China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 40 YEARS ON - Last year marked the 40th an­niver­sary of the launch of China’s re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy. China Daily pro­files peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced or wit­nessed the im­por­tant drive. By XU WEI [email protected]­ Ro­bust bi­lat­eral re­la­tions WANG ZHUANGFEI / CHINA

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.”

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