Skip to content

A Study Times Analysis of Foreign Views about China’s Development Path

On November 9, 2009, the Study Times published an article entitled, “An Analysis on Foreign Views about China’s Development Path.” This article identifies and provides arguements against the "biased international opinions" about China and China’s development path. The article argues that China’s "peaceful development theory” has gradually become the mainstream discourse of international discussions. The following is a translation of selected parts of this article. [1]

The "Threat View” considers China’s rise as a challenge instead of an opportunity for the rest of the world. It mainly includes six aspects, namely, the economic threat—the continuously developing China is competing with the Western powers for limited resources and markets; the military threat—China’s powerful economic strength will in turn make it a formidable military power; the cultural threat—the renaissance of the self-contained Chinese culture is having a serious impact on Western culture; the geopolitical threat—a powerful China puts both visible and invisible pressure on its close neighbors; the political system threat—the Communist regime greatly differs from the mainstream political system of liberty and democracy in the western world; the technological threat—China is committed to scientific and technological innovation, and it is challenging the supremacy of Western science and technology, especially in the Internet area.

In recent years, although these arguments have weakened, they still appear once in a while. For example, recently the United States issued the 2009 National Intelligence Strategy, which exaggerated the viewpoint of China’s military threat, and listed China as one of the countries that challenges the interests of the United States. Some United States National Intelligence officials also absurdly claimed China to be very aggressive in the Internet area. Western public opinion looks at China’s continuously expanding scale of foreign investment and trade as so-called "Oriental Colonialism." Western powers label the "Confucius Institutes" that are set up overseas for normal cultural exchanges as a cultural expansion strategy. All kinds of "threat views" on China, objectively speaking, are making China’s international environment worse and putting constraints on China’s further development.

The "Collapse View” believes that China’s economic growth is at the cost of a widening inequality between the rich and the poor, deteriorating environmental pollution, and official corruption. Thus it is not sustainable. In addition to his recently-published book, Who will feed China, Joe Studwell, editor-in-chief of the U.S. based China Economic Quarterly, wrote a book called The China Dream, published in January 2002. In it, he described China’s economy as "a mansion built on sand.”  He predicted that China would soon have a large-scale political and economic crisis. The most extreme view came from the book The Coming Collapse of China, published in July 2001, by American-Chinese lawyer Gordon G. Chang. In the book he said that "the bad debts of China’s four state-owned banks are so high that they are at the point of not being  sustainable anymore,” and that “instead of considering the 21st century as China’s century, we might as well say that China is falling apart." He asserted, "China’s current political and economic systems can only maintain a maximum of five years." These comments are clearly as reckless as announcing that history has ended. In front of the facts, these arguments, which have a strong Cold War mentality, have collapsed without being attacked.

The "Deviation View" states that China is deviating from Marxism in its ideology, deviating from socialism in its political system, and deviating from the Third World in its foreign relations. There is no clear source or original proponent for this view. It is instead a summary of a variety of scattered comments. We can say that basically the “Deviation View" holds a certain doubt or criticism against China’s reform and opening up policy, and the transformation of its policies and socioeconomic development. This view mostly came from traditional Marxism, neo-Marxism, and some Third World countries. According to this view, as China deepens its reform and opens up, it is getting further away from the original Marxism and socialism, as well as other Third World countries. We see that, in fact, these various negative voices about China’s reform and opening up do not only come from Western countries, but also non-Western countries. The "Deviation View" is a typical example. For this kind of view, we do need to clarify, because China’s reform and opening up is actually truly adhering to Marxism and socialism. It is, in a more fundamental way and in a longer term, benefiting mankind and the Third World.

The "Myth View” holds that the so-called "China Miracle" is nothing but a myth invented by the media. The representative of this view is the book, The Five Great Myths About China and the World, published in May 2002 by Fred Hu, the Managing Direction of Goldman Sachs (in Asia). He said in the book, "China’s economic growth is not unprecedented. With the Asia-Pacific regional standards, it is not necessarily prominent in any particular way.” There are also critics who think that when compared with the rise of other emerging countries, after all China did not break the normal mode of economic growth. The ways that China relied on to make the miracle—cheap labor, appropriate economic policies, a favorable external environment, a stable domestic situation, a national mentality of pursuing wealth, and so forth—also worked and made miracles in Japan and Southeast Asia. In earlier days, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States were all pretty much in the same situation as well. However, this kind of generalization on the modernization of different countries in the world lacks proper knowledge. China has 1.3 billion people and a historic accumulation of other factors and problems. On its way to modernization, both creativity and uniqueness have been demonstrated. This kind of generalization is negating the historic development view of the Monistic Multi-linear Theory.

