Peasant incomes declining, farm productivity dwindling, says Mohanty

In spite of its spectacular rise as a global economic power, China is now grappling with concerns such as widening inequities, workers’ unrest and corruption, Manoranjan Mohanty, political scientist and faculty member at the Council for Social Development, Delhi, has said.

Delivering the Founder’s Day lecture organised by the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in honour of Malcolm Adiseshiah on Thursday, Prof. Mohanty argued that while the reform process had spurred remarkable economic success, the consequences of over three decades of reforms had virtually subjugated the country to a set of economic, social and political forces that formed a trap from which it was proving impossible for the Chinese government to take the country out.

It was the strategy of development followed by China since 1978, especially in the post-1992 phase, that created this “success trap.”

“Thus, despite all the accounts of achievements, there is a deep concern in contemporary China about a number of problems which afflict it even after over 30 years of success with economic reforms,” Prof. Mohanty said.

Pointing to the widespread social anxiety as the most evident problem, he said that China today represented one of the most unequal societies of the world as “the effects of reforms are so disparate that a lot of people feel alienated as they perceive others having gained far more than them.”

Rural reforms — which were in the 1980s described as the “third revolution,” had been neglected to such an extent that peasant incomes were declining, productivity in agriculture dwindling and the urban-rural income gap widening, he said.

Labour unrest

According to Prof. Mohanty, most illustrative of the nature of mass protests — which rose from 52,000 officially documented by the National People’s Congress in 2003 to an estimated 1,80,000 in 2010 — was the fact that more than two-thirds took place in the countryside and mostly involved local opposition to the take over of farm land for industrial purpose.

Labour unrest was also turning a common occurrence in China. Not only were the large numbers of retrenched workers restive, China’s manufacturing success fashioned out of sweatshop labour had meant that even serving workers found working conditions and wages unacceptable, he said.

In his view, the problem with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s approach to corruption as a governance issue than a structural issue was that corrective governance by itself could fail to curb the rising trend of multi-faceted corruption. The scope for corruption would persist and thrive in the very space created by a growth-centric economic strategy that sought high profits by managers and entrepreneurs through a liberalised and discretionary regime, he said.

China, after having emerged as the world’s second largest economy, was now faced with two sets of options as a global power; to pursue the big power road of iniquitous growth or take the more equitable democratic road.

“In the coming months, Xi Jinping has to make clear choices on how to fight corruption… promote democracy… orient development toward equity, sustainability and build China as a democratic force for global peace and equity,” he said.

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