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Huge-scale modernization seen as unprecedented

By XU WEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-10-27 06:57
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Editor's note: China Daily is presenting a new series analyzing the key features and potential implications of the Chinese path to modernization, a key task for the Communist Party of China outlined by General Secretary Xi Jinping in his report to the 20th CPC National Congress. This is the first installment of the series.

A population of 1.4 billion, a middle income group of over 400 million, and close to 100 million people being lifted out of absolute poverty over the past decade — the three figures represent the biggest factors as China moves forward on its own pathway to modernization, according to many analysts.

In the report he delivered to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, laid out a vision for advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation through a Chinese path to modernization.

One of the defining features of this modernization, Xi said, is the modernization of a huge population, a number larger than the combined population of all developed countries in the world.

"This is a task of unparalleled difficulty and complexity; it inevitably means that our pathways of development and methods of advancement will be unique," he said.

Du Peng, vice-president of Renmin University of China and a leading population expert, said it would mark an unprecedented achievement for the CPC to modernize a nation with a population of 1.4 billion.

"This huge population is coupled with gaps in growth between different regions and rural and urban areas, and the nation is faced with an increasingly graying demographic structure," Du said.

China's latest national census data, published in May 2021, showed a fertility rate of just 1.3 children per woman in 2020, which was on a par with aging societies like Japan. Over 18.9 percent of China's population were age 60 or older by the end of 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Du said the CPC has put in place an agenda to promote common prosperity for all, a drive that will entail further growth in income and public living standards for a large population.

Despite these challenges, the Chinese pathway to modernization is built upon a solid foundation, including a system that has proved its strength in China's economic growth over the past four decades and in the nation's fight against absolute poverty, he said.

"Under the leadership of the CPC, China has achieved some seemingly impossible missions, especially the fight to lift close to 100 million poor rural residents out of poverty," Du said.

"That is why we have the confidence and capacity to advance the modernization of a huge population," he added.

Sun Yeli, deputy head of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, told a news conference on Monday that China, with its mammoth population, faces restrictions related to its resources and environment during its modernization process, which means that the nation cannot blindly copy the model of modernization from other nations.

"Significance and implications of China's modernization will be unprecedented, and modernization on such a scale will make a huge contribution to human society," he added.

Solid foundation

Over the past decade, China's GDP has grown from 54 trillion yuan ($7.5 trillion) to 114 trillion yuan, accounting for 18.5 percent of the global economy, with its per capita GDP rising from 39,800 yuan to 81,000 yuan.

The nation's urbanization rate grew by 11.6 percentage points to stand at 64.7 percent of the population last year.

Zheng Gongcheng, head of the China Association of Social Security and a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, said China will rewrite the global landscape of modernization after its 1.4 billion residents embrace common prosperity.

He said that East Asia, with a modernized China, will be one of the centers for global modernization, which is an inevitable trend and will represent an immense change in the global landscape.

Zheng also said that China, after its epic fight against absolute poverty, has secured an overall increase in the living standards of urban as well as rural residents and completed the building of a moderately prosperous society.

In doing so, the nation has laid a solid foundation for completing a Chinese pathway to modernization.

"The strength of socialism with Chinese characteristics has been fully exhibited as the nation reached its goal of building a moderately prosperous society. This strength has been translated into the efficiency of national governance, which will transform into immense achievements in the nation's development achievements," he said.

China, as a developing country with a huge population, has blazed a path of modernization that is different from those of the developed economies in the West and has offered a new choice for nations hoping to speed up their growth while maintaining their independence, he said.

Zhang Chewei, head of the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in a research note that China has managed to build a wide-ranging social security network for its residents, and this will serve as a pillar for the nation's modernization.

China has managed to establish a network of basic health insurance covering 1.36 billion people and a basic pension system covering over 1 billion people, marking the world's largest social security system.

Greater potential

In his report to the 20th CPC National Congress, Xi highlighted education, science and technology, and human resources as the fundamental and strategic pillars for building a modern socialist country.

"We will continue to give high priority to the development of education, build up China's self-reliance and strength in science and technology, and rely on talent to pioneer and to propel development," he said.

Gao Ming, a macroeconomics analyst at China Merchants Securities, said the nation must ensure the development of sectors covering whole industry chains to advance its modernization.

"China, unlike other small open economies or the United States, has made it clear that it will rise peacefully with a mammoth population," he said. "That means it must give priority to the development of all sectors, with greater emphasis given to the growth of the manufacturing and services industries."

He said that the manufacturing sector is the pillar of the Chinese economy, while services is the area with the largest potential for growth.

A systemic upgrading of the education system would be required for the further development of modern services, which could account for 25 percent of the Chinese economy in the future, he added.

Both Gao and Du, from Renmin University of China, highlighted the necessity for the nation to take a more proactive strategy in responding to the issue of an aging society during the modernization process.

"For China, the aging demographic structure poses far more challenges than opportunities, as it means weakening demand and a shrinking labor force," Gao said.

Du said the nation should develop a better and more sustainable social security network while maintaining a proper rate of economic growth.

"It is important to give the people a greater sense of gain, security and happiness, especially in terms of the elderly and children," he said.

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