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AseanAffairs Magazine November - December 2010

China in Spotlight
The emerging role of China in the 21st century is a focal point for conjecture and a certain degree of apprehension in the world outside of China. Is China an ally, a competitor, an adversary or perhaps all three?

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“Jean Christophe Iseux, Baron von Pfetten, in an interview with Li Hui Wei of Contemporary World, the official monthly publication of the International Department of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee (CPCCC), reveals unique insights gained over a decade of working inside China. This interview was published in Chinese in the November 2010 edition of the publication and translated into English for Asean Affairs.

 Q: As a French scholar with a noble family background, you are regarded as an “overseas Lei Feng” in China. What attracts you to China?
A: The two most attractive elements of China for me are: a. The Chinese people – particularly the good-natured Chinese farmers. I am fond of Chinese cleverness (street wisdom), humor, hospitality, friendliness and sense of honor (face). Since 1997 I have stayed a few days each month in the countryside living with Chinese farmers.

b. The Chinese culture. I am particularly fond of Tang Dynasty porcelain, Ming Dynasty furniture, Qing Dynasty architecture, Beijing Opera and Chinese modern paintings (like the one next to my home). I have visited every Chinese province at least once. On every visit I try to better understand the local culture.

Q: You’ve stayed in China for more than 10 years. How do you perceive China’s achievements in reform and opening up?
Baron JC hunting at his estate in Burgundy, France, Nov 2010

A: The last 30 years of Chinese achievement since the start of the open door policy is straight-forward:

  • Major macroeconomic developments in terms of gross domestic product growth, making China the engine of growth for Asia-Pacific economies.
  • Major microeconomic achievements with 20 state-operated enterprises listed in the Fortune 500, with Petrochina topping the list.
  • China’s rapid response when faced with major catastrophic events such as the 1998 flood and the 2009 earthquake. I would like to particularly praise the People’s Liberation Army when more than 1 million soldiers were dispatched for humanitarian relief in both cases.
  • Major achievements in terms of giving a better standard of life to the Chinese farmers after successful ongoing land reform policies.
  • China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
  • Chinese government’s intelligent use of the LU Xun “Yang Qi” model to take the best from the West and leave the rest.
  • China’s international status as a “responsible” member of the international community with well recognized China involvement in United Nations peace forces and the exceptional marketing of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Shanghai Expo.

Q: What problems do you think China is still faced with in her economic development?  

A: The most important problem facing the Chinese economy is the increasing gap between the countryside and the city. China is still a developing country with a rather low gross domestic product per capita.

I would like to add the following:

  • Continue to expand domestic demand and stimulate the consumer market away from foreign direct investment and the export oriented economic growth model. Efforts are needed to increase the income of residents in raising the minimum wage standard. It would be helpful to raise the minimum purchase price of grain and boost the income of farmers.
  • Manage the growth of urbanization carefully. Implementation of land reform raises the possibility that farmers will trade their land use rights, thus depriving them of an important security.
  • Support the service sector, which is environmentally friendly and instrumental in job creation. The government can provide incentives for starting one’s own business, effectively giving more support to the rising private economy.
  • Bolster the international influence of the renminbi and encourage Chinese companies to establish international footholds and acquire valuable resources and assets overseas.

I would also suggest that China’s current development transformation be accompanied by a profound reform of people’s ideas:

  • The phrase “economic growth” should be replaced with “economic development”.
  • Local government officials should switch from “rich nation first” mentality to “rich people first”.
  • The economic cake should be made “better” instead of “bigger”.
  • State-owned capital should change from “profit-oriented” to “public interest oriented”. Such change of the people’s mindset is a prerequisite for a sound implementation of new rules and regulations enacted from the central government...............................

JC Iseux, left, with General Fidel Ramos, former president of the Philippines In 2005, Professor von Pfetten, left, is greeted by General Cao Ganggquan, then Chinese Minister of Defense, right. Professor von Pfetten in 2006 , left,with Zohong Nan Hai, center,and Zeng Peiyan, then Chinese deputy prime minister, right.

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