China Studies Perspectives 2017
Two professors shared their personal vantage points on globalisation and inequality in China
On 26 April 2017, some 600 students across 11 Junior Colleges, IP Schools, Polytechnics and Universities attended China Studies Perspectives 2017, a bilingual student forum jointly organised by Business China and River Valley High School.
This year’s forum, themed “Can Globalisation Reduce Inequality in China?”, featured two esteemed speakers, Dr John A. Donaldson, Associate Professor of Political Science, Singapore Management University School of Social Sciences, and Dr Zhao Litao, Senior Research Fellow, East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. The speakers each presented their own insights and perspectives on the relationship between globalisation and inequality in China’s context.
In her opening remarks, Ms Sun Xueling, CEO of Business China, noted, “Globalisation has ushered in a world where people, capital, ideas, goods and services flow freely and seamlessly across the globe. Nations that have leveraged on these developments have seen tremendous economic growth and social transformation. China and Singapore have both benefitted from a globalised world.” However, Ms Sun also cautioned the consequences of globalisation such as unequal distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities. It is therefore imperative for countries to ensure equitable growth in order to prevent “social unrest and loss of political legitimacy”.
Before the Forum commenced, an opinion poll was conducted where 42% of the student audience felt that globalisation could reduce inequality in China, whilst 58% felt otherwise. Assoc Prof John Donaldson similarly stated that globalisation would not be the panacea to reducing inequality. However, globalisation can help to reduce inequality if government and relevant parties actively ensure that benefits are reaped by all.
Assoc Prof Donaldson cited that according to Kuznet’s curve, economic inequality first increases then decreases as the economy develops. However, in the context of China, it was the opposite when its economy began to open and develop in the 1970s. He further pointed out that poverty and inequality are not the same although they are co-related. In the context of modern China, despite decreasing poverty, inequality is simultaneously rising. Assoc Prof Donaldson also illustrated the three main areas of inequality in China – regional development, education, and migrant workers – through a series of photographs and charts.
Dr Zhao opined that while China’s participation in globalisation positively reduced global inequality, globalisation has in turn exacerbated China’s internal inequality. He expanded on Assoc Prof Donaldson’s viewpoint and further analysed China’s three main areas of inequality, before postulating that China’s efforts in countering inequality may face problems from having a slow urbanisation rate or the emergence of artificial intelligence and other new technologies.
In response to a question about whether the emerging “Internet Plus (Internet+)” in China can contribute towards alleviating inequality, Dr Zhao was optimistic about its effects, stating that under China’s new economic norm where the economic capacity of urban areas are increasingly saturated, Internet+ is seen to have high potential in benefitting the rural areas in China and thus reducing inequality.
The same poll was conducted again to round off the Forum, and more students feel that globalisation cannot reduce inequality, up from 58% to 64%.
The Forum was conducted in both English and Mandarin with simultaneous interpretation service provided for non-Chinese students.
The China Studies Perspective Series was conceptualised to provide a truly bilingual and bicultural platform for speakers with Western and Eastern perspectives to deliberate on China-related issues from their unique vantage points. The Forum seeks to promote understanding and appreciation of differing philosophical orientations, political views and cultural nuances in international engagements. Singapore has traditionally been situated at the crossroad of cultures. It is imperative that Singaporean students continue to augment our unique capability to code-switch and engage effectively across cultures, and to play a bigger role in global connectivity.