Global Times: Path to modernity: 45 years on, continuous reform and opening-up underpins pursuit of Chinese modernization

BEIJING, Dec. 20, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Outside the US fast food chain McDonald’s restaurant in Shenzhen’s Luohu district, the streets are bustling with people, just like many commercial centers across China. There is hardly a sign that attests to the significance of this place.

Yet, this particular place provides a vintage point to view unprecedented changes China’s 45 years of reform and opening-up brought to Shenzhen, the country as well as the world. Luohu is a frontier in the reform and opening-up, with many “firsts” – it was home to the first securities exchange, the first foreign-funded bank and the first McDonald’s restaurant in the Chinese mainland. 

Forty-five years have passed since the beginning of China’s reform and opening up, Luohu remains a vibrant district, and Shenzhen has transformed from what was once a small fishing village to a world-class metropolis that aptly epitomizes China’s transformation from a poor and backward country to a modern social economic powerhouse. In fact, Shenzhen has become the first stop for many foreign leaders on official trips to China, including Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros, as they sought to learn about China’s development story and latest innovation trends. 

All of these are snapshots depicting the miraculous achievements of China’s reform and opening-up over the past 45 years, its rising global significance, as well as the clear path forward as China is in full swing to pursue Chinese modernization. Deepening reforms and expanding high-level opening-up remains a top priority in China’s development strategy, which will not only underpin China’s path to modernization but also greatly contribute to development around the world, businesses and analysts said. 

From December 18 to 22, 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was held, which ushered in a period of reform, opening-up, and socialist modernization.

Shenzhen speed’ 

When McDonald’s opened its restaurant in Luohu in 1990, many could not imagine how fast it would grow, according to Raymond Ye, Franchising Division President of McDonald’s China.

“They think it’s amazing because they can’t imagine that there can be so many people in one city, and it’s amazing that there is such a high turnover,” Ye told the Global Times, referring to his US colleagues’ response to the success of the restaurant in Shenzhen. 

From the first restaurant in the mainland in 1990 to more than 5,600 now, McDonald’s rapid growth in the Chinese market reflects the rapid development in both Shenzhen and China as a whole. Such a development pace – known as “Shenzhen speed” – is seen across many industries in Shenzhen. 

Tang Lingli, general manager of MBE International, a Shenzhen-based logistics company, has engaged in the foreign trade business for more than 20 years, and also witnessed the booming of foreign trade.

“It was good if we could handle 1,000 tons of goods per month 20 years ago, now I think it is normal to handle 16,000 tons of goods,” she told the Global Times. In the past, majority of the goods were labor-intensive products like clothing and shoes, but now the types of goods have also changed to more value-added products such as electronic devices, she added.

While Shenzhen’s first foreign business arrived just over 40 years ago, the city is now one of the largest hubs for global businesses in China. In the information shared with the Global Times, Commerce Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality said the city currently has attracted nearly 300 foreign companies, including Airbus, Sanofi and Siemens. In 2022, 91 countries and regions invested in Shenzhen, with investments from the Netherlands, the UK and Germany seeing significant growth.

Official data show that China’s foreign direct investment has surged from just $80,000 at the beginning of the nation’s reform and opening-up in 1979 to over $189 billion in 2022. Overall, China has become the world’s second-largest economy and the world’s biggest trading country.

“Reform and opening-up has changed China, and it has also played a huge supporting role in economic growth,” Huo Jianguo, vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday. “Chinese modernization is the result of reform and opening-up, which was true in the past, still is at present and will be in the future.”

Huo said since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, China entered a new era of high-level opening-up, and after the 20th CPC National Congress, new forms of institutional openness have been proposed, and at each step, openness and reforms have played a crucial role in supporting China’s continuous development.

High-level opening-up

In the just closed Central Economic Work Conference which set out plans on economic work for 2024 last week, Chinese leaders said high-standard opening-up should be expanded. 

One of the priorities for the work of 2024 is that reforms will be deepened, and the meeting also called for nurturing strategic emerging industries including biological manufacturing, commercial space industry and low-altitude economy, and opening up new arenas for future industries such as quantum technology and life sciences.

On the opening-up front, efforts should be made to foster new drivers of foreign trade, consolidate the overall performance of foreign trade and foreign capital, and expand the intermediate goods trade, service trade, digital trade and cross-border e-commerce export.

In September of this year, the 2023 China International Fair for Trade in Services, the world’s largest services trade fair held in Beijing, yielded more than 1,100 outcomes in the form of agreements, deals and academic papers, highlighting China’s commitment for wider opening-up and sharing development opportunities with the world.

The Sixth China International Import Expo, the world’s biggest import fair, wrapped up in Shanghai in November. The fair saw tentative deals worth $78.41 billion signed, 6.74 percent higher than 2022’s figure, demonstrating China’s vital role in the international market and its unswerving determination to open up its market.

China’s commitment to deepening reforms and expanding high-level opening-up offers great boost for global businesses’ confidence in China. 

China’s high-level opening-up is also reflected in the continuous promotion of an environment that respects the value of knowledge and the improvement of the intellectual property protection system. The drive for innovation has been well protected, further strengthening our confidence in investing in and rooting in China, Huang Guoqiang, senior vice president of LEGO Group and the general manager of Lego China, told the Global Times.

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Path to modernity: 45 years on, continuous reform and opening-up underpins pursuit of Chinese modernization