I have just spent a fascinating couple of days, closeted with some Chinese academics in a house outside Paris, at a seminar organised by Sweden’s “Glasshouse Forum“.
Several of the assembled profs were members of China’s “new left” - people like Zhiyuan Cui, an economist from Tsinghua University and Shaoguang Wang of Hong Kong university. I was surprised by how confident they seemed. The consensus seemed to be that China would weather the global economic crisis better than most - and that the Chinese political system is sufficiently robust to withstand higher unemployment and slower growth. One of the participants pointed out that in the late 1990s, 60m Chinese people had been thrown out of work in the aftermath of the Asian economic crisis and the restructuring of China’s state-owned enterprises. But the country’s long-term trajectory remained ever upwards.
Another participant joked that China had discovered that whatever country it models itself on is doomed. In the 1950s China had modelled itself on the Soviet Union; in the 1980s there was a fashion for imitiating Japan; and more recently, there has been a fascination with American capitalism.
Touché. But (seemingly? possibly? maybe?) true. As Rachman observes, the joke contains a broader insight: while Western analysts continue to examine China's economics and politics in terms of how much they are becoming like us, the Chinese claim that they are finding their own way to modernity. And despite minor (and major) glitches, they appear to be doing a pretty good job.