The word "inclusive growth" is one of the key messages from the Fifth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which ended in Beijing on Monday.
First used by Asian Development Bank economists in 2007, and then by President Hu Jintao in his speech at the APEC Human Resources Ministerial Meeting in Beijing a month ago, inclusive growth has often been defined in economic and social terms, emphasizing equality and benefit sharing in development.
That of course is vital, considering that China's supersonic economic growth in the last three decades has turned the once egalitarian society into one with a huge income disparity. Reform and opening-up has benefited certain groups a great deal while leaving many far behind.
For example, the rural areas with the majority of the population have reaped much less fruit from the economic miracle. The hukou (household registration) system still painfully divides rural and urban China. A lack of education and healthcare resources means that rural residents are left behind at an early age.
Solving such fundamental problems will require enormous wisdom and political will, without which any measures will only be cosmetic surgery.
It would be a historic achievement if we can narrow the income gap in the coming years or decades. However, that challenge is only one of the many tough challenges that threaten the nation's future.
The grave environmental challenge also calls for vision and courage. Protecting the environment might mean a slowdown in the breakneck growth model. While slower economic growth might pose other problems such as unemployment, a cleaner environment will make our generation less guilty of leaving a potentially devastating legacy to our children.
The hazy Shanghai sky in the past few days reminds us what development path we should take in the years ahead.
Our lenient environmental laws are currently inadequate to tackle such a grave problem and the notoriously lax enforcement of the laws has made the problems worse.
Cleaning the rivers, lakes, air and soil will require decades, even if we start to act aggressively now. Our much-touted modern way of life, emphasizing consumerism and hedonism, simply runs counter to this environmental mission. So we have to be very careful of what kind of lifestyle our society is striving for.
Inclusive growth won't be possible without uprooting the social tumor of corruption. That could mean putting crooked officials behind bars so as to establish a clean government.
Such growth can only be achieved in a civil society where individual rights are respected and everyone is equal before the law. It is a society where public servants are true servants who respond to the people, not the other way around.
The declining moral standards in our society are no less worrisome. The lack of trust among people and confusion determining right from wrong have destroyed much of our healthy social web.
We also need to change the popular contemporary psyche, the seeking of quick results and measuring everything in monetary terms - a result of the overemphasis on materialism in the last three decades.
In essence, inclusive growth should really include every dimension, from the social and economic to the environmental and political.
Each of the grave challenges China faces will require many years or decades of hard work. It is unrealistic to expect them all to be solved during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015).
However, this five-year period is the time to demonstrate resolve in dealing with each of these thorny issues. There will be no panacea for solving any of these problems. It requires much hard work and less empty talk.
The author is China's Daily chief correspondent in New York. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 10/19/2010 page8)