Griffith Asia Institute was invited by the National Institute for Global Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) to participate in an international forum that was dedicated to the celebration of China’s ‘opening up’ and ‘stunning success’ in reducing extreme poverty. The forum was hosted by the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, Ministry of Finance, State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development and the World Bank Group. It was organised by the National Institute for Global Strategy of CASS, China Development Bank and the International Poverty Reduction Centre in China.

Yan Islam, Adjunct Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and former Branch Chief of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva represented the Institute at the forum which took place on 1-2 November 2018 in the sedate surroundings of the state guest house in Beijing. More than 300 delegates from 51 countries were invited to attend the forum. There was a long list of distinguished representatives from international organisations including the President of the World Bank, the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations – who were then paired with high-profile speakers from the Chinese government and other national prominent institutions.

Multiple plenary sessions were juxtaposed with three concurrent roundtables. Participants could nominate which session they wished to attend. Professor Islam attended the roundtable on ‘international cooperation in poverty reduction’ which was characterised by the preponderance of pre-assigned speakers who emphasized the role that international institutions — such as the World Bank — played in mobilising resources to finance development goals. Professor Islam argued the case for shared ideas and how they influence the global development agenda.

All the keynote speakers highlighted the remarkable statistics that define China today: historically unprecedented growth, more than 700 million people lifted out of extreme poverty, the transformation at stunning speed of an agrarian society into an industrial powerhouse — the list goes on. The various speakers enunciated a similar narrative: buoyant agricultural growth in the early stages of China’s development, a strategy of gradualism in ushering market-oriented economic reforms, progressive integration with the global economy, massive investments in infrastructure, health and education, targeted policies to reduce extreme poverty.

The Director of the East Asia Institute from Singapore – stood apart from the standard collective narrative on China’s economic success. He made the point that there is indeed a distinctive form of Chinese governance that is durable and rooted in history and cultural traditions. On the other hand, the durability of this form of governance and its impact on economy and society at large depends critically on maintaining the delicate balance between state domination and the discretion and freedom granted to the private sector and civic communities.

The forum was clearly meant to celebrate China’s remarkable economic success as opposed to an opportunity for critical reflection. Hence, robust discussions on issues such as growing inequality, the brewing trade war with USA, the politics and economics of the Belt and Road initiative, and a host of contentious issues were notably absent.

The international forum is a prelude to an even bigger celebration of China’s coming of age in the global economy that will be held in December 2018. In recognition of that forthcoming event, the New York Times compiled a series of erudite reflections on various facets of China’s development.

China’s success has bred envy in the West and elsewhere, causing many to predict the demise of an Asian giant that defies the principles and norms of liberal democracy. Yet, as the New York Times Asia Editor points out, it is a nation that has ‘failed to fail’. This is indeed worthy of celebration.