World Bank and UNDP endorse Chinese special economic zones as model for African poverty alleviation

January 15, 2012

The International Poverty Reduction Centre of China (IPRCC) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) co-organised a seminar called “China’s SEZs and Poverty Reduction” in  Shenzhen on 9 January. In his speech at the seminar (link forwarded by Yoon Jung Park to the China-Africa mailing list), Christophe Bahuet, UNDP’s China Country Director, said that “China’s Special Economic Zones … offer many valuable experiences and lessons for other developing countries” and expressed his confidence that “this seminar will lead to a useful exchange on good practices, opportunities and challenges for Special Economic Zones in developing countries.”

This endorsement comes after one by Justin Lin, the World Bank’s senior vice president and chief economist, in the prestigious annual UNU-WIDER lecture to the United Nations University in May last year. Lin, who previously was a professor at Peking University, a member of the National People’s Congress and holder of other offices in China, includid setting up special economic zones among his six recommendations for “developing countries” that he called a “road map” to economic growth. (In the same speech, he likened China to a “leading dragon,” rather than a mere “leading goose” as in the expression “flying geese,” that will be the source of structural transformation in these countries.)

In the past, the United Nations Industrial Development Programme (UNIDO) has endorsed special economic zones in Laos and Cambodia and in Nepal (the latter was specifically related to a Chinese project and later retracted by higher-ups in the organisation). But UNDP has tended to be more “pro-poor” and less sanguine about the growth model these zones represent.