China was a sleeping lion, observed Napoleon Bonaparte, and he advised the world to let it sleep, lest it wakes and shakes the world. China under Xi Jinping is undoubtedly waking up. Is it about to shake the world?
Today China possesses the second largest economy in the world – a key source of global economic growth – and a political system that offers an alternative to democracy. Its future trajectory will have direct and profound implications for the prosperity, stability, individual rights and direction of development throughout the world. If China sustains its developmental path of the last three decades its model will inspire many in many parts of the world, whether the Government intends to export it or not.
This is not changed by the fact that the nation is entering a ‘new normal’ of the economy growing less rapidly than hitherto. Its success in securing growth of nearly 10% per annum for the previous three decades is a record unmatched by any country in human history. This success has often been attributed to the stewardship and strength of the political system, at the heart of which stands the Chinese Communist Party. The party-state directed capitalist expansion approach is a model that inspires many authoritarian leaderships in the less well-off parts of the globe.
But China is also facing enormous challenges that threaten to derail it from this buoyant trajectory. These include the rapid rise in debt, extreme environmental degradation, severe inequality in income and wealth, the risk of social instability, and the urgent demands of rebalancing the economy at a time when the demographic dividend that had propelled growth is turning into demographic deficit. The impending trade war with the USA under President Trump adds further uncertainty. They all raise fundamental questions about the sustainability of the Chinese Model.
Given the central importance of the Communist Party to the management of the economy and direction of development in China, the question of sustainability is as much about politics as it is about economics.
On 26 April, a group of experts will come together at SOAS to explore the basis of China’s success in the last four decades, and to examine the link between its ‘economic miracle’ and the political system. The panellists in this debate will engage with the subject from a range of perspectives in an attempt to assess the likely trajectory of China’s development in the coming decade and beyond.
For more information on ‘How Sustainable is the Chinese Model’, visit the SOAS events page.