November 3, 2011 — Cheng Siwei, the prominent Chinese economist and former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, made a presentation on the morning of November 1st, co-sponsored by The Asia Foundation and the John L. Thornton China Center at The Brookings Institution. Mr. Cheng has played an important role in the economic transformations that have occurred within China over the last 20 years and currently serves as Chairman of China’s International Finance Forum, as well as Chairman of the China Advisory Council at the World Economic Forum.
Addressing the topic of China’s Economic Policy Objectives for the Next Five Years, Mr. Cheng highlighted four priorities: changing China’s economic development pattern, focusing on sustainable development and green industries, addressing trade imbalances, and reforming China’s education system. He emphasized the need to increase domestic consumption as a driver of China’s growth, and to implement policies that increase both consumer confidence and innovative new products. At the same time, he urged industries to adopt sustainable practices and address carbon emissions, to avoid leaving “environmental debts to our children and grandchildren.” Mr. Cheng also spoke of the need to redesign the Chinese educational curriculum to emphasize the creativity and innovative spirit that students will need to compete in the global market, noting that “only education can ensure our day after tomorrow.”
Following Mr. Cheng’s remarks, Dr. Barry Naughton, Professor of Chinese Economy and So Kwanlok Chair of Chinese International Affairs at the University of California, San Diego, offered his views on the mixed success of the implementation of China’s 11th and 12th five- year plans, due in part to the 2008 economic downturn. While noting clear progress in green industry and diversifying energy technologies, Dr. Naughton also questioned whether the large role that Chinese government institutions and funding continue to play in the domestic market would successfully foster Chinese entrepreneurs and smaller firms. During the Q&A session, which was moderated by the director of the Thornton China Center, Dr. Kenneth Lieberthal, the audience posed questions ranging from building mutual trust with the United States, decreasing use of fossil fuels, and protecting intellectual property rights, to the future role of NGOs in Chinese society.
The well-attended discussion at Brookings was the final stop on Mr. Cheng’s multi-city speaking tour as The Asia Foundation’s Chang-Lin Tien Distinguished Visiting Fellow. The Chang-Lin Tien Distinguished Fellowship Program was established to foster leadership exchanges for distinguished and emerging leaders to meet and interact with their counterparts in Asia and the U.S. The Fellowship honors the late Dr. Chang-Lin Tien, former Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, marking his elevation in 1999 to Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation.