"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Which Way Now?

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 05/30/2006

China’s past three decades of high economic growth have been a kind of miracle, says Huang Ping, director-general of the International Co-operation Bureau at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They were achieved without expanding national borders or launching perpetual wars against other nations, unlike many empires and superpowers past and present, he notes.

But not for nothing, is Mr. Huang considered the nation’s leading specialist on social harmony. He has espoused new ideas that challenge head-on past models of economic growth as a panacea for all social problems.

Now he notes the costs of hyper growth: policies generally viewed as successful have given rise to entirely new sets of problems that eat at the roots of the current system. Topping the list are corruption, blind materialism, total disregard of the environment and the obliteration of traditional Chinese social values—the vary fabric that has kept this society intact over five millennia.

“Despite all of our problems, China has achieved this: 200 million people have emerged into a new middle class while another 300 million have been lifted out of poverty,” said Mr. Huang. “What has happened is probably the world’s largest-scale development miracle since Britain’s industrial revolution.”

“[But] such growth has led to growing income gaps, social governance problems and environmental desecration—as the costs of such development and transformation.”

Many observers wonder if this will be China’s century. Or will it be the era of its collapse, or of its emergence as a threat to others? Pessimists in some western think-tanks and academic institutions foretell an imminent end. But optimists, usually business analysts, predict another decade of sustained hyper growth.

Somewhere in the middle, another view is emerging in key government think-tanks, and finding its way into policy. It is being driven by the search for a practical road forward.

“China has many problems, but ultimately what people wish for is a harmonious society.” Mr.Huang said. During the 1980s and the 1990s, China’s leaders were focused entirely on economic development. That priority came at the cost of other factors.

Only in recent years, under the current administration, did the idea of a multi-faceted development begin to be considered.

The 16th Party Congress in 2004 introduced the notion of yi ren wei ben, or “putting people first”. Even if that guiding principle has not yet been achieved in practice, the idea is being turned into a kind of ideology. The question now is how to realize the idea in reality.

The principle is finding expression in the concepts of “harmonious society” and “peaceful development” espoused by the current administration.

Much of the work of creating new development blueprints and ideological platforms is being given to Beijing think-tanks. They are talking about these issues openly—even in the local press—which never occurred in the past. This approach is better than obscuring a problem with dogma, as in bygone days.

“Even without Mao and Deng, we can still deal with these issues, such as the growing urban-rural gap,” said Mr. Huang. “We can identify [them]. You can argue about the banking system and corruption, [and predict] that China will collapse.

“But these are not problems [that] China cannot deal with, mainly because it has already identified them as the next problems on [its leaders’ agenda].”

Recognizing the problem may be the first step towards solving it.

Mr. Huang notes that Beijing think-tanks are even going so far as to question “whether we have followed the western consciousness of its negative effects”. Such think-tanks are now calling for new models of development.


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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