Beijing’s economic recovery – a lesson for all the world in Covid 101

Photo of Beijing by Zhang Kaiyv from Pexels

This week it instructed its state-owned companies to refrain from purchasing soybeans and pork products from US suppliers.

This was in retaliation for the Donald Trump-led administration saying it would revoke special privileges for Hong Kong after the Chinese introduced a new security law for the autonomous region.

This tit-for-tat exemplifies how far China has come in terms of its purchasing power as well as its standing in the international community in terms of its economic heft.

In the 1970s a Chinese person was considered wealthy if that person owned a bicycle and a sewing machine.

How times have changed.

The major metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai are temples to major world brands and ironically are physical manifestations of capitalist societies which value ostentatious displays of wealth.

With 1.4 billion people, China has also easily been able to scale its own businesses and have equivalences of Twitter and Facebook, with the audiences to keep it humming over nicely.

Tik Tok is the newest and fastest-growing social media platform and is owned by the Chinese.

Once regarded as one massive sweat factory, the China of today is way more than just a sewing machine and a bicycle – the wheels of its economy continue to move and allows it to bare its dragon teeth to the likes of the United States of America, who is seemingly imploding at home on the back of yet another state-sponsored murder of a black man.

If those other than the Chinese are beating their own drum, then the rest of the world should surely sit up and take some notes.

Inequality entrenched by Western systems of labour, capital, supply, demand and distribution has never more been exposed than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We need as many different options if we are to realise a more equitable world, where the eradication of poverty is at the top of that list.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres has pointed out recently that China has offered a “satisfactory answer to the world in terms of eliminating poverty”.

He also noted that the Chinese experience could provide some invaluable insights for developing nations, a designation which South Africa identifies as.

Former World Bank president Jim Fong Kim was of the opinion that China’s achievement in erasing poverty is one of the greatest accomplishments of humankind. In 1994, in a bid to eradicate poverty, the Chinese government embarked on what it called the Seven-Year Poverty Alleviation Programme.

The aim was to lift 80 million people (roughly 25 million more than South Africa’s total population) out of abject poverty through what it termed “development-oriented poverty relief efforts”.

To back this up, the Communist Party-led government invested a heft 124 billion RMB.

The result? China’s poverty stricken (rural) population was reduced to 32 million.

South Africa is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster as far as poverty is concerned – officials are estimating that we are looking at a 50% unemployment rate as Covid-19’s invisible tentacles continue to lay waste to businesses big and small.

We are going to need all the help and advice that we can get.

This is no time for ideological niceties – our ability to be able to feed millions of people who are going to be forced to eat from the government ladle depends on our ability at a government level to be able to call on our friends, of which China counts itself among.

Says the World Bank in a 2016 report on China’s poverty alleviation efforts: “Between 1978 and 2010, the number of poor people in China fell from 250 million to 26.88 million measured with the 1986 official poverty line.

“Measured with the 2011 poverty line, the number of poor people fell from 165.67 million in 1978 to 55.75 million in 2015.

“Between 1981 and 2011, the global poor population fell from 1,938 million to 1,011 million measured at US$1.25 a day, with 927 million people lifted out of poverty. In the same period, the number of poor people in China fell from 838 million to 84.17 million, with 753 million people lifted out of poverty.

“China became the first developing country to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty.

“Between 1990 and 2011, China lifted 439 million poor people out of poverty, contributing significantly to global poverty reduction.

“With a continuous increase in grain production for 11 years since 2004, China has been able to feed nearly 20% of the world’s population with less than 10% of world’s cultivated land.”

Anyone who has visited China in the past decade (or two decades even) can attest to its economic growth – both rural and urban.

Covid-19 has forced countries to ramp up research efforts – these need to include socio-economic models that move away from exploitative practises and ones that address the issues of poverty, inequality and dignity.

Mohamed Khalid Sayed in an ANC Member of the Provincial Legislature in the Western Cape and ANC Youth League Provincial Chairperson in the Western Cape.