A New Millenium for Asia

28 April 1992

As global changes take hold, we are faced with opportunities as well as challenges. Three emerging trends are set to dominate the coming century: technology, openness and the rise of the Asian people. Technological advances have not only made travel through space a reality; down here on Earth, they have played a major role in improving the quality of life for millions. For example, technology has enabled us to introduce genetic alterations to agricultural products and livestock to improve their quality and to increase production. A new conductor has increased the efficiency of power generation from burning coal. The age of technology has improved our living standards by making possible the dreams of yesteryear. It has also dramatically accelerated the pace of life. Hampered by historical circumstances, China has been slow off the starting blocks in the technology arena. This is all the more reason why we should step up the pace of economic and technological modernization in order to prepare for the coming age of technology.

Another challenge we face is that of openness. Witness the changes that have taken place in China over the past decade. Even the most conservative countries in the world are beginning to adopt a policy of openness and reform, with some countries even welcoming foreign investments. The Chinese economy is accelerating under the country’s opening and reform policies. All our agricultural workers are reaping the benefits as a result of these policies and their income has increased dramatically. Regions in the south in particular are seeing an economic and industrial boom. Today, the standard of living in China has vastly improved compared to 10 years ago. We are grateful to our nation’s leaders for implementing these reforms, which have brought prosperity and progress to society.

I hope that the opening and reform policies will continue and that their scope will be further broadened to provide more opportunities for everyone.

As we approach the 21st century, we can foresee that it will be a century in which Asians, and Chinese in particular, will play a leading role.

Over the past 20 to 30 years, Asia’s developing countries have begun catching up with Europe and America. In the 1970’s, the annual GDP growth rate for East Asian countries averaged 5.5%, a rate twice as fast as that of western countries during the same period. In the 1980’s, GDP growth rates for East Asian nations consistently outpaced the rest of the world, and this trend continues into the 1990’s. This has led some people to observe that “The center of gravity has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have well-developed high-tech industries, heavy industries, electronic industries, automobile manufacturing industries, and in some instances they have even surpassed their western counterparts in these areas. Their perseverance and traditional values have helped Asians overcome their adversities in modern times. Rising education standards and hardworking attitudes have helped to create a vibrant Asia.

Compared to western societies, besides some cities being unsafe, some of their citizens have also developed a “free lunch” mentality. This is a consequence of the overly generous welfare system adopted by western countries. Unemployed workers can receive financial assistance, while employed workers are heavily taxed. This has led to a situation where unemployed workers and hard-working but low-wage workers receive approximately the same income, creating a lessened desire to earn a living. Furthermore, at around election time, politicians will promise a series of benefits for their constituents to gain voter support, but at the expense of the country’s long-term interests. This usually results in a large tax burden for its citizens. As the cycle repeats itself, the budget deficit increases and social and economic ills begin to surface.

Despite these problems, the US remains at the forefront of the global technology industry. The US is a resourceful and powerful country, and it welcomes peoples of different nationalities to live and work there. That is why many outstanding Americans are immigrants. This “melting pot” philosophy has fostered numerous innovations and inventions. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans want to earn more but to work less, so the products that they invent are manufactured inexpensively overseas. Manufacturing bases in Japan and other Asian countries have helped to promote the economic prosperity of these countries. However, Japan is catching up quickly, and they are now investing more in research and development than the US. Right now, there are boundless opportunities being created in Asia, and China in particular, under opening and reform policies. The entire Asian region is full of vigour and vitality.

How do we seize the opportunities that will herald the coming of the Pacific Century? Even though our motherland is strong and has rich cultural traditions, I believe that the only way for China to join the ranks of leading global powers is through education. We must make education accessible to all, develop higher education, and nurture our country’s talents. These steps will undoubtedly speed up the pace of our development.

Among Asian countries, the Japanese have the highest respect for a good education. Their literacy rate is almost 100%. Asian students in the US and Europe, particularly Chinese students, generally achieve outstanding academic records. At present, many Asian people are working hard to create a better tomorrow. I believe that the GDP growth rates of Asian countries will continue to outpace those of advanced western countries for some time to come.

Everyone here today is an outstanding scholar, and you play important roles in the development of our country’s higher education system. If we can collaborate with our compatriots overseas, I believe that the 21st century will be The Chinese Century.

The fate of a country rests on education. I want to take this opportunity to express my highest regard for the teachers and educators all over China. I also hope that our students will not disappoint their teachers and take charge to build a brighter tomorrow for our people and our nation. Thank you very much.