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Reexamination of the ‘China Model’

Apr 16, 2011

The “China Model” has recently become a topic of heated discussion among both Chinese scholars and their overseas colleagues. Some are trying to link up this model with the “Beijing Consensus”. Meanwhile, overseas communities including English-speaking ones have also got some stereotyped impression on such a link-up. Why is it that European and American scholars can easily see a link between the two while the Chinese, who support the "China Model" seldom feel about it?

Relations and Differences between the Beijing Consensus and the China Model

The two do differ from one another in terms of time, contents and purposes. The Beijing Consensus, totally technical and practical, is a policy option that allows direct viewing and comparison. It deals with the issue of interest-oriented production and distribution. The China Model, on the other hand, is a deep-seated and abstract concept with purposes and emotions, a feature that affects the composition of meaning. The former is substantial while the latter is spiritual.

The Beijing Consensus, deriving from the Washington Consensus, centers its focus mainly on the path of socialist reforms. To roughly differentiate the two, the Washington Consensus centers on shock therapy, whereas the Beijing Consensus focuses on gradual reform. The former reflects the beliefs of international financial and monetary organizations, while the latter is the tested product of China’s experiments.

The Beijing Consensus is not intended to differ from the Washington Consensus over the general direction of reform and historical development. From a logical point of view, they can be differentiated from each other. It is not a must, however, to make such differentiations because the focus of both is put on methodology rather than ontology, with examination of the soundness of the intervention plans of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund being one of their essential policy implications.

Suppose the Beijing Consensus is feasible. Why the supposition, people may ask. Some interpretation and explanation would be necessary here. Interpretation and explanation will naturally arouse arguments and debates, with the focal point centering on whether China develops in a peculiar environment. If the answer is negative, the Beijing Consensus would be no more than a technical issue. If the answer is yes, a new question would follow: is the peculiarity institutional, ideological or cultural? Any explanation about such peculiarity would involve the China Model.

By institutional peculiarity, we wonder whether the one-party system is a better choice for facilitating the reform of the State ownership system because it secures political stability. As for ideological peculiarity, we hope to make sure whether socialism is a driving force behind reform progress because it executes macro-regulation for collective benefits. The third concern, about cultural peculiarity, involves the Confucian culture: Does it provide any help to reformists taking up challenges because it fosters in them the right mentality?

In short, any discussion about the China Model would no doubt involve epistemology and ontology. In other words, do the Chinese take a reform path different from that followed in the West mainly because they see the world in ways different from those opted by the Europeans or Americans, or will the Chinese drive for reform goals totally different from those the Europeans and Americans used to favour simply because they are inherently different from the latter?

The Beijing Consensus tilts its focus toward policy programs. Those who support the same and one policy program, however, may often bosom totally different motives. This explains why people interested in the Beijing Consensus do not necessarily fall into the same ideological camp. Those who oppose the Beijing Consensus may also have their own secret motives, so there is not any likeliness for them to collaborate with each other.

Those who appreciate the Beijing Consensus may criticize the excessive rudeness of the Washington Consensus, or they may see the former as a more effective way to achieve freedom and democracy. Of course, some people may support the Beijing Consensus to show their opposition to Western intervention in other parts of the world. In other words, appreciation of the Beijing Consensus may be an autocriticism by some Europeans or Americans, or an expression of defiance of the Western world by some non-Westerners.

Rivalry between the China Model and the Western Way

Since the China Model seen from the perspective of the Beijing Consensus reveals the fact that China and the Western world belong to two totally different camps, what it involves is not the superiority of one approach over the other but the incomparability of the approaches they follow respectively. The discussion about the China Model is more abstract, philosophical and intellectual than that about the Beijing Consensus. It is rarely a concern among practical thinkers or policy makers. Even if it does get their concern, it is often understood differently.

Internationally speaking, the Beijing Consensus was reached against the background of normalization of Western powers’ intervention in the failed states after the upheavals in the former Soviet Union and East Europe had totally ebbed. Domestically, China had successfully completed its transition of power to the fourth-generation leadership, ended its ideological swing between socialism and capitalism, and come to the decision to merge into the world community. Moreover, China had risen above Russia and Europe as a major manufacturer, exporter and buyer in the world.

The concept of the China Model was raised sometime later against the background of global recognition of China’s rise and the subsequent talk about “Chimerica”, developments that have brought the world to wonder and worry about whether China would seek supremacy and whether it would promote a development model different from the West during its drive for supremacy. Whether China has a model of its own has also become a concern among Chinese intellectuals. If it does, will it use this model to contend with the West or even try to export it?

Among the issues drawing Western concerns, the one that runs through the Beijing Consensus and the China Model is about freedom and democracy, or the one-party system of the Communist Party of China. If the Beijing Consensus is feasible, it would certify the feasibility of gradual reform and the feasibility of the one-party system as well. Likewise, if the China model is feasible, it would attest the feasibility and even superiority of its one-party system and deny the feasibility of the multi-party democratic system practiced in the Western world.

In further analysis, the China Model will further challenge the global governance model favoured by the Western countries as well as their intervention in the so-called failed states. The Beijing Consensus rarely touches upon the issue of intervention. In discussions about the China Model, however, China’s rejection of intervention has been articulated, an evidence serving as a denial of the so-called “universal value” based on Western social models.

Here lies the explanation to the case that even as many people voice loud opposition to the popularization of the China Model, what they are actually trying to do is to defy Western attempts to interfere in China’s domestic affairs. They are also hinting, obliquely, at attempts to arbitrarily promote the Western model, a move that has produced significant impacts on Western powers. Although Xi Jinping’s widely-cited remark in Mexico – “We will not cause you any trouble” – was made as a logically defensive gesture, it has been taken by Western media as a typical example of China’s growing arrogance.

Therefore, the concept of the China Model concerns much more than the effectiveness of policies and the survival of a regime. It also involves the fundamental understanding of the Chinese way of existence and direction of development. Whether the Beijing Consensus exists or whether it is good may be open for discussion at seminars or over dinners. As for the China Model, it is much more than a dinner time topic.

Shi Zhiyu is a professor at the Politics Department, Taiwan University

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