Opinion Columns & Blogs

Viewpoints: It’s time for China and California to blaze new trails together

Californians are known for seizing opportunities, taking risks and breaking new ground.

My impression of this has intensified since I took up my new post as the 11th Chinese Consul General in San Francisco eight months ago.

During the past eight months, I have met with local leaders of business, investment, industry and government, and people from all walks of life. I have seen firsthand their desire to build a stronger and long-term relationship with China by exploring the opportunities the country presents.

The biggest opportunity, I think, lies in a bold reform package unveiled at the just-concluded Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee.

What sets this Third Plenum apart from previous ones lies in the strategic top-level design for deepening reforms, compared to “wading across the stream by feeling the stones,” a motto of Chinese reformers for a good part of the last three decades.

It is a pivotal time: another key milestone and watershed moment for the country.

This time, the new Chinese leadership decided to press ahead with holistic reforms in economic, political, cultural, social and ecological fields, navigate the uncharted “deep waters,” take on deep-seated problems that have built up over the years and create new impetus to healthier and more sustainable development.

The more market-oriented economic reform remains the key part of this broader reform agenda.

The main takeaway of this is “letting the market play a ‘decisive’ role in allocating resources,” upgrading the importance of the market from playing only a “basic” role as previously recognized in the country.

In other words, China will make more fundamental reforms to break away from excessive government control to ensure that the market is in the driver’s seat.

More openness to global markets is another key area for the reform. Restrictions on overseas investors are to be lifted for industries including services for children and the elderly, architectural design, accounting and auditing, commerce, logistics and e-commerce. Industries to be gradually opened up include financial services, education, culture and medical care while the opening up of the manufacturing sector will be deepened.

A deadline is imposed: “decisive results” out of this new round of massive reforms are expected by 2020.

But successfully accomplishing the deliverables of the reforms are no easy job given that many of the problems currently facing the country are all hard nuts to crack: the unsustainable growth model, accelerated aging society, ever-widening wealth gap, unaffordable housing prices and environmental degradation, etc.

In a sense, China’s reform is not only necessary; it is essential when tough challenges must be met. By the same token, all the thorny issues the country is facing cannot be effectively solved unless reform and opening-up are carried out to a deeper extent.

The future of China, therefore, lies in continued reforms and opening-up – bold yet prudent, visionary yet practical, focused yet flexible reforms, whose major ramifications will be felt globally over the next few years.

As the eighth-largest economy in the world with long-standing, deep-rooted and multidimensional relations with China, California has a huge stake in China’s reform endeavors.

The Golden State, in fact, has long been a leader in China-U.S. cooperation.

California is the biggest exporter to China among the 50 U.S. states.

California is the first state to sign a climate change agreement with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a key government agency that oversees China’s efforts to address climate change.

California is the first and the only U.S. state that has established a Joint Working Group with six China’s provinces to boost trade and investment.

At the city level, San Francisco is the first U.S. city to form a Sister City relationship with a Chinese city, Shanghai; Sacramento is the first American city to have a trade office open in Chongqing, China’s youngest municipality and one of its most vibrant regional economies.

In growing China-U.S. relations, Californians were blazing the trail; Californians have made history.

And together, we can achieve even more by taking advantage of opportunities before us and unlocking our full potential.

Successful reforms in China means a stronger and more sustainable economy, a more stable and just society, a stronger middle class, a huge consumer market, more qualified companies better positioned for global investment and more students eager to study overseas, among others.

All these can create new drivers that help California generate exports, create jobs, upgrade its economy and enrich its diverse pool of workers.

At the same time, California’s expertise in high-technology, innovation, modern agriculture, environmental protection and sustainability will be able to help China shift to a more sustainable future.

Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary, said he could picture a 21st century in which the United States and China both prospered or one in which neither prospered, but he could not picture a 21st century in which one of them prospered and the other did not.

The same can be said of the China-California partnership.

China and California have strong reasons to work even more closely for a future of shared prosperity.