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The Beijing Consensus (also known as the China Model or Chinese Economic Model) refers to the political and economic policies of the People's Republic of China instituted after Mao Zedong's death in 1976 by Deng Xiaoping. The policies are thought to have contributed to China's eightfold growth in gross national product over two decades. The phrase "Beijing Consensus" was coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo to frame China's economic development model as an alternative—especially for developing countries—to the Washington Consensus of market-friendly policies promoted by the IMF, World Bank, and U.S. Treasury. In 2016, Ramo explained that the Beijing Consensus shows not that "every nation will follow China’s development model, but that it legitimizes the notion of particularity as opposed to the universality of a Washington model".
Ramo has detailed it as a pragmatic policy that uses innovation and experimentation to achieve "equitable, peaceful high-quality growth", and "defense of national borders and interests", whereas other scholars have used it to refer to "stable, if repressive, politics and high-speed economic growth". Others criticize its vagueness, claiming that there is "no consensus as to what it stands for" other than being an alternative to the neoliberal Washington Consensus, and that the term "is applied to anything that happens in Beijing, regardless of whether or not it has to do with a 'Chinese Model of Development,' or even with the People's Republic of China (PRC) per se". This fluidity has been described as an "ultra-pragmatic" approach to policy.
Joshua Cooper Ramo
The term's birth into the mainstream political lexicon was in 2004 when the United Kingdom's Foreign Policy Centre published a paper by Joshua Cooper Ramo titled The Beijing Consensus. In this paper, he laid out three broad guidelines for economic development under what he called the "China model". Ramo was a former senior editor and foreign editor of Time magazine and later a partner at Kissinger Associates, the consulting firm of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The first guideline involves a "commitment to innovation and constant experimentation." One of the major criticisms of the Washington Consensus is its complacency. Ramo argues that there is no perfect solution, and that the only true path to success is one that is dynamic, as no one plan works for every situation.
The second guideline states that Per Capita Income (GDP/capita) should not be the lone measure of progress. Rather, Ramo feels that the sustainability of the economic system and an even distribution of wealth, along with GDP, are important indicators of progress.
The third guideline urges a policy of self-determination, where the less-developed nations use leverage to keep the superpowers in check and assure their own financial sovereignty. This includes not only financial self-determination, but also a shift to the most effective military strategy, which Ramo suggests is more likely to be an asymmetric strategy rather than one that seeks direct confrontation. Unlike the Washington Consensus, which largely ignored questions of geo-politics, Ramo argues—particularly in the Chinese context—that geo-politics and geo-economics are fundamentally linked.
One critic of Ramo's plan is University of Oregon professor Arif Dirlik, a "notable specialist in Chinese and in intellectual history," who wrote the paper Beijing Consensus: Beijing "Gongshi." Who Recognizes Whom and to What End. Although Dirlik is intrigued by the concepts and philosophy of Ramo's Beijing Consensus, he says that Ramo's plan is a "Silicon Valley model of development" that ignores the fact that the exploitation of China's labor force by foreign countries was a major part of the Chinese development. Ultimately though, and despite other criticism, Dirlik concludes that the Beijing Consensus does serve an important goal: "The most important aspect of the Beijing Consensus may be an approach to global relationships that seeks, in multinational relationships, a new global order founded on economic relationships, but which also recognizes political and cultural difference as well as differences in regional and national practices within a common global framework."
In his January 2012 article in Asia Policy Williamson describes the Beijing Consensus as consisting of five points:
- Incremental Reform (as opposed to a Big Bang approach),
- Innovation and Experimentation,
- Export Led Growth,
- State Capitalism (as opposed to Socialist Planning or Free Market Capitalism).
- Authoritarianism (as opposed to Democracy or Autocracy).
Stefan Halper, Director of American Studies at the Department of Politics, Cambridge and former foreign policy official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, offered his own interpretation of the term in his 2012 book, The Beijing Consensus: How China's Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century. Halper argues that China's model of economic development without corresponding democratic reforms is serving as a template throughout the developing world. It is one that Beijing eagerly exports (as demonstrated by its support of other illiberal regimes, such as those in Sudan, Angola, or Zimbabwe) by offering developing countries "no-strings-attached gifts and loans", rather than "promoting democracy through economic aid", as does the West. Halper argues China's dependence on natural resources will lock Beijing into relationships with rogue states and that Beijing will not feel increasing pressure democratize as it grows richer, because it is wealth that gives the regime its legitimacy.
He sees this as establishing a trend "Away from the market-democratic model—and toward a new type of capitalism, which can flourish without the values and norms of Western liberalism" which could ultimately supplant the Washington consensus.
According to Indonesian scholar Ignatius Wibowo, “the Beijing Consensus clearly has gained ground in Southeast Asia” as countries there “have shifted their development strategy from one based on free markets and democracy to one based on semi-free markets and an illiberal political system.” China provides training in economic management and various civil-service skills for more than 10,000 bureaucrats from other developing countries. The training includes sessions where China’s successes in improving living standards are promoted.
The China Model is sometimes used interchangeably with the Beijing Consensus, and sometimes by those who insist "it is inaccurate to describe the Chinese model as the 'Beijing consensus' versus the 'Washington consensus'."
