Building A Harmonious Society: A Vision Of China's - And The World's? - Future

Friday, December 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Kuang Weilin, Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of the People's Republic of China, New York.

Editor: Mr. Kuang, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Kuang: I graduated from Shanghai International Studies University in 1982 and was then selected to work in the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Following attendance at the Foreign Affairs Institute, I joined the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry, where I worked for three years. I took up my first overseas assignment in our embassy in London. Following another stint in the Information Department, I was posted at the Chinese Mission to the United Nations in New York. From 1999 to 2000, I was at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard, where I received my M.P.A. degree. That was a great experience in my life, and I learned so much from not only professors but also through interactions with my fellow students, many of whom were from overseas. From Harvard, I joined the Policy Planning Department of the Foreign Ministry as a senior counselor. I have been at our consulate in New York for about two years.

Editor: Would you give us an overview of your duties at the Chinese consulate in New York?

Kuang: As the deputy chief of mission, I mainly assist the consul general, my boss, in the day-to-day running of the consulate. I arrange visits by Chinese officials and a variety of delegations to the U.S. I am also in charge of the consulate's press section, which means that I often communicate with the media and try to explain my government's policies and what is underway in China. We believe that it is vital that the American public understand China today.

In addition, I look after the consulate's political section, which attempts to promote bilateral relations between China and New York City and ten states, mostly in the Northeast. This entails a considerable amount of travel and meetings with state and city officials and the legislature to discuss opportunities for bilateral cooperation in various fields.

Editor: China's economic growth has been spectacular in recent years. As China begins to make the transition from an industrial economy to one with a very strong service sector, would you give us your thoughts about China as a place to do business and as a destination for investment?

Kuang: The past 28 years have witnessed remarkable achievements in China's economic development. Its GDP has grown by at least 9.5 percent annually on average. There is no doubt that foreign investment has been one of the keys to this success. Today, given China's new situation and needs, we still want foreign investment but with more emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity. That is, we wish to attract the kind of investment that will enable us to upgrade technology, introduce advanced managerial experience and attract high-quality talent.

Editor: What are the hot areas for foreign investment in China today?

Kuang: We still need foreign investment in manufacturing, but we hope to increase technology-driven investment. That includes telecommunications and the integrated electronics industry. We are also anxious to see more investment in the service sector, including insurance and the banking services. We need investment, in addition, in the country's environment projects and infrastructure, including highways and railways, a variety of river and port projects and in nuclear plants. The modernization of agriculture is also in need of investment. There are plenty of opportunities for foreign investment in China today. Since some 70 percent of it goes to the eastern part of the country, we are hopeful that, as northeastern and western areas of the country begin to revitalize their economy, more foreign investment will seek out opportunities in those areas that have not received much attention in the past.

Editor: Our readers would be very interested in having the benefit of your thoughts on some of the challenges that face China and its economy in the next few years. The country has an aging population, for example, and medical care for the elderly is reported to be one of the principal issues for the future.

Kuang: An aging population is a big headache in many countries, and you are correct in pointing out that it is getting more serious in China. With the improvement of their lives, people are living longer, and at the same time we have not taken sufficient steps to address this development. Given the gap between an increasingly older population and the medical care needs of that population and what is currently available in terms of medical care, this is one of the principal challenges that we face. The government is working hard to address this issue. In my view, the reform of the healthcare system is one of the most important priorities of the Chinese government for the coming years.

Editor: I understand that the need to address major environmental problems resulting from the rapid growth of the economy over the past 28 years is also a concern.

Kuang: Environmental degradation is also one of the most serious issues that we face. It is true that we have achieved spectacular economic success, but in some areas much of it has been at the expense of the environment. If this is permitted to continue, our current economic development will not be sustained and our children and grandchildren are going to have to pay a very heavy price. That is why the People's Congress (parliament) has promulgated a number of laws dealing with the protection of the environment, and the relevant government departments have added regulations to the environmental legal regime. Clearly, we need to do more. What is important is that we should take concrete actions to stem the trend.

Editor: And the imbalance in wealth between rural China and Beijing, Shanghai and the cities along the eastern seaboard?

Kuang: I should say that due to various factors, my country's development has been uneven or unbalanced, and there are segments of the country's population which have not been able to benefit as much as they should have from the growth of the economy. In fact, as our economy grows, we are increasingly faced with a series of paradoxes, such as maintaining the strong economic growth momentum in the east coast vs. encouraging simultaneous development of all regions, east, central and west; sustaining GDP growth vs. accelerating social undertakings; promoting technological progress and industrial upgrading vs. creating more job opportunities. At present, the government is striving for a harmonious society by highlighting the themes of putting people first and achieving balanced development. While economic growth will continue to be the central task for China, equal emphasis will be given to social harmony, interregional economic balance, improvement of governance and political civilization. We are trying to do some balancing acts so as to restore balance between urban and rural development, between wealthy and underdeveloped regions, and between economic growth and social progress.

Editor: China joined the WTO five years five years ago. Where do you see this development having the most impact?

Kuang: Since China's entry into the World Trade Organization, we have seen three very important trends: the acceleration of domestic reforms in China, the larger influx of foreign investment, and the increase of Chinese overseas investment and trade with other countries. These trends reflect the development of globalization and closer integration of the world's economy. China, while maintaining a strong momentum of its own economic growth, has given a greater impetus to the world economy, providing more opportunities for foreign investors.

Editor: Please share with us your thoughts about China's case for a more cohesive, integrated and stable world economy.

Kuang: Today, China is the third largest trading power, and its economy the fourth largest, in the world. As a consequence, China needs the world, and the world needs China. Since its entry into the WTO, China has been becoming more and more integrated with the world's economy. In a few years, China will import over $600 billion worth of goods annually, and by 2010, the figure can reach one trillion U.S dollars. At the same time, China's overseas investment will increase by at least 20 percent. That is extraordinary and good for everyone.

As our economy grows, we are more aware of our responsibilities. China is determined to contribute not only to the world's peace but also to the world's economy. It is seeking common prosperity and development when developing its economic relations with other countries. I think the emergence of a truly global economy teaches all of us that there are simply too many challenges for any one nation to address on its own. The international community, working together in good will, offers the best prospect for a harmonious and prosperous future for all of us.