restricted access Note from The Brookings Institution
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xvii Note from The Brookings Institution john l. thornton Chair, Board of Trustees Imet Zhu Rongji for the first time in the mid-1990s when as Vice Premier he was responsible, in addition to many other pressing matters, for the first overseas listings of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). I was Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asia at the time and had relatively frequent contact with Vice Premier Zhu and Wang Qishan, who was then Governor of China Construction Bank, as we worked on the Hong Kong listing of China Mobile. This was completed in October 1997, three months after the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong, and it inaugurated an era in which the majority of China’s largest SOEs would become publicly listed companies. Today, China Mobile stands as the world’s largest mobile phone company with over 700 million subscribers. After Zhu Rongji became Premier in 1998, he continued his total commitment to the reforms that propelled China’s rapidly expanding economy. Our association has continued to the present day: Zhu was the founding Dean of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management (SEM) and remains Honorary Chairman of its Advisory Board. As the incumbent chair, I have the pleasure of working with the former Premier as SEM strives to become one of the world’s leading business schools. The Zhu Rongji I have known for nearly two decades is very much the man captured in the pages that follow. Courageous, decisive, grounded, curious, and disarmingly funny, he mastered both the macro and micro picture of whatever challenge he faced. His searing intellect and force of personality were justifiably famous and to many intimidating. One contribution of this volume, however, is to show another defining quality of Zhu as a leader: his quest for ideas from both inside and outside China, an openness to persuasive counterargument, and the ability to adjust the details of policy even as his determination to execute his overall vision never wavered. The volume overflows with Zhu’s insights, singular personality, and leadership style. The selections, made by Zhu himself, also chart the history of some of the most challenging economic issues faced by China during this pivotal period xviii A Note from the Brookings Institution in its development. They will be invaluable to scholars and serious students who seek to better understand China, and deserve careful study. One document is especially significant and required reading for anyone interested in how China has become the second most important country in the world in such a short span of time. Titled “On Comprehensively and Correctly Understanding the Spirit of Deng Xiaoping’s Talks in Southern China,” it is a speech that Zhu gave to the Shanghai delegation at the 1992 National People’s Congress. A couple of months earlier, Deng Xiaoping had made his landmark “Southern Tour,” which he used to reenergize China’s commitment to reform. In his speech, Zhu declares that the spirit of the Southern Tour is a call to “seize the moment”: “We must be more liberated in our thinking, we must be more daring, and we must move more quickly in stepping up our economic development .” He continues in his distinctive, plain style: . . . if you’re too “clever,” in the end you won’t be wise. If you’re always worried about losing out, how can you move ahead? If you calculate all the angles, the moment may be lost, and then you won’t be able to move ahead. This is a time when the international economy is undergoing a major adjustment. We can’t afford not to seize it. But Zhu also criticizes officials who try to achieve growth through investment at all costs—“Do it big and do it fast.” He calls for a more intelligent approach founded on market-based reforms, technological advancement, and enterprises taking responsibility for their success or failure. Zhu’s speech was initially criticized by some who mistakenly believed his call for prudence was in opposition to Deng’s thinking, and he came under considerable political pressure. Deng read a copy of Zhu’s remarks, however, and fully affirmed that they were an accurate interpretation of his talks. Consequently, the speech was distributed to party officials throughout the country as required reading in understanding the Southern Tour, the event that established the framework of China’s development policies for the next two decades. Zhu ranks among a very small number of truly extraordinary statesmen whom I have encountered. In...