chapter  3
The China model of development: can it replace the Western model of modernization?: Suisheng Zhao
Pages 19

Chinaʼs rapid economic growth in the past 30 years has stood out as a notable exception to the general pattern of modernization in the West and has provided an example for some developing countries to follow. As one observer indicated, “from Vietnam to Syria, from Burma to Venezuela, and all across Africa, leaders of developing countries are admiring and emulating what might be called the China Model.” According to this observer, the China model has two components. The fi rst is to copy successful elements of liberal economic policy by opening up much of the economy to foreign and domestic investment, allowing labor fl exibility, keeping the tax and regulatory burden low, and creating a fi rst-class infrastructure through a combination of private sector and state spending. The second part is to permit the ruling party to retain a fi rm grip on government, the courts, the army, the internal security apparatus, and the free fl ow of information. 1

China has attempted to strike a balance between economic growth and political stability, on the one hand, and between a market-oriented economy and an authoritarian state, on the other hand, to sustain its continued economic growth in its modernization efforts. Chinaʼs success has raised a question about whether the China model will replace the American style of capitalism or Western model of modernization because “what China has achieved in the last couple of decades legitimately lays siege to many of our most deeply held notions about the realities of government and economics.” 2 It is from this perspective that one observer asserts that China has become the “biggest potential ideological competitor to liberal democratic capitalism since the end of communism.” 3

Indeed, the China model has posed a serious challenge to the dominance of the Western modernization model that attempts to impose free-market and liberal democracy simultaneously on non-Western and developing societies. But the questions remain: To what extent does the China model represent a successful co-existence of free market and authoritarian state? Is Chinaʼs economic system truly free, and is Chinaʼs political system truly authoritarian? How successfully has the Chinese leadership balanced economic freedom and political control to maintain economic growth and political stability? What are the advantages and limitations of the China model? This chapter seeks answers to these questions by exploring to what extent China offers a distinctive model of economic and political development and whether the so-called China model is sustainable.