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Reform and Opening Up: New Challenges for China

Dec 19, 2018
  • Zhang Baijia

    Former Deputy Director of the Party History Research Center, CPC Central Committee

At the turn of the century, a new slogan “new century, new stage” emerged in China, indicating that the country’s reform and opening-up were developing into a new era of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. At that time, not many had realized that the new stage, though a continuation of the reform and opening-up in the late 20th century, actually spelt new challenges and missions.

Differences between the two stages

Reform and opening-up in the late 20th century were carried out on the basis of the political and economic systems and achievements made in the previous 30 years. The problems to be solved then, be they political and economic, were the ones accumulated in those 30 years.

In the 21st century, China’s economy continued to maintain its strong momentum and rose to become the second-largest in the world in 2010, but China faced new challenges. By then, the problems China was facing were different from the ones it had when the reform and opening-up policy was adopted, and new ones emerged. The problems were either caused by the imperfect new systems, or occurred after the takeoff stage of economic modernization, or remained untouched by previous reform measures.

Challenges for socioeconomic development

The problems were no longer caused by the old planned economic system, instead, they arose from issues about how to improve the socialist market economic system.

The phase of high-speed growth has come to an end, and the economy has entered a new stage of high-quality moderate growth.

Along with economic development came the pressing issue of wealth distribution. The worsening of social inequality, the emergence of vested interest groups and rampant corruption aggravated the problems.

Problems arising from fast economic development include those relating to environment and resources, industrial structure, urbanization, employment, and the aging population. It’s true that the developed countries also faced similar problems, but their problems occurred one by one over a long span of time. In China, however, the problems occurred simultaneously due to China’s high-speed development and modernization, thus making them more difficult to solve.

With diversified interests, it has become much more difficult to coordinate all parties, build consensus about reform, and achieve effective governance.

The Party’s 19th National Congress pointed out: As socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, the principal contradiction facing Chinese society has evolved. What the country now faces is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life. This is an extremely important statement.

Challenges from changes in external environment

One of the most important changes arising from the reform and opening-up is that China has become increasingly interconnected with the world. This could be a double-edged sword. In recent years, China was facing an increasingly challenging international environment. China has become stronger, but the international environment it faces is also increasingly complex and difficult.

The grave external security environment China faces was caused by two factors: extensive and profound changes in the international political and economic arena after the end of Cold War, and the emergence of internal contradictions and difficulties at the critical stage of reforms. The joint effect of the internal and external factors, coupled with the arrival of economic globalization and the information age, mean that China’s relations with the world have entered a sensitive period. The challenge for China is how to smoothly navigate through its issues, so as to create a favorable external environment for comprehensively deepening reform, to complete as planned the mission of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to basically achieve modernization by the middle of this century, and to ultimately accomplish the mission of national reunification.

China has become one of the most important players in the world. Attention must be paid to foreign relations, and in particular, China should have a clear and somber understanding about its strengths and shortcomings, advantages and disadvantages. China is still an emerging power. China’s economy is the second-largest in the world, but the country is still far behind the developed nations in many respects, and there is still a long way to go before China becomes an established power.

China is increasingly capable of taking part in international affairs. China must always maintain a modest and cautious attitude, strengthen its transparency, and try to win extensive international cooperation. What China should try to avoid is the self-deceiving big-nation chauvinism, because it only does harm to a country.

It takes time to successfully cope with challenges. One of the basic experiences from the 40 years of reform and opening-up is: Any problem arising in the course of reform and development can be solved only through further reform and development.

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