[Outlook]Learning from the Chinese model

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[Outlook]Learning from the Chinese model

“Some foreigners who are well fed and have nothing better to do are being nosy on every issue in China,” Vice President Xi Jinping said during his visit to Mexico, part of his Latin America tour in mid-February.

Even though the remark was aimed at Chinese residents living there, it was exceptionally harsh considering that Chinese leaders are usually very prudent with their words.

“China has never exported revolutions or poverty and never harassed other countries. What more do we need to say?” he continued, impassioned.

The Chinese press, which normally reports everything he says or does, became quiet. Perhaps the reporters thought he had gone too far. But Vice President Xi is one of the frontrunners in the next generation of Chinese leaders, and he usually chooses his words and actions carefully.

Why did he say what he said? Perhaps it reflects the current thinking among Chinese leaders.

“Macroeconomic policies by an economy that is closely related to the world economy are unfair. In the long term, a development model based on low savings and high consumption is difficult to sustain,” President Wen Jiabao said in a speech at the Davos Forum late last month.

He was clearly referring to the United States.

One can guess why Chinese leaders are feeling uncomfortable. As the world economic crisis was unfolding early this year, the United States attacked China, saying “China does not consume” and “China manipulates its foreign exchange rates.”

The Chinese leaders’ harsh remarks seem to be resistance against criticism from the United States.

However, it’s nothing new that the Western world, including the United States, has come down hard on China about its foreign exchange rates or human rights issues.

Why did Chinese leaders become upset over issues they are probably already familiar with? It seems that they now think they can say what they’ve got to say.

The decision was probably not based on pride that China’s economy has become the world’s third-largest. Rather, it is based on their belief in China’s unique development model, which the country has pursued for three decades, with policies to open doors and conduct reform. Their confidence in their model makes Chinese leaders speak out.

In 2003, Li Changchun, who is in charge of ideology within the Chinese Communist Party and who was then the party’s eighth-highest official, visited Latin America. He heard warnings against risks of neo-liberalism and he saw interest in the Chinese development model.

Returning home, he ordered the Chinese Academy of Social Studies to conduct research into this, which was how the “Chinese Model” was officially articulated.

Professor Chun Sung-heung at Sogang University explains, “The Chinese model means various strategies that China has pursued since the late 1970s in order to achieve its new goals and economic growth, and regular patterns that have emerged as a result.”

The main characteristics of the Chinese model are: pursuing political stability by exerting strong leadership, carrying out reform step-by-step and taking into account current standings and historic backgrounds when carrying out reform.

Joshua Ramo, an advisor to Goldman Sachs, uses the Chinese character dan, which translates as “clarity coming from two opposites,” to explain the Chinese model.

Just as the character is a combination of water and fire, Chinese-style development tries to combine two opposite values, efficiency and equality, in a perfect and harmonious manner. This makes us expect that China will achieve its own model of development, unlike the Western world’s assumption that a country becomes democratized if its economy develops. Such confidence in the Chinese model is the basis for the strong remarks by Chinese leaders.

What messages does the Chinese model impart to Korea? The lessons for us can be the necessity of political stability for development or gradual reform. What’s most important, however, must be to end our practice of blindly doing as advanced countries have done.

Even if a system is very good, it does not work for us if we do not have the competence or conditions to run it. We also must carry out policies that suit our own situation, just as China has consistently demonstrated. We must not forget that if history is different, conditions are different. If conditions are different, the way to form a system and run it must be different.

We have unique issues, such as North Korea and difficulties in overcoming the economic crisis. We should look at matters within our country to seek suitable ways to resolve problems.


*The writer is the director of the JoongAng Ilbo China Institute.

by Yu Sang-chul
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