What Cuba can learn from China’s reform and opening-up

Cuban President declared Saturday the country will learn from the experiences of socialist countries such as China, Vietnam and Laos. On the same day, Cuba’s National Assembly approved the draft of the nation’s new constitution. Private business, which used to be considered a form of exploitation, has been legitimized. The significance of foreign direct investment is further acknowledged. Some observers therefore call the move the starting point of the Cuban version of reform and opening-up.

Today’s Cuba is confronting low economic growth, decreasing export earnings, huge debt and unsatisfying performance in agriculture and tourism. Meanwhile, in this era filled with liberalism and individualism, the Cuban peopleare still holding onto a belief in social equality and socialism. How to implement reform and opening-up based on such circumstances without causing a disparity between the rich and the poor as well as social instability? An exploratory process is needed. According to China’s experience, the initial stage of reform and opening-up is the toughest of times.

Many Western media and netizens have failed to come up with these questions while merely focusing on whether this marks Cuba’s political transformation. Some claimed this is a step learned from China’s political system. Apparently, when it comes to “learning from China,” Western people are overwhelmed by suspicions and even fear. As an Australian journalist Richard McGregor suggested in the Wall Street Journal, instead of sharing China’s wisdom, Beijing is actually “encouraging the spread of authoritarianism.”

Setting misjudgment aside, their biggest mistake is equating learning with copying.

When it comes to China’s experience or the Chinese model, one can certainly not neglect the Chinese system. Yet the crucial part of the Chinese experience is to understand oneself correctly, objectively and make a development strategy based on such recognition. The core is to ensure economic reforms and opening-up to the world are proceeding at the same time. Especially in the initial stage of the process, it requires wisdom and courage.

After 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has developed quite a few experiences that are worth learning. For instance, Vietnam is privatizing state-owned enterprises, helping medium and small enterprises boost their competitiveness in the global value chains. African nations and Pakistan are discussing how to learn from Beijing about reducing poverty.

As these countries increase their interactions with China and participate in the Belt and Road initiative, they have noticed more and more merits to learn from the Middle Kingdom. Yet some Westerners constantly raise the issue of political system, as if countries with different political systems cannot learn anything from China or once they learn, all they get is authoritarianism. The West consistently misleads developing nations in their choice of development path.

The role of political system cannot be neglected. Thanks to China’s system, reform and opening-up have been carried out in an orderly fashion. Cuba is adjusting amid difficult circumstances. It is learning from China amid the hard reality while attempting not to break its pursuit of social equality. This is worth encouraging.

China doesn’t expect to export its model. Beijing has never believed that one size fits all. Anyone who tries to understand Chinese experiences or models, or anyone who has tried to forecast China’s future, should first of all understand why and how China is sticking to reform and opening-up. Openness brings progress and closing one’s doors against the world only leads to falling behind.