In development studies, Eurocentric theorists often dichotomize economies of the world into developed and underdeveloped. Western countries, by this classification, obviously fall under developed economies, while countries in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are known to be underdeveloped.
Economic indices are bound to know a developed country and an underdeveloped one.
After the Second World War, some Asian countries, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, all took advantage of the effect of the war on European economies to industrialize and pull away from the derogatory tag of underdevelopment. Interestingly, the Peoples Republic of China was not part of the Asian Tigers that achieved industrialization and economic development immediately after World War II. Yet, as it stands, the Chinese economy has substantially overtaken the countries’ economies above to become the largest economy in the world, behind the United States. How did China achieve this enviable feat within a period of about four decades?
China’s industrialization relatively defies every logical postulation of modern theorists of development. These theorists have always argued that, for Third World countries to achieve economic development, they must scrap their traditional financial system and practices, which have inherently retarded their economic growth, and adopt the western economic approach.
Consequently, to them, westernization is the way for the economic development of Third World countries. Hence, this maxim: westernization is development and development is westernization. However, rather than adopting a western approach to development, China adopted an endogenous approach to its economic development.
To begin with, many of the acclaimed western preconditions for economic development are not found in China. The country is less democratic, with a centrally planned economy that initially rejected economic liberalization and an outrageous population base that was considered a time bomb for poverty explosion. But all these have not stopped the Asian country from realizing its economic potential.
Starting with the peasant revolution of 1949, led by Mao Tse Tong (also written as Mao Zedong), China had a spelled-out approach to development: take comparative advantage of the massive population by engaging them in mass production of goods/services. Zedong, a believer of Marxist-Leninist theory, opted for socialism instead of capitalism.
The idea was to get the communist state centrally involved in the economy, to make means of production easily reachable and affordable to the masses for economic production.
At the incipient stage of their industrialization, the agricultural sector served essentially as a springboard in catapulting the country to where they are today. Peasants embarked on agricultural production that could feed the vast populace. And, very significantly, there was no high urge for foreign consumerism. This meant that the people ate what they produced, as borders were shut against importation. This, of course, also meant that the country shunned economic liberalization in favour of economic autarky.
Despite the implications of economic autarky, China did not budge on its economic plans. Instead, they were able to accommodate the economic liberalization of the current world order in a way that suited their financial objectives. After the demise of Zedong, and having achieved adequate production that met local consumption, the country gradually opened its borders to capitalist and outside economies.
This was strategically done not to become an import-dependent economy but an export-oriented one.
Today, almost all the powerful western economies of the world have economic relations with China. About 21% of the United States’ goods come from China with a worth of $560 billion. American industrialists, in essence, prefer to produce their products in China, based on specifications, and then send them back to their domestic economy. This is simply because the cost of production in China is cheaper than in America. Similarly, according to NBS reports on Nigeria’s foreign trade, imports from China rose to N1.9 trillion in the first half of 2019.
Indeed, while the United States is interested in policing the world, China is much more interested in magnetizing economies of the world. The country, subtly, has launched into economies of many African countries through debt-trap economic diplomacy, which some countries are falling victim to. Once known as an underdeveloped country, today, China is economically rubbing shoulders with western superpowers because she did her homework on how best to achieve economic development.
The economic achievement of China speaks for itself. Within the past four decades, according to the World Bank, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, as the poverty rate fell from 88% in 1981 to 0.7% in 2015. And in 2019, the country’s GDP was estimated at $14.4 trillion. Poverty, in any case, has successfully been eradicated from the urban centres of the country.
What lessons can Nigeria learn?
Nigeria, as a country, has almost the same factors that China banked on to get where they are today. We are the most populous Black country globally, with a population of over 200 million and still counting. Unlike China, natural resources are abundant (mineral and solid) richly deposited underneath our land that can enhance economic development. Expanse of arable land spread from the North to the East and a peasant population of about 48.84%, consisting of ebullient youths that are capable of revolutionizing the agricultural sector through massive production, if only well empowered.
Strategically, Nigeria has been positioned to be the regional economic power in Africa, yet, we still have not realized such manifest destiny. The question is, where are we getting it wrong?
It is evident that our borrowed western economic plans have not worked out. And the reason why they are not working is because of our usual ‘copy and paste’. Nothing in itself may be bad about the borrowed plans and policies, but implementation and not taking into consideration the peculiarity of the environment where it is implemented is where the problem lies. China, on her part, copied socialism from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. However, while implementing it, their leaders were mindful of the peculiarity of their country. Again, though seen as a socialist state, China has meticulously fine-tuned her economy to interact with capitalist and western economies.
The biggest lesson we can learn from China when succinctly encapsulated is that we must domesticate global ideas and globalize domestic ideas. This is what foremost African political economist, the late Prof. Claude Ake, called the endogenous paradigm of development, suitable for African countries. So, our path to any economic development has to be based on financial plans, programmes, and policies that are mindful of our peculiarities.