Source: Wide Angle: "To Have & Have Not"
Asia Map (Image)
China Map (Image)
Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, a former U.S. Trade Representative for the Clinton administration, discusses her views on economic change in China. She believes that economic engagement with the west will lead China to greater political pluralism.
Since the late 1970s, China has shifted from a centrally planned economy that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy. Reforms began in the agricultural, industrial, and financial sectors, and labor regulations were relaxed. The government also focused on foreign trade as a major vehicle for economic growth, and to encourage foreign investment, China created special economic zones in coastal cities.
As the result of adopting economic reforms and joining the World Trade Organization in December 2001, China's per capita income has grown at an average annual rate of more than 8% over the last three decades. While poverty has been drastically reduced, this rapid growth has been accompanied by rising income inequalities, especially between rural and urban areas.
One specific change China has been forced to embrace as a result of joining the WTO is to liberalize the movement of labor within the country. During the Maoist era of the 1950s, China instituted an inherited residency permit system that defined where its citizens could work. This system, or "hukou," made it extremely difficult for rural residents to leave their hometowns and move to cities to work. Restructuring the hukou system has been a very controversial topic even though many Community Party leaders recognize it is an impediment to economic progress. The system still exists, but enforcement of the residency permits has been relaxed in recent years. By the early 21st century an estimated 200 million Chinese lived outside their officially-registered areas. While it is easier for these migrants to work in cities than ever before, they are still unofficial residents of the cities and as a result have very limited access to education and government services. Many are forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, and in several respects occupy a social and economic status similar to illegal immigrants.
The Wide Angle film "To Have and Have Not" explores the human side of China's newly liberalized market economy. In the film, the increasing income gap between rich and poor is highlighted in vivid detail. The gated communities, luxury vehicles, and seemingly boundless consumption of China's newly rich is seen in stark contrast to the plight of migrant workers, who struggle to eke out a living and to educate their children at the margins of urban society.
We know that China has an appalling human rights record. I know that you're very much in favor of engaging China. Is that just economically?
CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY: I've always been cautious about claims that economic opening leads to democracy. But I'll tell you this, if there is a means of moving China, maybe not to democracy, but to greater political pluralism, if there is a means, it will come from economic engagement with the West. The beginning of Western values in China -- the net, and telecom market opening from WTO, where the average Chinese person can get online and get information from anywhere in the world.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But the Chinese
CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY: It'll be ...
DALJIT DHALIWAL: ... trying to suppress that (Overlap/Inaudible) ...
CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY: Oh, good luck, good luck. The technology will win on that one. And once that economic door's open, then you may have the basis for a further opening of the political system.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: It sounds like you're almost predicting the death knoll of communism there.
CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY: No, we can't make choices for the Chinese people. But what we can do is to try and increase the number of options available from which to choose. That's the role of the United States in this process with China. They will choose whatever it is they decide to choose. But I think we will have contributed to a further opening of this vast country.
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