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Development: Ends Must Justify Means

The annual Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) report on the nation's overall strength presented a framework for the country's next stage of development (through 2020) with valuable clues to China's growth track. 

According to the framework, China's gross domestic product (GDP) will quadruple its current volume by 2020. The urbanization rate will reach 55 percent from its current 36 percent. Urban areas will be able to accommodate a population of up to 750 million.


Energy and resources consumption will remain level, and ecological system deterioration will be restrained.


These are encouraging predictions indeed.


Having braved challenges like foreign invasions and poverty in the darkest days of the century before the 1949 Liberation, Chinese people have consistently cherished the wish to see the country grow strong and prosperous.


That disposition is, in a sense, behind the country's rapid economic growth over the past few decades.


But like many other developing countries, China has taken a fairly long time to learn the ropes of how to become a modern and prosperous nation.


Since the reform and opening drive was initiated in the early 1980s, economic growth has topped China's development agenda. Growth averaged 8.7 percent annually from 1985 to 2000, and last year it reached 9.1 percent, the highest rate since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.


The development strategy that is mainly oriented to GDP growth or economic efficiency has greatly boosted productivity, but the relative neglect of social development has led to serious consequences.


A conspicuous instance, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak last year testified to the urgency of giving an equal footing to economic and social development.


The one-sided development strategy has also meant sacrifices like excessive consumption of energy and resources and environmental degradation.


For every US$1 worth of GDP production, for example, the amount of energy China needs is four times that of the United States.


Experts estimate that if all those negative factors were taken into account, GDP growth in the 1985-2000 period would be reduced to 6.5 percent.


Moreover, the benefits of that growth are not distributed equally among different regions and social groups.


The income gap between urban and rural residents is widening; advances in health and education have been skewed toward urban areas; and the central and western provinces still have a long way to go to catch up with their eastern counterparts.


Thus, the central authorities' advancement of the idea of a coordinated and balanced development concept is particularly enlightening.


The new guidelines, aimed at promoting the welfare of the people and the country's sustainable development, are in the long-term interests of the Chinese people.


In this sense, the most important part of the CAS report is not that this country will quadruple its GDP by 2020. Its real value lies in its prescribed paths, which are oriented toward balanced development.


(China Daily March 5, 2004)

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