Egypt and China: Big Differences

Commentary | March 01, 2011

Fred Teng is a member of the President’s Advisory Group at EWI. He is a senior executive of a monthly print media. This article was originally published in CHINA US Focus (

The recent eruption of protests and violence in Egypt and the resignation of its President, Hosni Mubarak, lead some pundits to predict that the same movement will happen in China. However, China’s circumstances are entirely different and a similar outcome is unlikely.

Along with India and Greece, Egypt and China are two of the oldest civilizations in the world. However, both the Arab Republic of Egypt and the People’s Republic of China only established their current governments about 60 years ago. How did these two governments conduct their affairs? Why are the events that caused the collapse of the Mubarak regime not likely to happen in China?

The main issues that surrounded the downfall of the Mubarak regime appear to be the leadership and the economy.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak served as the only President of Egypt for over 30 years; yet in China, since Deng Xiaoping’s launch of the Open and Reform Policy in 1978, China has made orderly transitions through three generations of leaders.

The first generation had Mao Zedong at the core; the second generation from 1976 to 1992 had Deng Xiaoping ; the third generation from 1992 to 2003, had Jiang Zemin; and the fourth generation from 2003, has Hu Jintao as the core figure (General Secretary), with the prominent leaders include Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong and Li Changchun. By 2012, the fifth generation of leaders will emerge, and the sixth generation of leaders is already being prepared.

In Egypt, the last three presidents - Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak - all came from military backgrounds. By contrast, Chinese leaders are mostly from civilian backgrounds, and many of them are in fact engineers. While many historical great leaders have come from military backgrounds, civilian leaders tend to seek non-military solutions, and they also have a broader vision for science, business, and society as a whole.

One of the rumors is that President Mubarak was plotting to let his son inherit his presidency, which upset a lot of people in Egypt, including the military council, and resulted in a forced resignation.

When we look at the history of the People’s Republic of China, no leader has ever been succeeded by their offspring. The orderly transition of leadership, a well-planned succession, and a merit based leadership selection process has resulted in maintaining China’s stability and progress.

On the economy, both Egypt and China face a daunting task to deal with a vast number of people that need education and employment.

In the last 30 years, the Egyptian government has reformed the highly centralized economy it inherited from President Nasser. The pace of structural reforms, including fiscal and monetary policies, privatization and new business legislations, helped Egypt to move towards a more market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies have strengthened macroeconomic annual growth results which averaged 5% annually, but the government largely failed to curb the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment among youth under the age of 30 years.

In this period China has followed its own socialist market economy and become the world's fastest-growing developing country, with average growth rates of 10% for the past 30 years. China has lifted 300 million people, about four times the size of Egypt’s entire population, out of poverty.  Certainly, China still has a lot of work to do, but its amazing accomplishment is clear.

China’s success is largely due to its long term planning strategy-the Five Year Plans. Moreover, China is committed to stay on the course of its Five Year Plans and not by piecemeal legislation.

China's overall economic construction objectives were clearly stated in the Three Step Strategy set out in 1978:
Step One—double the 1980 GNP and to ensure that the people have enough food and clothing. This was attained by the end of the 1980s;
Step Two—quadruple the 1980 GNP by the end of the 20th century. This was achieved in 1995 ahead of schedule;
Step Three—increase per-capita GNP to the level of medium-developed countries by 2050, at which point the Chinese people will be fairly well-off and modernization will be basically realized.

The 12th Five Year Plan will be adopted in March 2011. Those who are interested in having a deeper understanding of China’s future direction should study the plan and watch the events unfold. China will stick to its plan.

In most democracies, the citizen’s trust and satisfaction with their own government is critical to the success of the nation, and China is no exception. Let us take a look at how most Chinese people view their government. According to 2010 Pew Survey, “China is clearly the most self-satisfied country. Nearly nine-in-ten Chinese are happy with the direction of their country (87%), feel good about the current state of their economy (91%) and are optimistic about China’s economic future (87%). Moreover, 64% of Chinese have a very favorable view of their own country, a self regard that exceeds that among Americans (48%), Russians (43%), Germans (12%) and Brazilians (31%).”

Citizen confidence leads to productivity, investments, and stability. When the citizens are satisfied, the government can conduct its functions; business can produce goods and services, and people can work and provide for their family.

For centuries, China has suffered from natural disasters, unwise policies, foreign intervention, and internal struggles, and there have been many lessons learned. However, today’s China is one that deals with its foreign relations in both diplomacy and defense; engages in the development of its business and scientific capability; protects and regulates the sustainable use of its natural resources; enforces and regulates fair and responsible business practices; determines and enforces civil laws of property and conduct; provides public goods and services for the well-being of the community as a whole, such as infrastructure, vaccination programs, disaster relief, basic healthcare, subsidized housing, public education and public utilities.

While there might be some similarities between Egypt and China in their long civilization, and the moving from a centralized economy to a market economy in the last 30 years, the difference is that China has maintained an orderly transition of leadership, and an economy planning process that is producing results. Most importantly, China’s people are satisfied with their own government.

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