by Wang Shang, Tamara Treichel
BOAO, China, April 10 (Xinhua) -- Innovation is "at the heart" of this year's Boao Forum for Asia, with China doing its part by shifting the country's growth from a focus on quantity to that of quality, Leslie Maasdorp, vice president of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the bustling summit.
The annual forum, which gathers government officials, entrepreneurs and experts to discuss pressing issues affecting Asia, is themed "An open and innovative Asia for a world of greater prosperity."
Maasdorp, also the chief financial officer of the NDB and a veteran banker, said that the forum comes at a "very interesting" time for China as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the country's reform and opening-up.
"So it's a good moment to pause, reflect, look at what will be the next phase of growth for China," he said. "How should it be different? What can we learn from the past 40 years? So it's a very interesting inflection point for China and for the region."
He considers China's past four decades a success. "China's lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty," he said, adding that the economy has grown, key infrastructure is being upgraded, and that technology has enabled big e-commerce companies such as Alibaba and Tencent to thrive.
However, the South African national also pointed out some challenges when it comes to China's rapid economic growth, such as environmental sustainability, widening inequality and the need to train and re-train workers for newly emerging industries.
He also elaborated on the NDB's role in both stimulating growth and promoting innovation in the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which form what is known as the BRICS countries.
"We are just one additional cog in the machine of helping the economies grow faster," Maasdorp said. "Our role is to complement government efforts to upgrade infrastructure. But also we want to be more innovative in how we do that."
The NDB, Maasdorp said, is seeking more innovative mechanisms to attract more private sector capital to bring in pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and insurance companies. "Large institutional investors also look at the long term," he said.
In that respect, Maasdorp cited China as a good example. "China has well-developed medium- and long-term infrastructure plans -- five, ten, in some cases twenty-year plans. There's huge value in that kind of long-term planning."
Maasdorp said that the BRICS countries as a whole are now focusing on moving towards more high-quality growth. "It's no longer just about GDP (gross domestic product) growth for the sake of the GDP growth," he said.
According to Maasdorp, BRICS countries are engaging in economic structural reform, of which he said China is a "big proponent," to identify "things we need to do so we can have a long-term, more high-quality growth."
In addition to innovation, Maasdorp mentioned other factors contributing to high-quality growth, such as reducing inequality, retraining more workers, increasing research intensity, promoting entrepreneurship, as well as improving health care and education, which Maasdorp referred to as "social infrastructure."
"So all of our five (BRICS) countries are focused on these more qualitative aspects," he said.