12 February 2019
Professor Steve Tsang, Director of the SOAS China Institute at SOAS University of London gave evidence last month to the Foreign Affairs Committee's Inquiry into China and the international rule-based system. The inquiry examines how China has participated and engaged with the international order and how the UK can respond to the process.
Professor Tsang discussed the possibility of China presenting its own political and economic system as a model for developing countries stating: “What I see is a Chinese Government that are very willing to share their experience of their own particular approach to governance in China and encourage other countries to see that as a viable alternative to other models that are available in the world. It is, in that sense, an alternative model to democratic systems that western countries—the United States in particular—have been advocating.”
He discussed the drive behind the Belt and Road Initiative, identifying two factors: “The first is the economic factor. Investment in infrastructure in China had reached a point of diminishing returns, so it was reasonable for the Chinese Government to export excess capital and excess capacity for infrastructure-building to countries that would then be employing Chinese companies and Chinese workers to carry out the infrastructure construction. That generates economic activity, with income going back to China. That was the main consideration.”
Professor Tsang also discussed government attempts to reduce poverty: “I think what we see is active Government policies to reduce poverty by the kind of standards that are normally used to measure poverty and, therefore, demonstrate how China has actually been lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.”
But he noted that reducing poverty is not the same as addressing inequality, which has continued to enlarge further, even though poverty has been reduced even further: “The top 10 richest members of the National People’s Congress own over $100 billion-worth, whereas the 10 richest American members of Congress probably own something over $1 billion. On average earnings in US and China, in the US they are six to seven times higher. In the socialist country of China, the scale of contrast is much bigger than what American capitalism can deliver.”
Professor Tsang also discussed the Uigurs, noting that “The Chinese Government defined Uigurs as Chinese citizens. They are not being defined as anything else; they are defined as Chinese citizens. When you have an identifiable group of citizens in the country, and something like one-tenth of that identifiable group live in camps, you have an enormous human rights problem.”
Professor Tsang’s evidence follows evidence given to the inquiry last year by Dr Yuka Kobayashi, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in China and International Politics at SOAS. Watch Professor Tsang’s evidence in full here.