Africa-China conference calls for pragmatism, country-specific policies

02 Nov 2010

The two-day Africa-China Poverty Reduction and Development Conference came to a close on 2 November 2010, having gathered 250 participants from more than 23 countries from Africa and other regions.

Speaking at the closing session, Huang Chengwei, Deputy Director General of the International Poverty Reduction Centre in China (IPRCC) said that the creation of win-win situations and outcomes represented a significant opportunity for all stakeholders involved. He also said that specific country contexts needed to be taken into account and added that China is still facing a number of challenges such as regional disparities and the continuation of China’s poverty reduction efforts.

“China’s development success was built on its own particular style of reforms,” Dr. Chengwei said. “Starting from a poor, heavily distorted economy, China pursued reforms  that in substance do not differ greatly from the reforms pursued by other developing economies – liberalisation of the price system, opening up for trade and foreign investment, commercialisation of the financial sector, privatisation of the economy,” which he explained took place, “while maintaining a reasonable level of macroeconomic stability.”

In the rural sector, he added that China used smallholders as economic agents of change. “In due course,” he said, “the policy emphasis naturally switched to the non-farm and urban economy, and the subsequent rural labour absorption was clearly important to continuing progress against poverty.”  He said that the problem facing many low income and primarily rural countries such as those in Africa was the misconception that they can “essentially ignore their agricultural sectors and leave the whole task of poverty reduction to labour absorption from non-agricultural sectors.”

Another lesson that Africa can take away from China, he said, was the importance of pragmatic, evidence-based policy-making supported by capable public institutions.

Chengwei cautioned against haste, saying that China had conducted its reforms in a “gradual, experimental way, by using decentralisation and incentives to reform local governments”. “When a chasm is narrow, it is all right to jump over it. But when a chasm is too wide and deep, it is better to fill [the hole] and narrow the chasm before making the jump”, he added.