Tale of two extremes

HARARE - It is the world’s wonder story, moving from a slow-paced economy 30 years ago to a global giant that has leaped German and Japan to become the world’s second-biggest economy.

From Europe to Africa, most governments cannot do without the Chinese and with such economic giants as the United States struggling, some analysts say it is a matter of time before the world’s biggest machinery, and transport equipment exporter takes over as the world’s biggest economy.

Skyscrapers and massive construction projects in Beijing and other sprawling urban centres show a high-powered economy that is gearing itself for even greater expansion.

Yet, poverty also wreaks havoc in this country with the world’s highest population.

One in 10 Chinese people lives in poverty, according to officials, signalling the extent of the battle the Asian nation still has to content with in bridging the gap between its world-star status and realities on the ground.

Over 100 million Chinese nationals are living in poverty in a country that has maintained a 30-year economic development boom, Huang You Yi, a deputy director-general of China International Publishing Group, said.

The 63-year-old institution was founded with a mission to introduce China to foreign territories through books, magazines and other forms of new media, and Huang said this while addressing a 20-member international media delegation attending a Beijing workshop recently.

China, which claims 20 percent of the world population at 1,3 billion people, has undergone rapid economic development and in the process landing the world’s second-largest economy after Washington.

Huang said there was a great disparity between the poor and the rich in China, which he attributed to different available resources in various provinces, which resulted in the rapid development of certain areas and not others.

He said the western side of China was poor in terms of resources, leading to most people moving to the east.

Further, Beijing was on a drive to improve the inhabitable western side of the country under its vaunted Developing West China Programme.

Asked why China was pumping out so much money into different countries, especially Africa when a huge proportion of its population was wallowing in poverty, Huang  said: “This is part of our foreign policy to assist Africa because we are joined to Africa in many ways”.

In 2011, China and Africa’s trade volume reached $166 billion — three times the 2006 figure.

Cumulative Chinese direct investment in Africa has exceeded $15 billion, with investment projects covering 50 countries including Zimbabwe.

China has also been to the aid of Europe, among other previously-resourced blocs, which are in deep economic turmoil.

With $3,2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, the Asian giant continues to bail out several countries and economic destinations.

Huang said Beijing and Africa shared a common interest, and stance on the international stage or platform, and his country’s help or investment on the continent was driven by its international obligation requiring that certain percentages of Chinese money be directed towards aid.

“The welfare of the people should be taken care of by the government, but China does not live alone on earth,” he said, arguing that it was necessary for them to assist other nations.

China considers itself a developing country but its economy has been skyrocketing supported by a booming agricultural sector.

Huang said China has seven percent of the world’s farmland, but has been able to feed 20 percent of the world’s population.

On the face of it, Chinese life is a hallmark of bliss — marked by flashy cars, glitzy shopping malls and some of the world’s best infrastructure — yet over a 100 million people still live on less than a-dollar-a-day.

Sun Qi Ming, a professor at the University of Post and Telecommunications, also highlighted this wealth-gap factor in an address to the foreign media corps and in sentiments which supported Huang’s view.

China, he said, was heavily investing in infrastructure, including roads and houses, but the measures were not good enough to “improve the people’s lives” because a lot of them were still beyond the poverty line.

“Along those beautiful roads, railways you might see very poor people,” Sun said.

He said China had maintained a nine percent growth rate for the past 30 years and had artificially slowed it.

“We did that because production was mainly for export, but we have decided to produce for our people,” Sun added. - Tendai Kamhungira and Tawanda Chiwara recently in CHINA

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