China’s new leadership will focus on modernising the country before it increases Beijing’s role in international affairs, a top official told the Davos forum on Saturday.
Senior Chinese planning official Zhang Xiaoqiang told economic and business leaders gathered in the Swiss ski resort that the whole world would benefit if China completed its development programme.
“I think that the new leader of the Chinese government and the Communist Party has emphasised the strategic agenda for China in the future is to realise the modernisation of China,” Zhang told the World Economic Forum.
“And of course for the largest developing country itself, modernisation must be a great contribution for the human beings’ progress and development,” said Zhang, a deputy director of China’s National Development and Reform Commission.
Zhang was taking part in a panel at the annual World Economic Forum that discussed China’s future global agenda, with other members including former British prime minister Gordon Brown and ex-Australian premier Kevin Rudd.
China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition is due to take place at a key congress in March, after the Communist Party in November chose current Vice President Xi Jinping to take over the reins from current President Hu Jintao.
Brown, British premier from 2007-2010 and now a UN special education envoy, argued that China should take a more prominent role in global affairs given that it would soon become the largest economy in the world.
“China should now want to play its rightful role in what is not a unipolar world any more but a multipolar world,” he said. He added that the world economy was growing “far slower” than it should because of a lack of cooperation.
But Zhang said China was already playing a global role, and urged patience.
“In fact China already takes a lot of efforts in many global challenges, such as dealing with the international financial crisis, the government changes, food security,” he told the forum.
Zhang said his nation would “continue to play an important role as a responsible developing country” and wanted to “build up more global development partnership.”
“Particularly we first want to promote the common development within the developing countries, but this also will contribute a lot to the whole world’s peace, progress and prosperity,” he said.
International analysts widely expect China’s fast-growing economy to overtake the United States in terms of gross domestic product, or total size, some time in the first half of this century.
But they also see the United States as likely to remain wealthier on a per capita basis given China’s huge population of 1.3 billion, while that of the US currently stands at about 315 million.
Rudd, a Mandarin speaker who was Australi’s prime minister from 2007 to 2010, warned however of an arms race in Asia fuelled by increasingly nationalistic territorial disputes in China’s backyard.
“Economic globalisation does not, as a matter of inevitable mathematical logic, extinguish political nationalism,” said Rudd.
“In our part of the world where you’ve got the biggest arms race unfolding in recent global history, that’s the Asian hemisphere, there are important other factors which we need to respect.”
Meanwhile Brown — who was introduced to the Davos audience as having led a G20 summit in 2008 that “saved the world from the brink of financial meltdown” — warned that lessons had not been learned from the global debt crisis.
“I think we will have financial crises on a regular basis over the next 30 or 40 years,” he said.