The "Responsibility View” states that, since China is a stakeholder of Western powers, it must assume a corresponding responsibility. On September 21, 2005, Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, gave a speech titled Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility? at the National Committee on United States-China Relations. During the speech he clearly proposed this view of China being a "responsible stakeholder."  On March 5, 2007, the famous Harvard professor of economic history, Danny Ferguson, published the article “Buy Chimerican” in the Los Angeles Times, introducing the term “Chimerica” for the first time. In the summer of 2008, the magazine Foreign Affairs published the article “A Partnership of Equals” by Fred Bergsten, director of the U.S. Peterson Institute for International Economics. This article brought up the concept of "G2” for the first time. The above concepts resulted in strong reactions. One of the reasons is that they do, to some extent, reflect the inter-dependencies between the two great economic systems of China and the United States. However, at the same time, we should also note the transition of the United States’ strategy towards China behind these concepts.

The "Replacement View” states that as the Washington Consensus-represented Western democratic model continues to decline, China’s development path, which focuses on independent, innovative, and progressive reform, will become the new universal discourse. The "Beijing Consensus” model is representative of this view. "Beijing Consensus" was first introduced by Joshua Cooper Ramo, a senior advisor for the United States Goldman Sachs, in his article “The Beijing Consensus,” published in May 2004, by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Policy Centre. Ramo thinks that China’s economic development model does not only fit China, but also sets an example for other developing countries that are pursuing economic growth and improvement of people’s lives. "Beijing Consensus" will replace "Washington Consensus,” which is already widely distrusted. From an objective point of view, although the suggestion of "Beijing Consensus" reflects that the international community highly regards China’s successful experience and development path, it is neither our original intention nor a pursuing goal of ours to replace "Washington Consensus" with "Beijing consensus."

The "Stage View" believes that China’s model possesses the universal characters of “countries in the transitional stage." Thus, as China further integrates into the international mainstream, the so-called China model will wither away. Some international public opinions believe that China’s successful disaster relief for the Wenchuan earthquake, its successful hosting of the Beijing Olympic Games, and the outstanding performance in the financial crisis, are not a sufficient basis to say that China’s current social system is superior to the West. Rather, it explains that the political operation way inherited from the planning system is in essence a model for responding to crises, and that from a long-term perspective, the “institutional advantage” that China possesses is very likely a disadvantage. Another foreign public opinion believes that, from a global perspective, China’s development achievements are quite amazing, but it also has many problems. Compared with developed countries, China is merely at a different developmental stage. It is obvious that the "Stage View" is essentially taking "modernization" as "Westernization," and globalization and world historic development as a homogeneous movement, rather than multiple interactions of different historic traces. This is obviously contrary to the facts.

The "Imbalance View" thinks that China’s development is showing a series of imbalances between the export-oriented system and domestic demand, and between economic growth and environmental protection, so the sustainability of the China model is questionable. In early 2009, Kenneth Rogoff, former IMF chief economist, published the article “Can China Avoid the Crisis?” in France’s Les Echos. In the article he said, "Before the global recession started, the sustainability of China’s economic growth model was already under suspicion. The pollution of the environment is very obvious. Besides, economists estimated that if China’s economy continues to grow at this fast speed, the proportion of China’s economy to the world’s economy will expand to the extent that it will not be able to sustain China’s current level. … A better way is to try to make up for the part that resulted from the decrease in the United States’ demand by increasing China’s own domestic demand, but China’s economic system does not appear to be able to move quickly enough to achieve this transition." There is no doubt that in China, in the process of rapid development, there are some imbalances that may need urgent solutions, but it is clearly unfair to deny the overall balance and sustainability of China’s economy solely because of this.

This "Opposition View" states that China’s development model and the Western development model are fundamentally opposite. In order to explain the rationality and superiority of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics when reviewing the success of China’s development model, some scholars tend to completely deny the social system and political system of certain Western countries. Moreover, regarding the possibility that the United States’ recession could impact the Chinese economy, some say that China’s economy will not be affected at all and growth will continue. This is the so-called "Decoupling View." In fact, if China did not want to learn from a wide range of human civilizations, especially from developed capitalist countries for all their outstanding achievements, then several decades ago China would have had no need to open up, and would not have achieved today’s success or formed today’s development model. Therefore, viewpoints like the “The “Opposition View,” including the "decoupling," "exceptional," and "particular" views are unconvincing.

The "Leadership View" says that as China’s national power continues to grow, it should adapt a new global perception and shoulder the responsibility to lead the world. Some foreign scholars believe that "China has been a follower and has adopted a policy of merely following the crowd. Therefore it has always been in a passive state.” In order to change this situation, "China can learn from the experience of the rise of other great powers." Since the beginning of the financial crisis, as the United States’ economic leadership position and moral influence sharply declined, some have argued that the international community has to have a new leader. China has 2 trillion dollars in United States’ foreign exchange reserves, its economic growth momentum remains strong, and it is willing to bear international responsibilities. Thus, looking at today’s world, there is no second country that can take this leadership role. Therefore, China should take this advantage to achieve its leadership position in this international political and economic change. It could be said that this idea to some extent does reflect today’s world’s high expectations of the increasingly powerful China, but we should also pay attention to the distinction between reasonable responsibility and leadership in international affairs.

[1] Study Times, November 9, 2009