Simon Denyer writes: American presidents are fond of describing their nation as a “city on a hill” — a shining example for other nations to follow. But China is now officially in the business of styling itself as another polestar for the world, with a very different political, economic and cultural model.
“The banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a mammoth speech to the Communist Party elite on Wednesday.
“It means the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization,” he said in the Great Auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence, and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”
The extent to which the Chinese model is successful or even applicable to other countries is, of course, very questionable. (Although it is also true that many people outside the United States do not see Washington’s foreign policy as an unquestioned global good, or its social system as a model.)
China’s economic growth has been stunning since the country’s move from communism to state-directed capitalism, but per capita income is still a fraction of places such as Taiwan, Singapore or Chinese-controlled Hong Kong. China may have the world’s second-largest economy in aggregate, but it ranks between 70 and 80 on a ranking of nations on a per capita basis.
Rising wealth has been accompanied by rising inequality, massive environmental pollution, rampant corruption and one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.
The country has generated cheap capital for industry by keeping real interest rates negative and preventing money from leaving the country, creating an effective tax on its citizens that would not be possible in many other nations. Yet it also has benefited from the incredible industriousness of its own people together with the huge size of its own internal market.
Still, China’s Communist Party has seen events in the West — from the 2008 financial crisis to the election of Donald Trump, and even Brexit — as a vindication of its own political and economic system. On Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua spelled it out: Western democracy was divisive and confrontational, and beset with crises and chaos.
It is a message that resounds in other authoritarian states with big development ambitions, such as Ethiopia. There is no doubt that China’s economic record does attract the envy of the people in many poorer nations, especially perhaps in Africa, where the track record of Western influence — and the brand of neoliberal economics often preached by the IMF and World Bank — has not always been rosy. [Continue reading…]