By Nassar Sultan Abdullah Al-Shaqsi，Doctoral Class of 2018, from Oman
China has defied the odds, becoming one of the few countries in the world to eradicate abject poverty through various people-centered government driven initiatives while at the same time improving infrastructure and technology. This article discusses some aspects of Chines socio-economic development which should be emulated by Arab countries in general and Oman in particular in the quest for sustainable development. It is here argued that the neoliberal approach advanced by the American government and its European allies only serves to widen the gap between the rich and poor by promoting capital accumulation by the private sector while exploiting the poor. Neomarxist-Leninist principles adopted by the People’s Republic of China ensure that no one is left behind as the nation advances towards a more developed society. China has also been undoubtedly successful in combating the continued spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus which has claimed millions of lives across the globe. Such great achievements by a developing country in the global South are worth emulating and implementing in other developing countries including the Oman sultanate.
China owes much of its development to Deng Xiaoping’s Opening Up in 1978 through to the current President Xi Jinping’s Rural Revitalization and other poverty alleviation initiatives. The opening up policy had the effect of encouraging foreign direct investment, human capital development and infrastructure development through the establishment of special economic zones (Vogel, 2011). Currently, Oman only has three Free Zones (FZ) and two Special Economic Zones (SEZs) meant to promote and encourage foreign direct investment. However, the Public Authority on Free and Special Economic Zones was only established in 2020. As an economy relying on diminishing oil reserves as is the case with other Arab countries, there is need for Oman to set up more FZs and SEZs with a view to diversify the economy thereby enabling sustainable economic development. There is need to ensure the incentivization of investment into clean energy to reduce pollution as well as create an alternative for the diminishing fossil fuel reserves. FZs and SEZs can therefore be used as a means to ensure technology transfer as Chinese and other renewable energy companies are encouraged to share their manufacturing technologies with the Sultanate. At the same time, economic cooperation will go a long way in creating employment for locals, particularly women and youths thereby reducing poverty. Although Oman has come up with incentives to enable investment in renewable energy, much is yet to be done to implement the said policies. For instance, companies are still required to have at least 50% of their stake owned by locals to qualify for land ownership. Such impediments prevent the flowing in of foreign direct investment.
Arab countries also need to emulate China’s political stability in order to promote sustainable economic development. The political instability and civil unrest in some Arab countries such as Syria and Egypt deters foreign direct investment as these countries are considered investment risks. The steady and stable leadership provided by the Chinese Communist Party guarantees policy consistency and predictability which are essential for attracting investment. The Chinese Communist Party also resolved to ensure a “Peaceful Rise” thereby maintaining peace and stability in the country. Such stability is also necessary for the promotion of saving and investment by locals. War and civil unrest also damages infrastructure including roads and communication networks thereby making it difficult to move raw materials and products.
Political leadership and governance systems across the world have been tested by the deadly virus, Covid-19. Due to its strong leadership and political guidance, China managed to contain the deadly virus within months of its wake. Although thousands of deaths were recorded, the government remained steadfast and implemented a national lockdown which contributed to the reduction in the spread of the virus. The CCP’s strong leadership ensured continued trust in the government by citizens thereby preventing panic and social unrest. The countrywide access to electricity and the internet also made it possible to effect the lockdown as the peasantry continued to trade with people in urban centers through online platforms. Arab countries need to ensure the availing of internet infrastructure and internet to promote both rural and urban businesses. Economic analysts noted that China is the only country in the world which registered positive economic growth during the pandemic. However, the peasantry in Oman and other Arab countries suffered huge financial losses as horticultural produce perished in the fields with the declaration of national lockdowns. The Chinese government’s investment in human capital development particularly in science and innovation also led to the development of vaccines against Covid-19. The Oman sultanate can draw lessons from such leadership and invest in both physical and human capital developments. The Chinese government, in a move aimed at fostering relations with other countries in the global south, donated vaccines to other countries. Internally, the CCP led government is rolling out a nationwide vaccination program to ensure that all citizens are vaccinated free of charge. Unlike the neoliberal global North which is motivated by the desire for profiteering, China has managed to reduce the number of deaths by putting people first. Such unrests as those which occurred in America under the banner of, “Black Lives Matter” in response to police brutality were not seen in China. These movements and unrests, though necessary to highlight social ills in a country, served as Covid-19 hot spots as safety measures were ignored during these unrests.
Furthermore, the Chinese government’s commitment to saving life was witnessed in the construction of a huge health facility within a few weeks. Other profit motivated political and economic systems could not have done the same given their desire to maximize profit at the expense of the suffering citizens.
Also worth emulating is China’s poverty alleviation strategy particularly rural revitalization. Rural areas are often neglected by the private sector due to their remoteness and accessibility challenges. Therefore, the Chinese government invests in these rural areas to avoid marginalization thereby spurring development. There is also the involvement of rural people in government projects such as rural tourism and organic agriculture. Rural people do not only benefit from employment but also share profits from the tourism enterprises. However, if the American neoliberal model had been adopted, these locals would not get an opportunity to benefit from their own natural resources. Under neoliberalism, natural resources could be owned by foreign (global) capital while locals suffer poverty and bear negative externalities of private capital. In China, areas with natural endowments such as Guangxi province benefit from these resources from the proceeds of tourism and other industries.
Having realized that rural development was being curtailed by manpower shortages in rural areas, the Chinese government moved to invest in these areas to curb rural-urban migration. Also, the State enacted policies to ensure that rural people serve, not only as employees but also own a stake in companies operating in their respective areas. Such initiatives have resulted in the eradication of abject poverty in China as a whole. However, most Arab countries including Oman still suffer from high poverty levels and huge income disparities. Therefore, there is need for a well-coordinated rural revitalization and poverty alleviation strategy if the region is to meet the Sustainable Development Goals particularly poverty eradication, ending poverty and ensuring good health.
In its quest to improve citizens’ health and well-being, the Chinese government promotes partnerships between institutions of higher learning and rural people. Under this arrangement, agriculture universities embark on research and development with a view to find ways to improve yields and nutrition in an environmentally friendly manner. Several research sites have been established with some rural areas getting organic food certification owing to their partnership with institutions of higher learning. Oman could learn from such initiatives which promote productivity, nutrition as well as boost rural people’s incomes from the sale of certified organic food.
In its quest for socio-economic development, Oman and the Arab world at large can learn from the Chinese model. While other initiatives can be adopted wholesome, others need to be tailored to suit the culture in Arab countries. In the words of the wise Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, there is need for “…crossing the river while feeling the stones”.