The Fire-Breathing Dragon and the Cute, Cuddly Panda: The Implication of China's Rise for Developing Countries, Human Rights, and Geopolitical Stability

Article excerpt

China's rapid emergence as a major world power over the last twenty-eight years has produced shock and awe.1 Leaders of rich and poor countries alike envy the high growth rates. Nobel laureate economists praise China policymakers for their pragmatic approach and wise choices, with a majority predicting that China will have the largest economy in seventy-five years if not sooner. Pundits proclaim the victory of the so-called Beijing Consensus ("BC") over the Washington Consensus ("WC"). International developing agencies admire China's remarkable success in reducing poverty, raising literacy rates, and increasing longevity. Proponents of the new law and development movement note that China has been more successful than most countries at its income level in implementing rule of law and achieving good governance.

On one hand, China seems to be a paradigm of a successful developing country. In 2004, the World Bank hosted a conference in Shanghai attended by more than 1,200 participants from 117 countries to discuss what other countries could learn from China's experience.2 On the other hand, China's rise has been accompanied by fear-even hysteria. In the eyes of its harshest critics, China is a godless regime that brutally oppresses its people. Opposition to China is particularly intense because China is both the Soviet Union, the rising military menace, and Japan, the rising mercantilist economic power engaging in "unfair" trade practices and threatening to "buy up America" all rolled into one. For these new post-Cold War warriors, China must be prevented from becoming so powerful as to challenge American supremacy. China's ascendancy must therefore be fought at every juncture: economically, politically, and militarily.

China is not the fire-breathing dragon portrayed by its critics. But neither is it the cute, cuddly panda as portrayed by Beijing's spin-doctors. China's rise will require an adjustment in the world order. The United States and Western countries will have to accept that China has its own legitimate interests, and that those interests will at times conflict with the interests of the United States and other powers.

Part I explores the implications of China's rise for the new law and development movement, and suggests that the success of China and other East Asian states offers important lessons for other developing countries, even if not all countries will be able to, or will want to, follow the East Asian Model ("EAM"). Part Il explores the implications of China's rise for the human rights movement, focusing on the implications for civil and political rights, the right to development, global inequality, and humanitarian intervention. Part III considers whether China's rise will lead to geopolitical instability, and what can be done to prevent this. Part IV concludes with some thoughts on United States-China relations and the recent speech by Deputy secretary of State Robert Zoellick encouraging China to become a responsible stakeholder in the international order.3

Some cautionary caveats are in order. First, it is by no means certain that China's growth and development will continue. Many lower income countries make some initial progress and show improvement in terms of economic growth, institutional development and good governance given their low starting points. However, once they reach the middle income level, they get bogged down. Powerful interest groups capture the reform agenda, opposing further reforms or pushing for reforms that do not benefit the general public. Economic growth slows or reverses, and the reform momentum is dissipated. Some states settle into a stable but dysfunctional holding pattern, while others sink into chaos and become failed states. There are already signs of reform fatigue and diminishing returns in China. Future progress will require the political will to press ahead with deeper economic, social, legal, and political reforms. Despite the obstacles, there is reason to be optimistic, given China's performance to date and the exceptional success of other East Asian states. …