Liu Chuanzhi discusses Lenovo's new products in Beijing last Friday. (Photo/CNS)
China needs political reforms but the country's entrepreneurs are too weak ias a class to push the government in the right direction, Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi has said in an interview with Chinese-language financial magazine Caijing.
The 68-year-old businessman spoke with candor as he said that the country's economic reforms, having reached a certain level, may stall unless they are accompanied by political and social reforms.
The founder of the world's second-largest PC maker, who describes himself as an old-school and conservative businessman, said Chinese society will not make progress if problems such as unequal job opportunities, unfair laws and corruption remain unresolved.
China's reforms have faced a critical phase, Liu believes. With a leadership transition imminent, many people are expecting a strong and powerful leader to bring about change, though this is not necessarily a good thing. "Even if this kind of leader exists, it is another problem where he will lead the country to," Liu said, recalling the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution and the tyranny of the strong leader who rules by his personal edict. "If (democracy) does not happen in the party, there will be a terrible and powerful leader who can do whatever he wants and decide everything," Liu said.
At this critical time for the country's development, Liu said Chinese entrepreneurs are a weak class in moral terms. Liu said he has his own concerns just like ordinary people but his scruples are affected by his responsibility for the livelihoods of thousands of employees. If the government is active in leading reforms, the business class will offer enthusiastic support, but entrepreneurs dare not resist the authorities; that is our weakness, Liu said.
"Do not place high expectations on entrepreneurs. All depends on the political environment," Liu stated.
"It is not impossible to be free from all inhibitions. If I were brave enough to stand up to tell the truth, I would choose to be a scholar. I knew from the outset that I do not have the capacity and courage, so I chose to be a businessman and never changed my mind," Liu said.
Most entrepreneurs have the goals of pursing their interests and increasing society's wealth, Liu said. When times are good, they will worker harder to expand their business. When times are bad, they will downsize. When times hit rock bottom, they leave and move somewhere safer, Liu told Caijing.
"I am always weak but never waver," Liu said, explaning that he had no courage or power to stand up to the authorities at times when they implemented unfavorable polices. The best he could do would be to try to mitigate his losses. When inflation surged in 1988, he opened a pig farm in Shandong province to ensure his employees were able to afford pork.
Liu said he seeks reform, but not in a sudden and dramatic way. "We would like to contribute much more to society as the reform proceeds gradually," he said.
"We just want to do what we are able to do and run our business well. We will treat the nation as our responsibility."
It is critical to build a good political system, Liu said, whereby the leadership places the interests of the public first so that the people can share the fruits of reform. He hopes the country's top leaders can integrate political, social and economic reforms into a comprehensive package to be rolled out step by step. He is not optimistic however about grassroots reforms and believes the central government must nt be complacent about handling unrest.
"If the authorities are too passive regarding the people's demands, they will find them hard to handle," Liu said.
Liu Chuanzhi 柳傳志