Time to Rethink the “China Model”?

On The East Asia Forum, Shaun Breslin challenges the concept of a distinct “China model” of development, suggesting that China’s growth experience is not new and different but rather another example of “strong state developmentalism with Chinese characteristics”:

The argument that there is an unsustainable reliance on exports — and investment — to generate growth seems widely accepted, even if it is less clear how a ‘rebalancing’ can be achieved. Still, the possibility that an identifiable Chinese model exists is not just the source of considerable interest, but also a degree of national pride.

But rather than highlighting a contradiction in thinking, these apparently divergent responses point to what most observers suggest is a key component of the model; it is flexible, pragmatic and responsive, as it is built around experimentation and doing what works, rather than basing itself on rigid ideological and/or policy prescriptions. This not only means doing different things as conditions change at home and abroad, but also having different models for different parts of the country. While it might not be possible for other developing countries to do what China has done, the essence of this understanding is that they should not search for blueprints, but should instead do whatever works for them.

In this respect, the Chinese model is less important for what it is as what it is not. It is not big-bang reform and shock therapy; it is not a process where economic liberalisation necessarily leads to democratisation; it is not jettisoning state control over key sectors or full (neo)liberalisation (particularly in financial sectors); it is not the Western way of doing things; and it is not following a model or a prescription, or being told what to do by others. And unlike other communist-party states, all this has taken place under regime continuity. While the successes of China’s economic experience are clearly important in promoting this idea, so too are the failings of the neoliberal ‘other’ against which China is being compared.

See also an East Asia Forum piece from August 2011, in which Suisheng Zhao sheds light on the fault lines present in the existing so-called “China model” that have led to a number of China’s social and political ills.