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Here's how China works

Updated: 2014-12-19 09:55
By Paul Ntambara (China Daily Africa)

I left Rwanda to live in the world's most populous nation for nearly a year, exploring the reasons for its great success at home and abroad

As autumn leaves fell and trees became bare with winter breezes, memories of spring's flowers came rushing back.

This year was different, and not just in its contrast with the temperate climate of my homeland, Rwanda. I associated the seasons with fond memories of where I spent most of the year in China.

Here's how China works

During a visit by the writer to a primary school in Ningxia Hui autonomous region, many students voiced a desire to better their lives. Provided to China Daily

For 10 months, I was privileged to be part of a cohort of eight senior journalists drawn from Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia at the China Africa Press Center. It was a fascinating experience.

We were all united by one purpose, to understand China better by living in Chinese society and getting firsthand information about the country and its people.

I arrived in Beijing in winter, in February, with temperatures below zero. Winter for me came with a deeper meaning than just chilling cold. It was about the resilience of the people and their adaptation to harsh weather. Despite the cold, they went about their business without interruption. It was common to see people carrying cups of tea on the sidewalk as they walked to their workplaces. Chilly conditions appeared to be not a barrier to the pursuit of their dreams but a motivator.

Winter also introduced me to the Chinese political landscape. Meetings with different government departments during this period opened my eyes about China.

March brought the opening of the famous "two sessions", a major political happening. The second sessions of the 12th National People's Congress, the highest organ of state power, was one. The other was the top political advisory body, the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Both opened in Beijing. It was a major highlight of this period.

Here's how China works

As the flowers bloomed, my knowledge of China bloomed, too. Open discussions with government officials and the private sector further nourished my insatiable appetite to learn about China's history and its socioeconomic and political landscape.

As a result, I have been able to better appreciate China's place on the world stage. I also have been able to understand China's history and involvement with Africa. This involvement did not start yesterday and is not about to end tomorrow. It has only entered a new phase: win-win cooperation.

In summer, China "opened up". The dress code changed, the heavy coats were suddenly abandoned, and women wore lighter-weight dresses and skirts. It was a completely new scene, vibrant and full of life. The biggest lesson for me was that everything has a season.

Travels outside Beijing to the countryside revealed the country's rich cultural heritage and proud history of thousands of years. I started to understand what it means to be Chinese.

Then, as temperatures cooled down and fruit baskets became more colorful, this was a time to share my skills and learn in a more practical way. My stint at Xinhuanet, an online division of the state press agency, introduced me to how Chinese media works. The work ethic at Xinhua News Agency was worth noting. The speed with which news is gathered and disseminated on its online platform was impressive.

These have been my four seasons in China, but what do I make of them?

First, it would be preposterous to say that after 10 months, I fully understand Chinese society, but I have learned a great deal. I have crisscrossed this gargantuan country by air, water, road and train but one thing is clear: China has a very rich culture cherished by its people.

With 56 ethnic groups, the harmony with which they coexist is remarkable. China's ethnic diversity is one of its strengths. I had the opportunity to interact with different ethnic communities, and it was an enthralling experience to learn about what makes them different but also what makes them one as a Chinese people.

Many countries buried in ethnic strife can perhaps borrow a leaf from China on how it has found harmony in diversity.

Second, I was allowed to get a close look at China's governance and service delivery.

During my second month in China, I was privileged to attend part of the "two sessions" at the Great Hall of the People in Tian'anmen Square. There is a great degree of representation of the common people and accountability as evidenced during these sessions. My interactions with provincial, city and county officials of the different provinces, cities and towns I visited revealed a shared desire to advance development for the common good.

The poor and vulnerable have not been left out as evidenced by aid programs in relatively remote areas like the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Guizhou province.

During interviews with local people in different provinces I visited, it became clear that many had not traveled outside their home provinces. My first reaction was that of bewilderment but on second thought, I asked myself why one would need to travel thousands of kilometers to, say, Beijing.

Many village folk travel to cities in search of services like healthcare, education or finance. But why travel long distances when all these services are within your reach? Perhaps here lay the answer.

Services have been brought closer to the people. You can find practically all major service providers in almost all parts of China. Provinces and cities have their own universities, and students don't have to go, for example, to Beijing or Shanghai to pursue a university education.

China has a political system suited to the nation. As officials put it, China can't pretend to be like other countries. The Chinese political system addresses the needs of its people. During my time in China, I was able to see how political talk translates into action.

For me, it doesn't matter what name you give to a political system as long as it addresses the needs of its citizens. This is what socialism with Chinese characteristics is doing for China with resounding success domestically and internationally.

Millions of people have been pulled out of poverty over the past few years. Government has taken a strong stance against corruption. The fourth plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee held this year concentrated on the rule of law and social justice. There are greater efforts to tackle environment degradation.

All this progress is a result of political will and vision. The biggest lesson is that countries should not just copy political systems. Recent history shows that this can result in anarchy, especially in Africa.

The media are often said to be the "fourth estate", and it works this way in China despite the fact that the government finances most media. The media have continued to play their cardinal role of holding government to account.

The program I took part in afforded me the opportunity to visit major Chinese media establishments. The media in China comprise a major industry and are highly professional. Their work ethic and attention to detail is enviable.

Social media is the new buzzword in world media and the same holds for China. Despite the unavailability of popular Western social media sites like Twitter and Facebook for China's netizens, China's own social media platforms like Sina Weibo and WeChat are buzzing.

China's netizens have been given a voice and the government recognizes this new trend in communications. It is not uncommon to hear that the government has been pushed into action after a public outcry expressed on a social network platform.

I also got a look at the nation's shared dream. While in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, I visited a local primary school, where I met Ma Bin, a fourth-grade student. I asked him what he wants to be in the future. "Jing cha" (police officer), he said, and joined his friends to play. This is an answer you're likely to get from any child in any country in Africa.

It doesn't matter if it is Rwanda or China, people have the same aspiration to better their lives. This should be the main motivation for all countries: the desire to better the living conditions for its people and provide the necessary environment for children like Ma Bin to live their dreams.

Apart from the traditional areas of cooperation and trade between China and Rwanda, more needs to be done to further deepen mutual understanding between the two countries. Tourism is one such area.

Rwanda is an approved tourism destination for Chinese tourists. But few have seen its abundant tourism attractions, such as the endangered mountain gorilla, a draw for tourists the world over. Rwanda's tourism officials should learn more about China to better cater to Chinese tourists, and also seize the opportunity presented by China's high-end tourists. Visiting China is a good place to start.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 12/19/2014 page28)

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