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                  Modernization crucial to achieving key national goals, academic says

                  Author  :  Andrew Moody     Source  :    China Daily     2020-05-26

                  China's governance system is at an important juncture, according to a leading academic.

                  Ma Liang, professor of public policy at the National Academy of Development and Strategy at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that after five years of tackling corruption, it is now time to focus on modernizing government to achieve important national goals.

                  "I see the process as essentially a two-step one. The first task was to clean up the system. Now, it is to make it more responsive to society's demands," he said.

                  Ma, 36, who was speaking at a lecture theater in the university's Qiushi Building, has written and lectured extensively on China's government system, which is poised for major reform.

                  In October, the fourth plenary session of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee set in motion a program of national governance modernization.

                  "This is historically a very important time for China. It is on the brink of making big progress by achieving key national targets. There couldn't be a better time to look at making government work better," Ma said.

                  The most immediate national goals are eliminating extreme poverty and becoming a "moderately prosperous society in all respects "by the end of this year, in time for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China next year. The latter goal requires a doubling of 2010 GDP per capita.

                  Ma believes that after these targets have been achieved, the modernization of government will require more complex goals than just GDP.

                  "There is already more of a focus on the quality of growth, with an emphasis on research and development and innovation so that the economy upgrades. Other priorities are environmental and air quality."

                  Shanghai was the first city to abolish GDP targets five years ago. That is not to say that GDP will become irrelevant, because it is still important for job creation, which remains a priority for the central government. Less-developed inland provinces will still regard economic growth as important," he said.

                  Ma believes the two sessions is also a good time to reflect on how China's governance system has handled the novel coronavirus pandemic.

                  "We really need to rethink what we can learn from the crisis. Our crisis management system will be under scrutiny, and more attention will need to be paid to disease control and prevention," he said.

                  Ma, who studied public administration at Xi'an Jiaotong University in Shaanxi province, spent several years in the past decade as a researcher at Nanyang Technological University, one of Singapore's leading academic institutions. A number of senior Chinese officials have studied at this university, and Singapore is often cited as a model for good governance in Asia.

                  "In Singapore, they pay high salaries to attract top talent. This is an issue in China," Ma said.

                  "Chinese officials have to be talented because they have to go through a rigorous examination system, but the salaries offered in the private sector, particularly in areas such as finance, might be double or triple (those in government). So one area to look at in China is to fast-track top talent and give people higher salaries."

                  Ma said there is also an international dimension to China's concept of good governance and modernization, imbued in projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jinping.

                  "China, of course, is the world's second-largest economy, but to be a superpower and to get respect from other countries and regions, you have to have your own brand and reputation and then communicate it to the international community," he said.

                  "With the Belt and Road Initiative, it is getting countries to buy into its values of win-win cooperation, mutual benefit and a shared future and common destiny for mankind. It is not what countries can get out of it in terms of investment but (what they can) contribute to it. That is why it is a truly global initiative."

                  One of the aims of modernization is to make the government apparatus more accountable and responsive to the people.

                  "Local officials have to deal with pressures from above and complaints from citizens. In the past, they might have paid more attention to the former. The government has been trying to address this for some time. The fourth plenum, however, has given this momentum and they really want to implement this."

                  At the plenum, Xi, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, emphasized the importance of technology in delivering government services-highlighting blockchain technologies, which enable cryptocurrency transactions and improve data storage capability.

                  Ma said: "There is a double benefit to this. Not only do you deliver government services better, but because government spending is so large in China it provides a major boost to the country's technology industries."

                  He said artificial intelligence is being used on his own campus, with facial recognition in operation at the entry gates.

                  "Previously, there might have been five people to do checks at the gates. Now, there are just two. This is something that will reduce the cost of government operations," he said.

                  Ma said that unlike some Western governments who have had difficulty working with information technology companies, the central government, in particular, has a greater understanding of technology so can more easily work with the country's giant tech firms.

                  "In Guangdong province, for example, Tencent (which operates the social messaging platform WeChat) has invested in a lot of government-related projects," he said.

                  Part of the modernization drive is aimed at easing access to government departments-for example, when setting up businesses and acquiring the necessary licenses. "One-stop service centers have been around for a while, but now some provinces and cities enable you to do this online or by using your cellphone," he said.

                  Modernization will see the Party play a much bigger role in coordinating the work of government agencies in many areas.

                  "This reform is about cross-agency collaboration and coordination, so the Party's involvement is quite helpful in integrating these agencies. This will mainly affect the public sector and those who work in it," Ma said.

                  He added that the whole point of modernization is to produce a government system equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

                  "Meeting the landmark goals China has set itself is about rethinking the whole model of development, looking at what worked in the past but might not work in the future, and looking at ways to improve," he said.

                  Editor: Yu Hui

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