- The “China Model”:Expounding on American Viewpoints
It is the idea of parental and filial relation, which is so prominent in the classics, that introduces, not alone into the family, but into the structure of the government of China, its absolute and despotic element; and yet, at the same time, it introduces an important element of democracy.— T. R. Jernigan (1904), China’s Business Methods and Policy, p. 64
With the United States losing its S&P “Triple–A” badge, the Eurozone teetering on the abyss, and India just not delivering the goods despite outrageously positive press, pundits weighing up the odds for a Chinese century have all had an interesting [End Page 270] year in which to dabble in speculation. By way of corroborating evidence, even the leader of China’s one–time great Eurasian benefactor, Dmitry Medvedev, weighed in; Medvedev was quoted in the party–state media back in June as acknowledging that Russia needed to emulate the Beijing’s economic–reform formulae.1
Arguably, a “China Model” could never look better than at that surreal moment later in August when, not long after many had actually predicted the cybernetic overflow of the Arab spring onto China, the democratically elected prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, suggested that he would consider monitoring social media, just as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would.2 If this were not enough, a long procession of luminaries from Joseph Stieglitz to Warren Buffett—along with Occupy Movement activists—all seemed to trash neoclassical orthodoxy, warning that the United States was fast becoming a “plutocracy” and that capitalism was “broken.”3
Stephen M. Walt’s essay, “The End of the American Era,” has sounded perhaps the most succinct death knell for the sort of Western triumphalism that had emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and which crystalized during the Asian financial crisis, persisting right up to the current global financial crisis: “[I]t is now clear that the U.S. financial system was itself deeply corrupt and that much of its economic growth was an illusory bubble. Other states have reason to disregard Washington’s advice and to pursue economic strategies of their own making.”4
Unimpressed, other eminent voices have more recently joined the ranks of veteran Western Sinoskeptics, raising not so much the familiar specter of corruption eating away at the bedrock of PRC economic performance—but pointing to a fast cooling property market with some disturbing subprime symptoms and a Japanese lost decade–like investment glut.5 U.S. officials, on their part, have by now become anxious to demonstrate that the Obama administration is not going to relinquish global primacy voluntarily. It is in this vein that Nicholas Burns proclaimed that, although the rise of China was the single most important issue facing the United States for the next fifty years, he was personally “betting on the American model, not the Chinese model.”6 All in all, therefore, this might be as good a time as any to try nailing down what the China model, if ever there was one, actually means.
Critically relying on two edited volumes (In Search of China’s Development Model and East Asian Multilateralism), this review essay is aimed at underscoring the key features of China’s economic reforms since 1978. Subsequently, the essay will examine how a more economically powerful China might alter the balance of power across East Asia. Before turning to the latest authoritative literature, one might recall that Western wonderment at the Chinese écoumène is nothing new; preoccupation with a putative, different China model long precedes 1978. Indeed, how the traditional Chinese polity worked, and to what extent it might have [End Page 271] charted an alternative course to modernity, is a question with very serious...