Among the characteristics attributed to the "China Model" by Western commentators include:
- replacing trust in the free market for economic growth with "a more muscular state hand on the levers of capitalism";
- an absence of political liberalization;
- strong leading role of ruling political party;
- population control;
According to academic and former Chinese official Zhang Weiwei, the "key features" of the model are:
- down-to-earth pragmatic concern with serving the people;
- constant trial and error experimentation;
- gradual reform rather than neo-liberal economic shock therapy;
- a strong and pro-development state;
- "selective cultural borrowing" of foreign ideas;
- a pattern of implementing easy reforms first, difficult ones later.
Critics at the free-market oriented magazine The Economist have called the model "unclear" and an invention of "American think-tank eggheads" and "plumage-puffed Chinese academics". Instead of strong government, the critics have stated that China's success results from its "vast, cheap labor supply", its "attractive internal market for foreign investment", and its access to the American market, which provides a perfect spendthrift counterpart for China's exports and a high savings rate.
In May 2012, The New York Times stated that China had released data that "showed its economy was continuing to weaken", and quoted a political scientist at Renmin University of China in Beijing (Zhang Ming) as saying:
Many economic problems that we face are actually political problems in disguise, such as the nature of the economy, the nature of the ownership system in the country and groups of vested interests. ... The problems are so serious that they have to be solved now and can no longer be put off.
In 2018, Zhang Weiying, professor at Peking University's National School of Development, argued that China's economic development since 1978 was not due to a distinctive "China model". He added that, "From the western perspective, the 'China model' theory makes China into an alarming outlier, and must lead to conflict between China and the western world", adding that the tariffs and the trade war persued by U.S. president Donald Trump ere an understandable response to perceived antagonism from China: "In the eyes of westerners, the so-called 'China model' is 'state capitalism', which is incompatible with fair trade and world peace and must not be allowed to advance triumphantly without impediment". This speech was removed from the university website after it was widely circulated online. Shen Hong of the Unirule Institute of Economics warned against abandoning Deng Xiaoping's post-1978 neoliberal reforms in China, telling the Financial Times: "Without a doubt, reform and opening up eliminated the ideological conflict between China and the US, as well as the whole western world, and gradually brought convergence in terms of values".
- Zhang, Jiakun Jack (15 April 2011). "Seeking the Beijing Consensus in Asia: An Empirical Test of Soft Power" (PDF). Duke University. hdl:10161/5383. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
This paper represents a first-cut effort at operationalizing and measuring the so-called Beijing Consensus (or China Model), a form of state capitalism which some see as an ideological alternative to the Washington Consensus and a challenge to American soft power.
- Zhang Weiwei, "The allure of the Chinese model", International Herald Tribune, 2 November 2006.
- "Commentator doubts efficacy of "Chinese model" for Iran"| BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political [London] 4 May 2002: 1.
- Ramo, Joshua Cooper. "The Beijing Consensus" (PDF). May 2004. The Foreign Policy Centre. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
- "International Political Economy Zone: Is There a Beijing Consensus?"
- Turin, Dustin R. (2010). "China and the Beijing Consensus: An Alternative Model for Development". Student Pulse Academic Journal. 2 (1): 13.
- Maurits Elen (August 2016). "Interview: Joshua Cooper Ramo". The Diplomat.
- Kurlantzick, Joshua (23 January 2014). "The Rise of Elected Autocrats Threatens Democracy". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
China’s stable, if repressive, politics and high-speed economic growth—the “Beijing Consensus”—have impressed elites in places such as Thailand, where democracy seems to have produced only graft, muddled economic planning, and political strife
- No consensus on the Beijing Consensus - How the World Works - Salon.com
- Dirlik, Arif. University of Oregon. "Beijing Consensus: Beijing 'Gongshi.'"
- Hasmath, Reza (2014). "White Cat, Black Cat or Good Cat: The Beijing Consensus as an Alternative Philosophy for Policy Deliberation? The Case of China". Barnett Papers in Social Research. 14 (2): 1–19. SSRN 2496090.
- Halper, Stefan (2010). The Beijing consensus : how China's authoritarian model will dominate the twenty-first century. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465013616.
- Nathan, Andrew J. (28 January 2014). "The Beijing Consensus: How China's Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-first Century" (book review). Foreign Affairs. Retrieved May–June 2010. Check date values in:
- "Stefan Halper on the Beijing Consensus". The Globalist. 2 October 2010. Note: Not an actual interview, quotations are drawn from book with questions added to provide context.
- ZHANG, Weiwei (2 November 2006). "The allure of the Chinese model" (PDF). International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
It is inaccurate to describe the Chinese model as the "Beijing consensus" versus the "Washington consensus." What makes the Chinese experience unique is that Beijing has safeguarded its own policy space as to when, where and how to adopt foreign ideas.
- "Beware the Beijing model". The Economist. May 26, 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
- 'India should adopt Chinese model' The Statesman [New Delhi] 14 Nov 1999: 1.
- "Doubts cast over China model as growth falters", The New York Times, 12 May 2012.
- Wildau, Gabriel (30 October 2018). "Chinese economists blame 'China model' for US trade war". Financial Times. Shangai. Retrieved 31 October 2018. (Subscription required (help)).