Deng Xiaoping

We Should Draw On the Experience of Other Countries


Published: June 3, 1988
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


We are carrying out reform in a vast, poor country, and there is no precedent for this anywhere in the world. During the past 39 years of economic development, we have learned from both our successes and our failures. However, we cannot rely solely on our own experience to solve all problems. To develop its economy and shake off poverty and backwardness, China must open to the outside world. By opening up, we mean not only making more contacts with other countries but also drawing on their experience. Unfortunately, we wasted 20 years after 1957, while during those two decades the world developed rapidly. On the other hand, this was useful to us in a way. The experience gained during those 20 years — particularly the lessons of the “cultural revolution” — taught us that we could not proceed unless we carried out reform and formulated new political, economic and social policies. Accordingly, at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC, we formulated a series of principles and policies and thus took a new path. These policies can be summarized as reform and opening up.

Reform and opening up are the means by which we shall develop our economy in three stages. The goal of the first stage is to ensure that the people have adequate food and clothing, and this has been accomplished ahead of time. The goal of the second stage is to enable the people to live a relatively comfortable life by the end of this century. There are still twelve years left, and it seems that we shall be able to reach that goal. And the goal of the third stage is to reach the level of moderately developed countries by the middle of the next century. That goal will be hard to achieve. The last decade of this century will be crucial for laying a foundation and creating good conditions for economic development in the first half of the next.

There is no perfect programme for reform. The important thing is to act prudently, apply proper methods and choose the right timing. It is impossible not to make mistakes, but we should try to avoid serious ones and modify the programme if problems arise. Reform involves risks, but I believe we can carry it out. This optimistic prediction is not groundless. At the same time, we should base our work on the possible emergence of serious problems and prepare for them. In this way, even if the worst should happen, the sky will not fall.

We have solemnly promised that our policy towards Hong Kong will remain unchanged for 50 years after 1997. Why 50 years? There is a reason for that. Not only do we need to reassure the people of Hong Kong, but we also have to take into consideration the close relation between the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the strategy for the development of China. The time needed for development includes the last 12 years of this century and the first 50 years of the next. So how can we change our policy during those 50 years? Now there is only one Hong Kong, but we plan to build several more Hong Kongs in the interior. In other words, to achieve the strategic objective of development, we need to open wider to the outside world. Such being the case, how can we change our policy towards Hong Kong? As a matter of fact, 50 years is only a vivid way of putting it. Even after 50 years our policy will not change either. That is, for the first 50 years it cannot be changed, and for the second there will be no need to change it. So this is not just idle talk.

Stability must be maintained in Hong Kong. It must be maintained not only during the transition period but also afterwards, when the people of Hong Kong are administering the region after China resumes its exercise of sovereignty. This is crucial. In addition to stable economic development, Hong Kong needs a stable political system. As I have said, at present Hong Kong has a political system that is different from the ones in Britain and the United States, and it will not copy any Western system in future either. Arbitrarily copying Western systems would cause unrest, and that would be very harmful. This is a very practical and serious problem.

(Excerpt from a talk with the participants in the International Conference on China and the World in the Nineties.)