Video: An open China breathes new life into the world
CGTN Insight

Editor's note: In 2020, Guangdong became the first Chinese province to have a GDP surpassing 11 trillion yuan, dwarfing that of many developed countries. But before the 1970s, it was a completely different story. See how reform and opening-up rewrote the story of Guangdong and China.

"700,000 people, mainly young men, had attempted to cross over to Hong Kong. Many of them swimming directly across. 140,000 made it, most were turned back, but many drowned. One of the coves here became known as 'the cove of corpses'."

Michael Wood, a British historian and filmmaker, shared this story in his documentary about China's opening-up policy.

Before the 1970s, Hong Kong was the Promised Land for people from the Chinese mainland. As a result, many young people living across the strait in Guangdong Province attempted to enter their dreamland illegally.

Although the authenticity of the "cove of corpses" cannot be verified, a huge gap in living standards existed between the mainland and Hong Kong back then. The average daily wage of a Hong Kong worker was nearly 100 times that of their Guangdong counterparts.

The rewriting of Guangdong's story began in 1978 when China's economic reform and opening-up policy was introduced.

It has a big beneficiary of the reforms. In 2020, Guangdong became the first Chinese province with a GDP surpassing 11 trillion yuan ($1.7 trillion). This figure dwarfs the national GDP of many developed countries, including Australia, Spain, and Switzerland.

The rest of the world has cashed in too, when during the 1980s and 1990s, China sought foreign direct investment for infrastructure building and industrial projects. In 2001, China's accession to the World Trade Organization confirmed its deep engagement with economic globalization. And since 2013, China has been even more proactive internationally with projects like the Belt and Road Initiative, the China International Import Expo, and its free trade zones.

"Openness has to do with really creating opportunities for many, many different players, which also means more competition. More competition means higher productivity, innovation, better ideas, better growth, [and] better standard of living," Hans-Paul Burkner, Chairman of Boston Consulting Group said.

After more than 40 years of opening-up, China's total imports and exports have soared from $20.6 billion to more than $4.5 trillion. It has become the world's top trading nation.

Opening-up is clearly not just about "bringing in" resources purely for China's benefit. It also paved the way for the country to contribute markedly to global growth.

Without China's contribution, the global economy would have shrunk by 5.7 percent in 2020, the World Bank says. After a 4.3 percent contraction last year, the world economy is expected to grow 4 percent in 2021. And China could contribute more than one-third of that growth, the OECD says.

From the "cove of corpses" to a GDP of more than 11 trillion yuan, Guangdong has become a supermodel for the success of China's opening-up. But the prosperity has undeniably been shared well beyond this nation's shores.

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