China's 'new normal' is still a win-win
Updated: 2015-04-17 06:59
By Massimo Bagnasco(China Daily Europe)
After decades of incredibly fast development, starting with the reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping, China is currently in an age of transition and change, moving toward a model of "new normal" GDP growth.
It is not a coincidence that we are now exactly in the middle of that 70-year plan that Deng made, a plan designed to raise China to the level of the most industrialized countries and transform it into a more economically open one.
Two-digit growth could not have been maintained any longer and this strategic turn has been clearly visible since the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, in November 2013, when it was stated that new reforms should focus on promoting more sustainable, quality-driven development.
Sustainability and quality are also the cornerstones of Xi Jinping's "new normal" theory, which indeed reaffirms that slower growth is necessary to achieve a more balanced and improved economic structure, where the service industry and innovation are key drivers.
But how has this transition influenced my profession? In 2013 my company, an architectural design consultancy, experienced a very tough time. The real estate market was slowing down and we tried to use this temporary situation to carry out more research on Chinese urban development, looking into social, economic and technical factors and policy trends to foresee the needs of society that we, as architects, should address.
In one sentence, we worked to "innovate" our service.
As it turned out, an immediate effect of China's new policy perspective was the National New-Style Urbanization Plan (2014-2020), announced during the 3rd Plenum and officially issued in the spring of 2014.
This comprehensive document provided key guidelines for urbanization development in China until 2020, targeting sustainable urban development, centered on the human being, and which must also pursue quality. The plan identifies strategies and necessary actions to be implemented in key macro areas, including the improvement of the integration between urban and rural areas, strengthening of environmental protection, historical heritage enhancement and higher efficiency in land use.
When I first heard about the plan, I understood that we were heading in the right direction, as our design philosophy and ideas were in line with its principles and objectives. In 2007, we had published the Chinese version of one of our books, "Design on Human Scale".
Starting with the need to develop a design that is fully human centered, we took advantage of previous research, identifying specific areas for our projects that have become the main focus of our design activities. Examples include the integration between urban and rural zones; renovation of "historical villages" by transforming them into an eco-tourism destinations; "family villages" dedicated to aging people as well as to families for their holidays; and "R&D communities", where the traditional model of the research and development park evolves from a working space into a space where people can live.
We combined strong European, and in particular Italian, expertise and know-how in these fields with an in-depth analysis of Chinese idiosyncrasies, to provide something that could be both innovative and easily adaptable to China in a medium to long-term view.
This approach already has resulted in some projects we are working on, such as the master plan for the development of a huge rural area in Jiangsu province. The idea is to create an agricultural demonstration park, balancing several functions, from agricultural production to eco-tourism attractions to a residential/services area. The key feature of the project is to mix the Italian background with the needs, resources and features of the place.
Even during this period of economic structural change, I am convinced China is still a "place to be" for companies, including also those small to medium-sized enterprises looking for business opportunities outside their own countries.
Meanwhile, China needs foreign companies' contributions to proceed on its path toward this new economic model based on a stronger and more innovative service sector.
I believe a healthier business environment, more fair competition and improved market access can ultimately benefit the Chinese economy, and society as a whole.
In this regard China is negotiating with the European Union the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment - previously called the EU-China Bilateral Investment Agreement - as well as accession to the Government Procurement Agreement in the World Trade Organization.
Reading the message Xi recently delivered at the opening plenary session of the Asia Boao Forum, I felt reassured such a result could be reached. He stated that despite slower GDP growth, China's economy remains resilient and committed to further "opening-up, improving its investment climate and protecting foreign investors' lawful rights and interests", as well as is proactively working for "a new win-win strategy of opening-up", which encourages cooperation with the international community for common development.
The changes are sometimes seen as an alarming signal of economic slowdown, the end of China's "golden age". I just see the situation as the beginning of a new economic period, with different targets and challenges, as well as new opportunities. This "new normal" age is planned to be more sustainable, from many points of view, and I think this perhaps is more desirable than uncontrolled development that comes with high costs in terms of quality of life and environmental protection.
The author is a partner and managing director of Progetto CMR, an Italian architectural design consultancy. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
( China Daily European Weekly 04/17/2015 page9)