Academic journal article China Perspectives

Dissecting China's Rise: Controversies over the China Model

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Dissecting China's Rise: Controversies over the China Model

Article excerpt

China's increasing rise in the world is often juxtaposed against its mounting domestic problems. On the one hand, China has become the second largest economy in the world and a familiar player in the global economy and politics. On the other hand, more and more attention has been given to the hidden cost of China's incredible economic performance and its impending risks. Not only do critics question the increasing domestic inequalities and environmental degradation, but doubts have been cast on the sustainability of China's economic growth and its readiness as a rising power. What causes the disconnection between China's international rise and domestic reality and the conflicting evaluations of China's development? In the following text, I will first discuss the controversies over the China model - whether it has anything different from existing models and whether it can be replicated elsewhere. I will then analyse what I see as the three major components of the China model, if there is one, and the strengths and weaknesses of each component as well as possible ways of improvement.

From the Beijing Consensus to the China model

The "Washington Consensus" is often summarised as privatisation, marketisation, and liberalisation, the kind of policies endorsed by the IMF, the World Bank, political and business leaders from developed countries, and increasingly the elites in developing countries. To some extent, it is a globalised version of the modernisation theory, which proposes that developing countries have to emulate Western institutions (and abandon their "backward" traditions) in order to catch up with the West in the modern world. However, unlike the modernisation theory, it focuses on the magic power of the market institution, and emphasises the importance of participation in the global market and reduction of trade barriers above all else. Therefore, critics sometimes call it a kind of "market fundamentalism." (1) The Washington Consensus has dominated the discourse on development since the 1980s. However, the neoliberal model captured in the Washington Consensus has not proved to be a true panacea for development but rather a bumpy road for many developing countries (e.g., in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa), and has therefore never lacked criticism and resistance. One of the challenges to this Western triumphalism has taken place in recent years, as people have started paying attention to the rise of China, which has seemingly defied the doctrines of neoliberalism.

The Beijing Consensus was coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo in his book published by the Foreign Policy Centre in Britain in 2004, and since then has been widely adopted as a term rivalling the Washington Consensus and its embedded ideology. (2) Ramo proposes three components of the Beijing Consensus: a commitment to innovation and constant experimentation, a measurement of progress beyond GDP per capita that includes sustainability and even distribution of wealth, and self-determination. Although people may argue that what Ramo lays out as the cardinal principles of the Beijing Consensus may be more of an ideal than a description of reality, the Beijing Consensus reflects frustration with the Washington Consensus and its "one size fits all" approach and a call for alternatives. Discussion of the Beijing Consensus has expanded into an intellectual debate over the China model (Zhongguo moshi) since the recent global recession in 2007, when people started to question the effectiveness of laissez faire capitalism and contrast it with China's economic resilience.

The controversies over the China model mainly revolve around two questions: first, does China truly offer an alternative model of development? In other words, is there anything special about the China model that is not transitory, and does China prove the modernisation theory wrong? Second, is the China model applicable to other countries? The first question concerns mainly the role of the state and the type of state in economic performance and social management, that is, the market approach vs. …

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