News / Asia

World Bank Call for Chinese Reforms Elicits Rare Protest

Stephanie Ho

World Bank President Robert Zoellick held a news conference in China Tuesday to explain a new report calling for structural economic reforms in China.  A lone protester disrupted the event and called attention to China’s growing income inequality.

Zoellick had just sat down and was starting to talk at Tuesday's news conference, when Du Jianguo came to the front of the room to shout slogans and hand out copies of his protest statement.

Du Jianguo, a protester claiming to be an independent economist and demonstrating against the World Bank's
Du Jianguo, a protester claiming to be an independent economist and demonstrating against the World Bank's "China 2030 Report", is taken away by a security guard during a news conference in Beijing, February 28, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Before Du was dragged away, he said the World Bank is poisonous to China and that its policies exacerbate the country's already growing wealth gap. He called himself an independent scholar. Some of his English-language comments echoed the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The translator for the news conference conveyed his complaints to the World Bank president. Zoellick,  a veteran of anti-World Bank protests, was unperturbed.

“As you see, this report has provoked some interesting debate in China,” he said.

Zoellick explained the new report, “China 2030”, urges China's leaders to ask what he describes as “tough questions” about how the country's economy will adapt to the global financial crisis and slowing export demand.

“China has been very successful over the past 30 years with one structural model for development," he noted. "That model has focused on export-led and heavily investment-led growth. The 12th five-year plan recognizes that needs to change, to focus more on domestic demand and consumption.

The report says the country’s brisk economic growth is unsustainable unless China makes major free-market reforms.

The World Bank head says he expects vested interests that benefit from the current structure will resist that change, but he said the change is necessary for the good of all Chinese people.

Arvind Subramanian, with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, rejected the argument that the World Bank is responsible for bringing inequality to China, but he acknowledged the protester's anger - especially over related issues like corruption.

“There is no question that in this country, rising inequality is a major - one of the big imbalances,” he admitted.

He added that adequately addressing these problems will require more than strictly economic solutions.

“I think that people see that one of the solutions to that is to have greater accountability and that might be the mechanism through which greater political freedoms are demanded," Subramanian said. "I think political reform, economic accountability mechanism, is perhaps kind of, if I can peer through the lens, is kind of the way forward in China.”

During this trip, Zoellick also visited Guangdong province and Inner Mongolia. He says this is likely his last trip to China before he steps down as World Bank president in June.

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