the joint-stock system
took place in the middle and latter half of the 1980s. This
hastened the birth of China's stock market. Although the stock
market was not yet perfected, the reform paved the way for other
reforms of state-owned enterprises and market growth.
The third is the rise of private economy. Private enterprise
creates the most job opportunities, estimated at 70 percent. The
private economy has also made great contributions toward taxation
and exports in many cities.
Wu Jinglian: I agree with Professor Li's first
comment. The contract responsibility system has developed quickly
and it has played a significant role. But I consider it the
restoration of a system popular among farmers rather than a
CCTV: Can you comment on anything that has
disappointed you most in the past 30 years?
Li Yining: First, the dual structure of the
urban and rural economy has not yet been changed, so farmers'
incomes have increased slowly.
Second, industrial monopolies have not been eliminated during
reforms involving state-owned enterprises. These monopolies must be
broken in order to establish a real market economy.
Third, reforms of the social security system have made little
progress because of financial difficulties or other reasons. The
government must pay close attention to the people's livelihoods in
Wu Jinglian: I agree with Professor Li; the
work on the social security system is too slow. The central
government decided to reform the country's social security system
in 1993. As far as I know, some official departments took an active
part in the reform but they have met with obstacles, which were not
related to finance. In fact, many departments have maintained their
old system, allotting too much consideration toward bettering their
The reform of property rights regime has not been fully
implemented. For example, the problem of land ownership has not
been solved and this involves almost half of the population. I
believe that the permanent right of land use should belong to the
farmers. If we cannot resolve this problem, many other issues will
also remain unsettled.
Another problem is legal construction. The central issue of the
market economy is independent and free business transaction. If
administrative organs or other powers control transactions, then it
is not a market economy. The central government decided to
establish a country governed according to laws in 1997, but the
reform of legal system has been too slow.
CCTV: We have achieved a new starting point and
we are looking forward to better prospects. In terms of the
country, enterprises and the people, could you list some priority
issues which call for urgent action?
Li Yining: The establishment of a social
security system needs to be accelerated in China. Efficient
measures should be taken in dealing with problems in education,
medical insurance and employment.
Chinese enterprises should take on more social responsibilities.
On the one hand, they should step up self-innovation, because it is
only through innovation that they can improve their competitiveness
and win international success. On the other hand, they should also
provide more help to communities and poor areas.
I think education should be strengthened to build up credibility
and directed at individuals. A society cannot develop without
Wu Jinglian: I think reforming governments is
the most important issue. Chinese government organs should perform
their functions according to the will of the people. They should
make great efforts to establish an adequate social security system
and improve law enforcement.
Chinese enterprises should change their market environment,
which means promoting reforms. Also they should make their profits
honestly. As an individual, we should try our best to do our work
well and also show concern for society at large.
CCTV: What kinds of measures should we take to
solve these problems?
Li Yining: Stagnation and retrogression lead
only to a dead end. We understand that there are always
difficulties in the process of moving forward, but we need to do it
anyway as long as we are heading in the right direction.
Wu Jinglian: The Guangdong Provincial Party
Committee called for continuous emancipation of the mind recently
to stimulate systematic reforms and further development. We should
respect others and think theoretically. We need the right to
discuss these issues freely, then we can promote our reforms.
(China.org.cn by Yang Xi, February 8, 2008)