June 10th, 2012 | Global Times China’s model for others; pick your own road
The idea that there is a coherent and distinct “China model” of political economy has gained attention in recent years, especially as financial crisis elsewhere has undermined confidence in the liberal and neo-liberal models which are often associated with Western interests and objectives. But is there a China model? My answer to this is rather complex.
If you look at the way that China has developed over recent years, there are clearly things that are specific to China and make it rather distinct.
Meanwhile, there are also strands that have much in common with not only earlier developmental states in East Asia, but even earlier cases elsewhere. This includes what happened in Germany under Otto von Bismarck and also what was then called the “American System” in the early 19th century.
We can say that some of the general principles of a strong state intervening in the economy to foster infrastructure development and controlling the way that a country engages with the global economy have a rather long history.
But the details of the China case are clearly influenced by its history, culture and other specific features.
A lot of people have tried to identify what the China model actually is. Many focus on flexibility and experimentation. I think that’s right. Indeed, it’s difficult to identify a single model of political economy in China, because different provinces and municipalities have their own different models. And in some ways this is part of the model itself.
But what this suggests is that when people from the outside look at China, and try to identify what they might learn, the focus isn’t so much on what China is as what it is not.
Perhaps what China offers is not so much a “model,” but an example to others of what can be done, and an example of other ways for doing things. Or perhaps it acts as a metaphor for “difference,” a different way of developing from what had become the mainstream agenda, and a different understanding of the way that the global order should be constructed and international relations should be conducted.
Some Chinese commentators pointed out that the key message from the China model is “start from national conditions, and take your own road.” I think this is a good way of thinking about it.
It’s actually quite hard for others to follow the specifics of what China has done, but if you think of the China model as what China has not done, then there may be some lessons.
It is not big-bang reform and shock therapy, it is not a process where economic liberalization necessarily leads to democratization, it is not jettisoning state control over key sectors, it is not following a model or a prescription, it is not being told what to do by others and it is not telling others what to do.
Indeed, China’s development has encountered many problems. China’s policymakers and academics are well aware that there is a need to shift the focus away from investment and exports more toward sustainable domestic consumption oriented growth.
It’s not going to be easy to do so. The long-term appeal of the China model and whether China can have a promising future depends on how the transition to a new “model” is accomplished.
It seems to me that this will also have to entail political reforms that give a greater voice for different interests in the policymaking process and make ordinary people think that they are being listened to.
Clearly something also has to be done about corruption and ensuring that there is equality of opportunity for all as well. And to add to the complexity, we also have to consider the demographic issues that China is going to be facing soon.
The big issues to be dealt with will not be solved by “a quick fix” but will require a long-term program of reforms and changes over a number of years. But if the heart of the China model really is flexibility and pragmatism, then that’s a good basis to start from.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Yu Jincui based on an interview with Shaun Breslin, director of Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, UK.
By Yu Jincui