By Wang Fengjuan
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. What does this mean for China? What has China brought to the world as it developed over the past seven decades? Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has frequently pondered such questions.
The daughter of former Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal and a professor of economics, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo taught at multiple universities before launching her political career in 1992 by running for senator. In 1998 she was elected Vice President while holding a concurrent position in the cabinet as Secretary of Social Welfare and Development. From 2001 to 2010, she served as President of the Philippines. In July 2018, Arroyo returned to the political limelight when she became the new Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.
How does this outstanding female political leader view the developments happening in China?
A Development Model for the World
“When China began to develop after its introduction of the reform and opening-up policy, I was Undersecretary of Trade and Industry, so we were looking at China and its new economic development pattern as it rose to economic prominence in Asia,” remarks Arroyo. She made her first visit to China in 1975, the year China and the Philippines established diplomatic ties. Earlier, she co-founded the Association for Philippines China Understanding, which has been continuing to play a significant role in promoting bilateral relations to this day.
“We were very fortunate to have visited several cities that are still important today,” she recalls. “My impression before 1978 was that life was very simple in China. People all wore Mao suits instead of the latest fashions. People rode bicycles instead of the modern transportation.”
During her nearly decade long tenure as president of the Philippines, Arroyo visited China almost each year and witnessed the breathtaking changes as they happened.
On the significance of 70 years of development to China, Arroyo believes the country has independently explored a path suited to its own development needs supported by theories ranging from Mao Zedong Thought to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Featuring fundamental concepts of “seeking truth from facts,” “serving the people” and “maintaining sovereign independence and self-reliance,” these theories are precious treasures that have fueled China’s growth, she adds.
According to Arroyo, China took a great leap from “catching up with the times” to “leading the times,” setting pace like no one has ever seen. “One of China’s greatest achievements is lifting 800 million people out of poverty, a scale unparalleled in human history,” she asserts. “As a result of its 40 years of reform and opening-up, China is emerging as a leading economy and probably the largest economic market in the world.”
What does China’s rise mean for the world? From the perspective of Arroyo, China has shown the world that development can vary from country to country, which has inspired developing countries to seek their own independent development path suitable for their national conditions. She believes that China has evolved from standing up to becoming rich and to becoming strong, which represents a development model that caters to its national conditions and has indeed achieved remarkable results.
“When China was beginning to develop in 1978, some were fearful that the country would become a rival—not realizing that China was already in a class of its own,” illustrates Arroyo. “The world should look at China’s rise as an opportunity rather than a threat. Not only has China set a completely new development paradigm, it has also become a partner for cooperation and sharing development experience. The rise of China has been beneficial for the Philippines and for the rest of Southeast Asia. In the new era, China will become increasingly influential in the region and the world.”
Partner Over Rival
Since the beginning of this year, Arroyo has kept two numbers in mind: 70 and 40. As the People’s Republic of China turns 70, it has experienced 40 years of reform and opening-up. She believes that focusing on these two numbers may provide insight into China’s view of history and long-term planning for national development. As an advocate of globalization, free trade and openness, China has received the relay baton of globalization as it continues to reform and open up.
When analyzing the drivers of the steep development in China, Arroyo highlighted four factors: First is a strong long-term national vision. Second is the strong national will to carry out the vision. Third is the recognition of the importance of innovation and technology, especially state-of the-art technology. And fourth is recognition of the value of infrastructure.
“Just as President Xi Jinping remarked on China’s arrival in the new era, even though China has come a long way, it still faces new challenges on the road ahead,” Arroyo continues. According to her, China has paid a high price for its breakneck economic growth. For starters, environmental problems have emerged, forcing the government to prioritize tackling environmental challenges. Second, social equity and justice need to be promoted. The policy of “letting some get rich first” resulted in a middle class population of around 400 million alongside more than 700 million farmers. To bridge the gap, President Xi devised the “targeted poverty alleviation” strategy.
Arroyo cautions that although China’s development is visible, the world should also be aware of various challenges facing the country. Only by doing so can they gain a more profound understanding of China’s foreign policy of peace, which mirrors China’s hope for maintaining a peaceful external environment to sustain its development.
President Xi Jinping’s remarks during his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018 remain fresh in Arroyo’s mind: “Regardless of the extent to which it develops, China will never threaten any other country, never attempt to overturn the existing international system and never seek spheres of influence.” She believes that the world should understand that China’s development is an opportunity, not a threat. This simple concept, however, may take a long time for the international community to truly understand.
“I also hope the international community observes China with patience,” she says. “A Chinese saying goes, ‘Time reveals a person’s heart.’ Let time show the significance of China to the world.” For developing countries, she stresses, China has become a market and a provider of capital and technology, which vividly illustrates its aims for common development.