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Chinese Dream to occupy center stage in 2014
Last Updated: 2013-12-30 09:04 | China Daily
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'To sleep: Perchance to dream." Students of Shakespeare worldwide will recognize these words spoken by Hamlet. Dreams have inspired people and nations for centuries, perhaps none more so than the American Dream. Yet dreams are precious and can be broken. Britain's Electric Light Orchestra in their famous pop hit implored us to "hold on tight to your dream". China should do that next year as it rises to many challenges.

As 2013 comes to a close, China's top leader Xi Jinping's Chinese Dream for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has come to occupy center stage and in the coming Year of the Horse, China will gallop forward in its pursuit. This dream is both a personal and varied one for individuals, and a collective one for the nation. Hope and harmony feature loudly in it.

After 35 years of unbroken economic growth, often around double digits, why shouldn't China, which has raised hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, dare to dream?

The Chinese Dream is multifaceted, embracing improved living standards, greater fairness with a crackdown on corruption, and a rising force for good in a changing international arena.

China's per capita GDP in terms of purchasing power parity was about $8,000 in 2012, versus $48,000 in the United States. China may be the second-largest economy but surely few would begrudge its people achieving the dream of doubling their average annual income and becoming a moderately prosperous nation over the next decade. That prosperity will greatly benefit the rest of the world, because China is market of more than 1.3 billion people offering opportunities for win-win growth.

A key to this prosperity is maintaining robust but balanced economic growth, with improved environmental policies. In November, the Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee in November decided to deepen reforms to restructure the economy, allowing market forces to rise to the top while retaining a core role for restructured State-owned enterprises. This is one pillar of the dream, and includes increased economic efficiency, innovation, higher value-added industries and a more open financial infrastructure.

China watchers eagerly await 2014 as more building blocks are being put in place. While the right kind of investment will remain important and China will reach out to new export markets around the world, the acid test will be signs of the long awaited rise in domestic household consumption as a percentage of income.

China's economic growth reflects Deng Xiaoping's advice that, it is necessary to "let some get rich first". According to Rupert Hoogewerf, this year has seen the number of billionaires in China surpass those in the US, which means some people have already achieved their Chinese Dream. Yet the large economic inequality that the GINI coefficient, which was 0.474 in 2012, reflects is that China is not consistent with social equality, and that should be the second pillar of the Chinese Dream.

A harmonious society is a fair society. Therefore, part of the collective dream has to be improved social welfare: greater access to medical services and higher pensions for senior citizens, a more redistributive tax system, fairer tax treatment for small businesses and elimination of corruption.

The crackdown on corruption, which includes some high-profile cases, has sent an important message. And the anti-corruption drive to trap both the "flies and tigers" (catching the small as well as the big fish) should strengthen people's confidence in social justice. The country's leadership has sent out another important message which is more about moral behaviour - that lavish official banquets, local governments' vanity projects and general misuse of tax revenue that is needed to help build a fairer society may not be corruption, but they are not the correct way to serve the people.

Local governments will play a key role in the Chinese Dream because about 250 million people are expected to move from rural to urban areas and many new cities are likely to be built in the next couple of decades. This provides a unique opportunity for eco-friendly, efficient and safe urban design by drawing on the best global practices under trustworthy local leadership.

The third pillar of the Chinese Dream is that China should play an increasingly important role in world affairs as a responsible stakeholder and a country that shares with many others the same core global issues: economic and technological progress, growth of world trade, food safety and security, environmental protection, nuclear non-proliferation, fight against terrorism and general stability.

China has announced new security management structures to address some of these issues internally. As a continuously growing economy, it has been able to spend more funds on the military while maintaining it as a modest percentage of the GDP and at an absolute value far below that of the US. It is inevitable that some people will want to present this as a threat, and it will test China's diplomacy to show that it only has a peaceful intent for defensive purposes - that there has been no change in China's long-established policy of mutual non-interference in a country's domestic affairs.

Certainly, the top leaders' visits to Russia, the US, Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia have highlighted the inner peace in the Chinese Dream, which means a rising China will benefit the world rather than destabilizing the existing world order.

Ultimately, if China realizes its dream, it would inspire other developing countries to do so and help advanced nations to continue to prosper. It is a dream of peace that will benefit China as well as the rest of the world.

The author is an economist and director of China programs at CAPA International Education, a US-UK based organization that cooperates with Capital Normal University and Shanghai International Studies University.

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