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Learn from the past, look to the future
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By Deng Nan

Building socialism in a country with a large population and a weak economic foundation has entailed successful experiments as well as detours. Since 1978, reform and opening-up has seen China undergo rapid, sustainable and sound economic development.

China's Achievements Have Captured World Attention

Reform and opening-up have both given powerful internal and external impetus to China's economic development. The policy has unfettered China's productive forces, creating a high economic aggregate and growth rate, increases in per capita GDP (gross domestic product), as well as making a contribution to world economic growth.

China Becomes the "Engine" of World Economic Development

Following the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China convened in late 1978, China introduced the household contract responsibility system in rural areas, mobilizing the productive enthusiasm of vast numbers of farmers. In about five years, agricultural productive forces increased substantially and long-standing shortages of key agricultural products like grain, meat and cotton were relieved, thus basically solving the problem of food and clothing that had baffled the populous country for decades. Later, with the establishment of the market economy, implementation of industrial reforms and entry into the WTO (World Trade Organization), China attained unprecedented economic development and achieved a miracle.

From 1978 to 2007, China's GDP maintained an annual growth rate of 9.8 percent, triple the world average during this period, far exceeding countries like the U.S., Japan, Singapore and the R.O.K. during their economic takeoff stages. Currently China's GDP represents approximately six percent of global GDP, placing it fourth in the world. In 1978, China accounted for merely 0.6 percent of global trade, but this figure had increased to 7.7 percent by 2007, translating into an average annual growth rate of 18.7 percent, double the world average during this period. Since 2006, China's contribution to world trade growth has outpaced that of the U.S. and Germany, placing it first in the world. China has become the main engine driving world economic growth.

Qualitative Leaps in People's Living Standards

In 1978, China's urban per capita disposable income was RMB 343, and the rural per capita net income was RMB 134. About 250 million people in rural areas were below the absolute poverty line. Increasing people's income and eradicating poverty were the top priorities of China's social development.

In 2007, China's urban per capita disposable income was RMB 13,786, and the rural per capita net income was RMB 4,140. Across three decades, the respective increases have been 39-fold and 30-fold, and the absolutely poverty-stricken rural population has decreased to less than 15 million. The low-income rural population now numbers some 28 million. According to the World Bank's definition of poverty (per person consumption of US $1 a day), the proportion of China's population living in poverty has dropped to 10 percent. Depending on her own efforts, China has successfully solved the problem of providing food and clothing for 1.3 billion people, and achieved a comfortable life for many.

Capability for Sustainable Development Steadily Enhanced

By the 1990s, China became fully aware that the relative shortage of natural resources was going to make the contemporary style of economic growth hard to sustain. Consequently finding a sustainable path of development became a must.

In the late 1980s, the Chinese government put forward ten major measures to enhance the environment and development. In 1991, the Beijing Declaration was issued at a ministerial level conference among developing countries. One year later, the Chinese government actively participated in a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and signed the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21. Approved by the State Council in 1994, China's Agenda 21 has become the programmatic document guiding the medium and long-term strategy for China's economic and social development.

In March 1996, the Fourth Session of the Eighth National People's Congress defined sustainable development as one of the two strategies of China's economic and social development. The Scientific Outlook on Development was advanced during the Third Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. As the guiding policies have been established at national level, the practice of sustainable development has been positively explored at local levels. So far, more than 60 national-level and 90 provincial-level experimental areas and 13 national-level demonstration areas for sustainable development have been established to guide the popularization of sustainability and the exploration of different approaches.

China's Development Has Made Great Contributions to the World's Sustainable Development

Opening-up has made China's development closely connected with global development, which is propitious to the global circulation and optimization of resources, improving the utilization efficiency of global resources.

Since the 1990s China has been a major importer in the global primary products market, especially of oil and iron ore. On the one hand this has allowed resource exporters to make vast amounts of money and has stimulated global economic growth. On the other hand, the raw materials have guaranteed the rapid growth of China's manufacturing both in depth and scope. As large quantities of "made in China" products go out to the world, these resources return to the international market. China's rise has injected new vitality into the world economy.

According to the Report on Ecological Footprint in China recently published by the World Wildlife Fund and the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, since 1960 China has nearly doubled its consumption of natural resources. However, the current per capita area required to sustain Chinese lifestyles is 1.6 hectares, far below the world average of 2.2 hectares, or the 10.9 hectares used by each American.

Moreover, China's environmental protection policies have made a positive contribution to the conservation of the global environment. Since the 1970s China has always been active on the stage of global environmental protection. During the second national environmental protection conference in 1983, the central government established environmental protection as a basic national policy, when China still hadn't solved the problem of food and clothing. After the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, China reaffirmed sustainable development as a national strategy. By 2006, China had enacted nine laws on environmental protection, 15 laws on natural resources, and 50 administrative regulations. The GDP proportion of environmental protection input has increased to 1.3 percent, up from 0.5 percent in the initial stage of reform and opening-up. For instance, RMB 430 billion has been invested just in reclaiming farming land for reforestation. This shows China attaches great importance to the environment issue.

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