Lessons to learn from Chinese experience
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An ANC delegation visited China on a study tour and a political exchange with leaders of the Communist Party, writes Thami ka Plaatjie.
When we landed in Beijing, China, we were greeted by a humid breeze and temperatures of 29°C, a painful contrast to South African winter conditions. The sky was covered in a grey layer, the shades of mists.
Like royalty, we were received by high-ranking officials, who ushered our delegation into the VIP section of the airport.
We marvelled at the splendour and beauty of this ancient, majestic city as we were driven to the Wanshou Hotel, owned by the Communist Party.
Our motorcade snaked through the thick traffic and, in time, we were ushered to the hotel where we were eagerly awaited.
The senior ANC delegation had arrived in China to undertake a study tour and a senior cadre political exchange with members of the Communist Party of China.
We were led by Jeff Radebe, who was deputised by Lindiwe Sisulu. Other high-ranking members of the delegation included Bheki Cele, Edna Molewa, Siyabonga Cwele, Pam Tshwete, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, John Block, Zizi Kodwa, Nocawe Mafu, Fikile Slovo Majola, Socks Sochanyile and Savour Cwaile.
The ANC’s relationship with China dates back to the time when it sent its cadres there for advanced training after a sojourn in that country by Oliver Tambo.
Joe Qgabi, Wilton Mkwayi and Raymond Mhlaba were among the first cadres of the ANC who were sent for military and political training in China.
Tambo visited China in 1963, 1975 and 1983.
On one occasion, after a meeting in China, Tambo remarked: “We feel that we came out of the discussions convinced that our relations were deepened and we are guaranteed that China would give us maximum support, political and material.”
The advanced study tour was intended to soak the leadership in the latest development models of China, expose them to its political system, party-building models and familiarise them with the “Three Represents and the Four Comprehensives”.
We learnt that in every aspect of their national development, China emphasised the importance of research and scholarship.
The Communist Party of China has recruited some of the best brains in the country to be part of its policy units and research entities in order to ensure that the outcomes are world-standard and the inputs are profound.
The work ethic of the Chinese people is extremely high, hence their ability to develop from a backwater to the second-largest economy in the world within such a short space of time.
Our delegation engaged senior layers of the party leadership in intense and frank discussions. We quizzed them on, inter alia, the practical and theoretical meaning of the Chinese concept of socialism.
We also engaged in intense discussions about the difference between the rule of law and the rule by law.
It was interesting to learn that China has as many as five opposition parties, whose role was to assist the government to govern. They are called “participating opposition parties”.
This was a far cry from South Africa, with its rowdy, noisy and disagreeable opposition.
The presentation and discussion with Lin Qingmiao, deputy director- general of the Enterprise Reform Department of State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration, were intense and lively.
The discussion on the reform of state-owned enterprises was timely, given the challenges that we face at home with the governance of some, if not most, of them.
The Chinese made it very clear that those state-owned enterprises that did not perform were sold to private interests and others were allowed to go bankrupt if they showed no sign of improvement.
In March 2003, China established the Asset Supervision and Administration of State Council, with the ostensible purpose of ensuring the efficient running of state-owned enterprises.
As a result of its work, the number of state-owned enterprises was reduced from 195 to 111. These were the best run and were profitable.
Patriotism and respect for the lives of the ordinary people in every decision taken by the Communist Party were emphasised.
The Communist Party is the centre of life in China and represented the highest form of its expression. Party building and cadre development were constantly applied and cadres were subjected to constant education and were expected to conduct mass work that linked them to the people.
Continuous organic links between the leadership and the masses was promoted at all times. To this end, leaders were assigned to do party work in the rural areas to acquaint themselves with the real conditions of the poor.
We were interested in the bold steps taken by the Communist Party to end unemployment and to harmonise the more than 56 ethnic clans in China.
The devolution of centralised and autonomous governance models that was assigned to various provinces was explained in great detail.
For example, provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tainjin and Chongqing are governed from the central government, whereas provinces such as Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Xizang, Ningxia and Guangxi Zhuangzu are regarded as autonomous, given their historical, cultural and religious peculiarities.
There are also provinces that are regarded as Special Administrative Provinces and these include Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The reference to “one country and two governance systems” applies in this case.
The strenuous efforts to fight corruption were laid bare in an unequivocal manner.
The growth of party membership had seen a rise in incidents of corruption and measures have been put in place to fight the scourge.
To this end, the personal affairs of members, and those of their families, are constantly scrutinised. No one is spared in this and senior party officials are known to have been suspended and fired, while some have been jailed.
The quest to learn from the best international cases of success and not to be dogmatic in ideological orientation was responsible for the success of Den Xiaoping, leader of China from 1978 until his retirement in 1992, with the opening up of the country after 1978.
The highlight of the advanced study tour was the signing of a party-to-party agreement that would ensure further collaboration for the next five years.
To be the best in the world, we were informed, one needed to attain the highest form of discipline in all facets of human endeavour.
These included the style of work; quality of work; quality of outcomes and continuous and thorough assessment, where there must be truth-seeking through facts.
Investment in education infrastructure and its people were other serious aspects that had propelled China to greater heights. For example, there is a university that focuses only on the study of the ocean economy.
Intellectuals are integral to the life of the party and constitute its backbone. Decisions and policy positions are taken with a view to advancing the interests of the people of China and are implemented with religious zeal.
The Chinese have been able to adapt the market economy to their own conditions and their benefit and they care little about world opinion.
We left China excited and invigorated, with a view to shaping our organisational thinking going forward.
* Ka Plaatjie is head of ANC Research and adviser to Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.