Suisheng Zhao writes at East Asia Forum about the apparent triumphs and potential pitfalls of the “China Model”:
For all its glitter and shimmer, the China model has some clear faultlines that are responsible for China’s many social and political problems. For example, without accountability, the authoritarian state’s ability to make quick decisions has often come with high economic and environmental costs, leading to irrational and distorted investment, waste of resources and environmental deterioration. In addition, without an opposition party to keep watch on privileged state officials, a combination of authoritarian politics and the market economy has produced corrupt crony capitalism (权贵资本主义) in which power and money are closely connected. Acting to protect and enrich specific interests, the state has come to infringe upon ordinary people’s rights. Arbitrary land acquisitions are prevalent and workers have to endure long hours and unsafe conditions, causing discontent within society.
China now has one of the most unequal income distributions in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.50 in 2009, even higher than the United States, at 0.46. This alarming inequality has come as China has dismantled its social welfare structures, leaving hundreds of millions of people with minimal or no provision of healthcare, unemployment insurance, and other social services. These growing gaps are at the root of social unrest, that threatens political stability, an accepted pre-condition for economic development. Coercive force has been deployed with increasing frequency to suppress popular unrest. This year, the financial cost of ‘maintaining stability’ (维稳) is estimated to have outstripped the size of the defence budget. The dramatically rising costs of maintaining internal control have raised questions about the sustainability of the China model, which is based on the wrong assumption that economic growth trumps all else. If the government takes care of economic growth the assumption is, people will be willing to give up all moral and other demands.
Source: The China model and the authoritarian state – East Asia Forum