China’s Solitary Development Model – ‘fundamentally deficient, not easily reproducible’


Chinese President Xi Jinping may be consolidating his power following the 19th Party Congress, because he believes China is facing its most challenging period, a U.S. analyst said Monday, UPI reports:

Andrew Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, said Beijing perceives China’s emergence as the world’s second-largest economy is being met with wariness from the United States.

“I think the Chinese believe that inevitably the dominant power in the system is going to resist their rise,” Nathan told the India China Institute at The New School. “I think they think the United States looked down on China for a long time, and figured the Chinese didn’t know how to tie their shoes right and we could tell them how to do it.”

“Now [the Americans] suddenly are realizing that [the Chinese] represent some kind of a challenge.” he added. “The Chinese expect by the laws of international affairs that the United States will find a way to resist the rise of China.”

China’s outreach to dictatorships and liberal democracies alike is an invitation to an alternative to the United States, said Nathan [right – a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy].

He told UPI the main point China wants to drive home in countries like Zimbabwe, is that “you guys can go your own way, you don’t have to adopt the American way.”

China’s leaders believe their version of economic and political organization is superior to Western systems, and have begun advocating for a “new era” of non-democratic governance, according to Pranab Bardhan, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Globalization, Democracy and Corruption:

President Xi Jinping presented the Chinese system of governance as a model for other countries to emulate. Leaders who “want to speed up their development while preserving their independence,” Xi said, should look to China as “a new option.” Developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, seem awestruck by this possibility. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, has even suggested that as the West’s democracies falter, “enlightened Chinese democracy” could offer a path forward.

But, for all its allure, the Chinese development model is deficient in fundamental respects, and not easily reproducible elsewhere, Bardhan writes for Project Syndicate:

  • The Economist

    Without a strong civil society or an independent judiciary to check government power, Chinese leaders have, on many occasions, made catastrophic errors in judgment. … For example, Xi’s decision to order China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to prop up China’s falling stock market in 2015 was an epic miscalculation.

  • The absence of political checks and institutional mechanisms for public scrutiny has also encouraged abuse of power and high levels of corruption, contributing to high inequality, arbitrary land grabs, unsafe working conditions, food safety scares, and toxic pollution, among other problems. ..
  • Economic management suffers from similar opacity. At the moment, there are few, if any, checks on debt-fueled investment by SOEs or politically connected firms. ….
  • As China’s economy becomes more complex, the absence of transparent and accountable governance processes, combined with frequent crackdowns on civil society and efforts to enforce conformity and discipline, will ultimately stifle entrepreneurship and innovation. ….


“The lack of openness and transparency could also test political stability. In the face of crisis, China’s leaders often overreact by repressing dissent,” Bardhan adds. “Collective and pragmatic leadership in recent decades has done a reasonable job of managing the problem, but Xi’s consolidation of power, and the cult of personality surrounding him, could exacerbate instability.”

The prospect of such instability is probably one reason why the regime’s new ideology czar this week called for tighter control of the internet.

Wang Huning (right) has said that authoritarian rule is necessary for China to restore its national greatness after what the Communist Party has often described as a century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, the New York Times reports:

This has made Mr. Wang a longtime skeptic of calls for China to allow greater democracy despite his extensive experience abroad, including in the United States. …His speech on Sunday showed how China’s vision of the internet attempts to wrestle with such tension. Chinese leaders have long lauded the economic power of the internet, while being deeply cautious about its democratizing and internationalizing influence.

When the American political scientist Samuel Huntington developed his “clash of civilizations” thesis in the early 1990s, Wang was ready to put an influential, party-friendly spin on the idea, notes Ryan Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. According to him, the supposedly universal values of Western civilization were forms of “cultural expansionism” being deployed to infiltrate Chinese society, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

They could be countered only by a CCP capable of firmly asserting its own “cultural sovereignty,” a term that Wang adopted to refer to China’s ability to maintain its ideological autonomy and political unity against criticism from the outside world….. Current analysis of Wang’s influence is divided between those who see him as a tried and true believer in “neo-authoritarianism” and others who detect a strain of cautious liberal sentiment in his scattered comments on the value of democracy and the rule of law to modern states.

Wang’s promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee is a token of political risk-taking, given his earlier commitment to ‘new authoritarianism’, a high-stakes trade-off in which civil rights are suppressed today in exchange for a pledge of a ‘modernised’ and in some sense ‘democratic’ political order eventually, according to David Kelly, Research Director at China Policy, a Beijing-based research and advisory company, and a Visiting Professor at Peking University.

CPC members have strengthened their consciousness of ideology, of the bigger picture, of adhering to the leadership of the Central Committee with Xi as the core, and of keeping their actions and thoughts in line with the Central Committee. The Party has boosted confidence in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, Wang said.

President Xi Jinping’s vow to maintain an open Chinese internet was dismissed by political commentators on Monday as posturing, as state media swung into action to defend the Great Firewall of government censorship, RFA reports.

“Actually, there are a number of contradictory phrases in today’s China, including the ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ and ‘democratic centralism’,” said Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong’s Baptist University. “Cyber-sovereignty doesn’t just mean the Chinese internet; it also means anything on the internet outside China that impinges on China’s sovereignty and security,” he said. “This could include the use of methods that are considered mainstream, as well as non-mainstream methods.”

China’s insistence on internet sovereignty reflects ideological differences with the West, analysts suggest.

“The West must wake up to the fact that China has the right to choose its own political system,” said the Global Times newspaper, which has close links to Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily.. “It is hard to reach a consensus over the divergence between China and the West when it comes to their systems and ideologies,” it added.

Behind the façade of authoritarianism, however, the leadership may be anxious about “managing the Chinese people,” said Columbia’s Nathan.

“In China there’s a volcano underneath that can come out at any time, that’s my sense of it,” the analyst said, citing public dissatisfaction over government handling of natural and man-made disasters. “There seems to be an underlying layer of anger.”

While few in number, feminist activists and human rights lawyers are seen as “sparking this anger,” and are promptly arrested because of their potential impact on the party’s rule, Nathan added.

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