China: A model for the developing world?
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 18, 2007
IS CHINA THE NEW MODEL for the developing world? That’s what Australian journalist Rowan Callick suggests in this long and thought-provoking article in The American.
The model has two components: economic freedom and political oppression.
Observers have wondered for years how long China can survive under its present system. Callick cites Gordon Chang’s book, The Coming Collapse of China, as an example. He notes that Chang’s assumptions, which seemed plausible in 2001 when the book was published, are not as likely to withstand scrutiny today.
Callick points out the primary reason for Chinese success:
The system’s advantage over the standard authoritarian or totalitarian approach is obvious: it produces economic growth, which keeps people happy…the party ensures steadily improving living standards for all, and, in return, the Chinese people let the CPC rule as an authoritarian regime.
It has been widely assumed that exposure to democratic systems abroad would encourage the Chinese to implement those systems at home. But that has not been the case:
A striking example is that of Li Qun, who studied in the U.S. and then served as assistant to the mayor of New Haven…After his return to China, he became a mayor himself, of Linyi in Shandong Province in the Northeast. There, he swiftly became the nemesis of one of China’s most famous human rights lawyers, the blind Chen Guangcheng. First, Chen was placed under house arrest and his lawyers and friends were beaten because of his campaign against forced sterilizations of village women. Then, Chen was charged, bizarrely, with conspiring to disrupt traffic when a trail of further arrests led to public protests. He was jailed for four years.
It is unsettling that many in the go-along-to-get-along business and financial circles find the situation in China appealing:
(T)he big attractions of China to capital from overseas has been that the political setting is stable, that there will be no populist campaign to nationalize foreign assets, that the labor force is both flexible and disciplined, and that policy changes are rational and are signaled well ahead.
It is sometimes surprising who the admirers of China are:
The World Bank is just one of the international institutions that champion China (its greatest client and in some ways its boss) as a paradigm for the developing world.
A troubling aspect of the model for the development of domestic political awareness, not to mention future Sino-Japanese relations, is the Chinese government’s approach to history:
Historian Xia Chun-tao, 43, vice director of the Deng Xiaoping Thought Research Center…says, “It’s very natural for historians to have different views on events. But there is only one correct and accurate interpretation, and only one explanation that is closest to the truth.” The key issues, he says, are “quite clearly defined” and not susceptible to debate. “There is a pool of clear water and there’s no need to stir up this water. Doing so can only cause disturbance in people’s minds.
Others have become aware of the advantages of the Chinese Model:
In the May/June edition of The American, Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, explained that evidence is emerging that developing “countries that are economically and politically free are underperforming the countries that are economically but not politically free.”…Hassett wrote, “…. Being unfree may be an economic advantage. Dictatorships are not hamstrung by the preference of voters for, say, a pervasive welfare state. So the future may look something like the 20th century in reverse.”
The Chinese success is attracting the attention of other governments:
When 21 leaders controlling three-fifths of the world’s economy met at the latest Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney in September, The Nation newspaper in Thailand editorialized: “One could easily spot who the real mover and shaker among them was. It used to be that what the leader of the U.S. said was what would count the most. That is no longer.” The new mover and shaker is China.
There are certain aspects of the model that developing nations find appealing:
Developing nations believe that, as an ideal, the China Model has replaced the American Model, especially as embodied in the “Washington Consensus,” a set of 10 liberal democratic reforms the U.S. prescribed in 1989 for developing nations….The Western requirement that good-governance medicine must be consumed in return for modest aid is now not only unwelcome but also, as far as many African leaders are concerned, outdated. They are no longer cornered without options. Now they’ve got China, which is offering trade and investment, big time, as well as aid.
Liberal democracies insist on the rule of law, but that does not apply in China. (Memo to Japan bashers: note the parenthetical remark in the penultimate sentence):
Chinese people do not expect to obtain justice from the courts, which are run by the party, the judges answerable to the local top cadres. Ordinary people, the laobaixing, have to negotiate their way out of any troubles if they can. They have grown accustomed to, but not accepting of, widespread corruption….Freedom House, in its annual survey, gives China a ranking of “7” for political rights—the organization’s lowest rating and the same as that of North Korea, Burma, and Cuba (Japan ranks “1”). China ranks only slightly higher, at “6,” for civil liberties, the same as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe.
Callick does not neglect to discuss the negative aspects of the Chinese Model. He does fail to take into account, however, two important factors that prevent a reading of China’s future. Both of these factors arise out of China’s implementation of a one-child policy for urban dwellers.
The first is that the graying of the population will engender an unprecedented demographic collapse starting in 2015. The second is that, according to statistics released just last week, China now has a ratio of roughly 120 males to 100 females. How will the losers among the men in the sexual marketplace find ways to occupy their time and energy in the future?
The entire article, however, is worth your time.
Meanwhile, this article in The Washington Post gives a real-world example of how the two elements of the Chinese Model combine. It explains that journalist Pang Jiaoming ran afoul of the authorities when he reported that substandard coal ash was being used in a major railroad construction project.
The ash is a key ingredient in concrete used for tunnels, bridges and roadbed, Pang wrote, and a substandard mix raised the specter of collapsing structures and tragic accidents.
The motive was money, of course:
There was a difference of about $12 a ton between the substandard ash, which contained rock and other waste, and the mandated fine ash, which comes mostly from the smoke of coal burned in power plants, Pang said. That meant a lot of money was being made from fraud, he suggested, probably at the railroad construction company as well as at the coal ash providers.
As a result, Pang was fired, prohibited from working as a reporter at any other publications, and “The Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department and the official All-China Journalists Association issued a directive ordering Pang’s employer, the China Economic Times…to ‘reinforce the Marxist ideological education of its journalists.’”