Business / Opinion

Big govt projects will not fuel reforms

By Ed Zhang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-23 07:08

Investors have been looking for changes since the beginning of the year, when the government shifted its priority to reform and transitioning from just maintaining growth.

Now, as half a year has already passed, how has reform and transitioning come along - not in government papers and official speeches, but on the enterprise level? One gets little information from the national business press, whose headlines are usually occupied by old policy-level debates with few, if any, implications in daily business.

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Nor can one learn about the actual progress from the rare briefing sessions by communications officials in various pilot reform schemes - not from the free trade zone in Shanghai, not from Qianhai in Shenzhen, not from the economic integration program of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.

The once-celebrated local financial reform experiment in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, launched two years ago, seems largely forgotten and hardly mentioned in the official press. Plans to open up industries formerly under State monopoly to private capital and more competition have mostly remained plans or just slogans.

Shortening the time required to establish a new business to two or three days, as some officials boasted as their new achievement in reform, is far from the best world record.

One cannot but have deep sympathy for Premier Li Keqiang in his recent criticisms of some of the economic officials he saw in his field trips, which we discussed in this column two weeks ago. They didn't do their jobs, as the premier noticed.

But another question should be: Why should they want to do their jobs since they are provided by the central government with so many privileged policies, along with State-assigned projects, large tracts of land that could be used in future auctions, and perhaps higher government ranks for its officials, for just starting to do anything?

This is not reform. This is like an inexperienced kindergarten teacher throwing candies to a bunch of crying children.

The true reform from the late 1970s was not like this at all. As one saw in provinces like Sichuan, Anhui, and Guangdong, all reform attempts were taken on by people faced with immense economic difficulties and political risks.

Their only weapon was their own courage, out of the conviction that if they helped remove the shackle of the Soviet-style planned economy, they could build a much more productive society.

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