GDP growth has for years been a hot topic of discussion among officials, experts and common people alike in the run-up to China's annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
But things have turned out different this year. The temperature of the hot discussions seems to have been cooling down as people are more and more taking to a scientific approach to development.
"We must have a scientific approach to the current accounting system of GDP, a comprehensive indicator of the economy," said Zeng Qinghong, Chinese vice president and president of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at a a recent seminar on the subject. "There is a drawback that cannot be ignored in paying too much attention to GDP alone."
The recent trends in the country show that the GDP growth-consciousness is being weakened throughout the country. The local people's congresses and local CPPCC committee sessions across the country have all echoed the calls by top Chinese leaders to tone down 2004 GDP growth anticipations and re-evaluate the existing GDP accounting system that focuses too much on economic development to the neglect of environmental protection and the economical and multiple use of resources.
Guangdong Province in south China, which has taken the lead in entering into a new round of rapid growth, has set its 2004 GDP growth target at 9 percent, 4.6 percentage points lower than last year. Huzhou City in Zhejiang Province has declared that the GDP growth target would not be made part of the criteria for judging the performance its leading cadres.
Meanwhile, Chinese media have started a campaign for re-evaluating economic figures, people's living standards and environmental conditions.
It is the first time for the world's most populous nation to review its GDP system since the country started using GDP as a major indicator from the mid-1980s, said observers.
In fact, all these boil down to a "new approach to development," which stresses harmonious and human-based sustainable development.
Hu Angang, a noted economist and policy expert, termed the "new approach" as "China's second-generation development strategy" in contrast to the "fast development and allowing part of the people to get rich first" approach developed by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
The second-generation development strategy has made it clear for the first time that social and economic development should serve the people and enable them to live a better life, said Hu during an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
The 2003 SARS crisis revealed the flaws of China's public health system. The excessive expansion of the steel, cement and electrolytic aluminum has strained energy and raw material supply. The dwindling of farmland will pose a serious threat to China's food security.
Other problems China has to tackle include an increasingly widening gap between the urban and rural areas and among different regions and a worsening environment, said Wu Jinglian, a well-known economist and member of the CPPCC National Committee.
According to Hu Angang, the second-generation development strategy and the "human-based" approach show that the CPC is becoming mature as a party. Once established as a guiding principle in the country, Hu said, it will help resolve many problems, such as promoting employment and increasing the income of peasants. The criteria for judging the performance of leading officials will change and those who make much ado about GDP with the ulterior motives of getting promotion will be curtailed.
Xu Xianchun, an official from the National Bureau of Statistics, told Xinhua that related government departments are now calculating the environmental costs China had paid for its robust economic growth over the past two decades, and a new "green GDP system," taking into consideration environmental cost, is in the pipeline.
"This year's NPC and CPPCC sessions will be the best place for
such discussions," said Xu.
(Xinhua News Agency March 2, 2004)