CHINA’S INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION IMPRESSES
Of all China’s achievements, the one that has impressed former New Zealand prime minister Jenny Shipley the most is the country’s investment in education.
Shipley has visited China over 100 times since her first visit in 1995, and said the country surprises her every time.
“For a country like China to improve its literacy rates from where they were to over 95 percent today is an extraordinary and phenomenal investment in the future,” she said.
Shipley was in China to attend the Imperial Springs International Forum in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, last month.
After the conclusion of the twoday event, President Xi Jinping met with foreign representatives at the forum, including Shipley, in Beijing on Dec 12.
Shipley, 66, said other aspects of the country’s progress were also impressive, including lifting more than 700 million people out of poverty, raising per capita income, and the economic growth momentum that China has contributed to the world.
“The decisions that China took not to devalue its currency in the Asian financial crisis, and then in the global financial crisis, were all important gifts to the world,” she said.
“But I think the greatest achievement that I’ve watched is the investment that China has put on education. And I think that is going to create a strength and platform for China for many years to come.”
As the only woman to have led New Zealand’s National Party, Shipley became the country’s first female prime minister in 1997. She remained PM until her party lost the 1999 elections.
Shipley said she is very proud of the progress that China and New Zealand have made in their relations.
“New Zealand is very admiring of China’s success to lift 700 million people out of poverty to create growth here at home that then affected abroad,” she said. “We have benefited from China’s success.
“China’s success has been New Zealand’s success because of the growth in the Asia-Pacific.”
The New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement signed between the two countries in 2008 has been an important success, Shipley said, adding that New Zealand was one of the earliest supporters of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.
“I think we both learned from each other, and it’s delivered many advantages for both economies,” she said. “I think our shared commitment to multilateralism today and shared values among two quite different countries can help improve the world.”
Shipley said the New Zealand side has great hopes for the future of the bilateral relationship.
“We want further improvement on our free trade agreement,” she said. “We have a strong relationship, a respected relationship, and successive governments seek to work constructively on the New Zealand-China relationship.”
Long an advocate for women’s rights in New Zealand, Shipley has also played leading roles at Global Women NZ and Heart Foundation NZ’s “Go Red for Women” campaign. She was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in August 2009.
She made her visit to China in 1995 to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
“Beijing today and the Beijing then are unrecognizable,” she said. “But it was an important moment because the world’s women leaders came to China, and China was just beginning to have the confidence to have those conversations.”
There has been a lot of progress made in the country’s efforts to ensure the rights of women and children, Shipley said.
“I am often reminded of Chairman Mao Zedong’s comment — women holding up half the sky,” she said.
“In my experience, when women and men sit down together and share the responsibility of making decisions, whether it’s in government or in corporate leadership or in social enterprise or environmental decision-making, we all bring a broader range of values and perspectives that serve the future.”
That is one of the reasons, Shipley said, that she is committed to coming back to China, whether it is for the Boao Forum for Asia or the International Finance Forum.
“I want more men and women like myself to be sitting at the table sharing the responsibility,” she said.
Recalling her experience in China over the past decades, Shipley said the country has changed in every aspect.
It has not only focused on domestic reform, but has also reached out.
Shipley said the Belt and Road Initiative is one of the biggest ideas she has ever heard of globally.
“It is a next-generation idea. And in my opinion, it has the potential to create the next wave of economic growth. But we must all be committed to momentum,” she said.
“One of the great successes of China’s 40 years since opening up was the connecting of people to markets and markets to people within China, which created that huge wave of progress from agrarian to industrialization, and now to high-tech. The Belt and Road Initiative is carrying that dream internationally.
“We can share both the success of being connected and the future growth of the economy.
“The WTO is a good example, and then other regional free trade agreements with China and her neighbors and others in the region finding ways to work together.”
Shipley, who has been a director of the Boao Forum for Asia since 2015, said she had been more than encouraged by Xi’s announcement at the forum last year of measures China will adopt to further open up.
During the forum, in Boao, Hainan province, in April, Xi announced an array of measures to continue opening up the country’s economy, including broadening access to the Chinese market, enforcing strong protection of intellectual property rights, lowering tariffs on vehicle imports, importing more products that are competitive and needed by the Chinese people, and holding the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November.
“It was very encouraging to hear President Xi’s comments. Because people were anxious as we came to the forum,” Shipley said. “Forty years. Is this going to be a pause or a next step? And he made clear China’s commitment to multilateralism, which was a great source of pleasure to the international audience that was present.
“China will need to continue to think about how it opens up. We will all need to learn to listen to China and where her anxieties are. We need to have China and the United States find ways to move forward together.
“We need to remember that small economies matter as well as big economies, because we are a family — a global family.”
Shipley said she believes reform of the WTO should be high on the agenda for the world’s major economies.
“I think the Asia-Pacific region, with China and the US and South America and Japan and Russia, and even small economies like New Zealand, we can share this responsibility,” she said, adding that a newly reformed WTO will have to be fit for now and the future, just as it was fit for 1944.
“Because it is a different world than 40 years ago,” she said. “There is nearly three times the population on our earth, so we need to act globally. We need to act regionally.
“But of course, every country is going to act in its own interest. President Xi Jinping has explained China’s interest in its desire to work collectively and we now need to develop the mechanisms to be fit for the next generation.
“China’s success at home has also shared success internationally, and New Zealand and our economy have grown because China’s demand needs our goods, and we need China’s goods.
“So the reciprocity of the last 40 years is very important. I’m sure we look forward with anticipation to what’s next — the next 40 years.”