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What can we learn from China's 45-year-reform and opening-up?

Night view of CBD buildings in Beijing, China. /CFP
Night view of CBD buildings in Beijing, China. /CFP

Night view of CBD buildings in Beijing, China. /CFP

Editor's note: Gao Lei, a special commentator for CGTN, is an associate professor at the Center for Xi Jinping Thoughts on Opening-up, Research Institute of Globalization and China's Modernization, University of International Business and Economics. Xia Lu, a special commentator for CGTN, is an associate professor at the National Academy for Development and Strategy, the Academy of Xi Jinping Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, Renmin University of China. The article reflects the authors' opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In the past 45 years, China, the largest developing country in the world, has created a "new miracle" in terms of socioeconomic development in the history of human civilization. The average annual economic growth rate is 9.8 percent from 1979 to 2012, the total economic volume has jumped from 10th to second place in the world, and the contribution rate to world economic growth has reached 38.6 percent from 2013-2021, successfully realizing the leap from a low-income country to an upper-middle-income country. When looking back at the 45 years that China has been experiencing, we are looking at the entire history of the industrial revolution, only in a shortened period.

The past 45 years of its reform and opening-up have seen and made China the fastest economy in terms of development process in history. Since the beginning of reform and opening-up, by the concept that "practice is the only criterion for testing truth," we have gradually promoted the reform of the rural land system, the household registration system, the development of township enterprises, urban state-owned enterprises, foreign investment, financial services, the science and technology management system, the special economic zone, and other relevant systems.

The relationship between the state and the people has fully mobilized the enthusiasm of producers, stimulated economic vitality, completed the transformation from a planned economy to a market economy, and jointly created a Chinese miracle of economic development. The GDP jumped rapidly from 364.5 billion Chinese yuan ($51.48 billion) in 1978 to 82.7 trillion yuan ($11.68 trillion) in 2017, an increase of 226 times, making it the world's second-largest economy. China's GDP accounted for less than 2 percent of the world economy in 1978 to about 18.6 percent in 2022, ranking second in the world. It can be said that China today is a veritable global economic power.

The 45-year reform has also seen and made China the most rapidly changing society in terms of urban-rural relations. China has transformed from a backward rural society to a prosperous urban-rural integrated society. In 1978, China was a typical agricultural country with 80 percent of the total population living in rural areas. Since then, through reforms and innovations such as increasing the household registration system, the land system, the urban unit system, the establishment of special economic zones, and the establishment of open cities, the peasants have been liberated from the original land bondage, and a large number of rural labor force has begun to flow to large and medium-sized cities, and the whole society has shown a high degree of mobility, and Chinese society has embarked on the road of modern urbanization development, and the vitality of cities has been further released.

A view of a bustling shopping street at night in Shanghai, China. /CFP
A view of a bustling shopping street at night in Shanghai, China. /CFP

A view of a bustling shopping street at night in Shanghai, China. /CFP

Up to now, China's urbanization rate has exceeded 64.7 percent, more than half of the population has become urban citizens, and a large number of megacities with a population of more than 5 million and highly densely populated and economically integrated megacities have been produced, creating new wealth, new products, new civilizations, and new lifestyles.

For a large developing country with a population of more than one billion, in such a short period, it has transformed from a poor and backward country into a country dominated by urban residents, and at the same time, the construction of urban and rural infrastructure based on high-speed rail and the Internet has made rapid progress, which has to be said to be a huge achievement.

Through all-round economic, political, social, and ecological reforms, China will open up new employment channels and development opportunities for the general public, continuously improve people's livelihood, increase income, and let the broad masses of the people live a prosperous, happy, and civilized new life, which is the original intention of reform and opening-up, and it is also one of the greatest achievements of reform and opening-up in the past 40 years.

The most typical example is China's poverty alleviation cause, which has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty and made great contributions to the world's poverty reduction cause. In 1978, the per capita living consumption expenditure of urban households was 311 yuan ($43.92) and the Engel coefficient was 57.5 percent, and in 2022, it became 30,391 yuan ($4292.22, an increase of about 98 times) and 29.5 percent respectively. In 1978, the per capita living consumption expenditure of rural households was 116 yuan ($16.38), and the Engel coefficient was 67.7 percent. By 2022, it had become 16,632 yuan ($2348.99, an increase of about 143 times) and 33 percent respectively, and urban and rural residents enjoyed the dividends of reform and began to move towards a richer and more diversified consumption life.

Notwithstanding all these achievements, challenges are still out there waiting to be faced and tackled. The first and foremost is to follow an innovation-driven strategy. Over the past 45 years of reform and opening-up, China has made tremendous achievements in economic and social development, ranking second in the world in terms of economic aggregate. With the disappearance of "demographic dividend," "capital dividend" and "technological dividend," there will be no economic growth without innovation in China in the future. We can draw a basic conclusion: In the future, without innovation, there will be no economic growth in China.

Though the great cause of reform and opening-up, particularly with a focus on further innovation and opening-up, has been affected by some turbulence and is yet to be called a perfect job, it has still bestowed China's economy with a tremendous transformation from being on the verge of collapse and semi-closed to booming and becoming the "engine" of the world economy. History always enlightens the future, and the great achievements and valuable experience of China's reform and opening-up have further strengthened Chinese people's confidence and determination to comprehensively deepen reform in the new journey.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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