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Modernization is long-term national project

Author  :  BAI LE     Source  :        2021-11-19

Modernization is the necessary course through which human society pursues progress. In general terms, as scholars observed, modernization is a national project that requires the union of society in order to be successful over time.

Uniqueness of Chinese modernization

In his new book Making China Modern, German sinologist Klaus Mühlhahn commented: “What we need to explain today is no longer the deficit of China’s history, but the surprising and unexpected successes that China has produced at breakneck speed.” To him, China’s national strength today is attributed to its economy and multiple factors that are beyond the economic sector.

Norbert Molina Medina, a professor and researcher from the Center for African and Asian Studies at Venezuela’s University of the Andes, told CSST that he agrees with Mühlhahn.

“Among the unique characteristics that explain China’s modernization process, we can mention the ‘dialectical unity,’ a cultural tradition deep in many Chinese people’s minds. Another characteristic is the unity of Chinese society in terms of modernization, which is very difficult in Latin American countries,” Medina said. The millenary conception of work that the Chinese have is also unique. The old Confucian tradition that emphasizes education and morality plays an important role in serving society, he added.

Overcoming ‘middle-income trap’

Since the reform and opening up in 1978, dividends gained from factors of production such as human capital, land, and natural resources have become the fountainhead of China’s economic growth. However, the labor dividend is now disappearing in China, and its economy is transitioning from what is characterized by rapid growth to one of high quality.

This phenomenon is normal for any developing economy that has experienced rapid growth in the past, and is also the inevitable stage of the modernization process, noted William W. Grimes, a professor of international relations and political science at Boston University. He further pointed out that it means slower growth and the danger of the middle-income trap.

Luis Antonio Paulino, a professor from the Department of Political Economy at Brazil’s S?o Paulo State University, referenced the “middle income trap” that Brazil and other Latin American countries have suffered in the past years. He summarized the reasons why these countries stagnated at intermediate levels of economic development as structural causes, which ultimately led to low growth and recession for long periods.

“I would highlight the absence of structural change to produce more knowledge-intensive goods,” Paulino said. In the case of Brazil, it built a relatively complex industrial system between the 1950s and 1990s and adopted the import substitution strategy, which entails the protection of domestic industrial production by minimizing imported goods. This helped the country rank among the ten most significant world producers of machinery and equipment, and even created a miracle with its economic growth rate higher than 10%.

Since then, Brazil has witnessed an accelerated process of deindustrialization, which began prematurely before it completed the transition to a developed country, Paulino continued. The consequence was the regression of its productive structure to the production of mineral and agricultural commodities for export. Even today, Brazil is still undergoing the crisis of this premature deindustrialization process.

But as Paulino perceived, the middle-income trap is not only a problem due to a country’s own inability. “The operating rules of the global economy are one of the causes of the stagnation of many countries in the intermediate stages of income,” he said.

China also faces the challenge of being trapped at the middle-income level. About this, Paulino is optimistic. The reality in China is much different from that in Brazil, although they are both developing countries. Many Latin American governments stick to the old rules and do not have a clear commitment to national development projects, but the case is different in China. The Chinese government has always been able to adjust and transform its economic development mode in time, and has always played a positive role in intervening in the operation of the economic structure, Paulino added.

Addressing imbalance at source

According to Medina, there has been progress in some Latin American countries in terms of modernization, but many of the countries have failed in their attempts to modernize. “Sometimes they become truncated social experiments, while others manage to achieve development goals that lead to broad improvements and accumulation of wealth, but also give rise to other problems typical of this type of process: marginalization, overcrowding, crime, migration, unemployment,” Medina explained. “The loss of traditional values, ecological damage, and inequality are also problems that would easily arise.”

As Medina further elucidated, in Venezuela, for example, with the oil boom of the 20th century, there was a migration from the countryside to the main cities. This affected the agricultural production and generated misery belts in the main cities, which were exacerbated over time.

In Medina’s view, China has also encountered the problem of imbalance between rural areas and cities, but it has escaped many of the problems, and has been able to confront and address them at their source: poverty. “By reversing poverty, better distributing income, and taking measures of ecological improvement, the negative effects of modernization are being reduced,” Medina mentioned.

Modernization also means the possibility of generating opportunities for personal and societal growth. The Chinese government has realized such importance by providing greater opportunities to people and paying special attention to remote geographical areas. In this aspect, China has a lot to offer to other countries, Medina concluded.

Editor: Yu Hui

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