China’s development discourse draws applause abroad

By Bao Chuanjian Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/22 11:28:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up of China. Between 1979 and 2017, China's real GDP grew at an average annual rate of more than 9.5 percent - the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history.

Based on the current rural poverty threshold, the incidence of poverty among rural residents was 97.5 percent in 1978, and the population in absolute poverty reached 770 million. By 2017, the poverty rate fell to 3.1 percent, with the size of the poor down to 30.46 million. That means 740 million people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 39 years, making a major contribution to the cause of global poverty alleviation and the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the World Bank, China is the country that has contributed the most to the world economy after the global financial crisis in 2008. As the world's second largest economy, China is playing an increasingly influential role in defending the multilateral international economic system which faces growing challenges posed by the latest waves of populism and protectionism.

Numerous economic and interdisciplinary studies are trying to demystify China's spectacular achievement in economic growth and poverty alleviation since the reform and opening-up, which has been widely acclaimed as a miracle. China Model and Beijing Consensus, often used interchangeably, were coined to encapsulate the policy recommendations stemming from China's development experience, of which a capable, credible and committed government is a defining feature.

As socialism with Chinese characteristics enters a new era, China is moving closer to the center of the world stage and making greater contributions to mankind. China's pursuit of the new vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development was praised by overseas scholars, think-tank members and policy entrepreneurs. A forward-looking and win-win perspective on China's role in global development has gone mainstream. There are few Sinologists and China watchers who do not share the view that China's development benefits people at home and abroad.

The long-term strategic planning formulated under the CPC leadership plays a particularly important role in avoiding deviation from the right development track. Some foreign scholars claimed that their governments should give up their outdated hubris and self-defeating partisanship and "think like China." Many promoted the idea of integrating their country's development strategy with that of China, say, through the Belt and Road initiative, in an attempt to take advantage of the opportunities offered by China's development.

Nonetheless, it needs to be noticed that many overseas watchers still have varying degrees of misapprehension about China's development philosophy and the dissemination of Beijing's development narrative can sometimes backfire.

Few catchphrases in recent memory could match the celebrity of "Thucydides' Trap" and "Kindleberger trap," devised by Harvard professors Graham T Allison and Joseph S. Nye, Jr. respectively, which sparked hot debates among scholars on both sides of the Pacific. The former is a bleak prophecy of war that is inevitable between an emerging and established power, while the latter questions whether China has the ability and willingness to provide global public goods.

National Endowment for Democracy, a "soft power organization" in Washington, coined the concept of "sharp power" in a report, referring provocatively to China's efforts to project influence abroad. The Economist, a British weekly, echoed it promptly by saying that the West should use its own values to blunt China's sharp power.

Even the China Model could run into a snag. Professor Susan Shirk, a preeminent American expert on China, observed that the concept of "China Model," usually discussed in foreign academic circles in the past, has now been promoted by Chinese official sources. She cautioned that the promotion might lead to the perception that the China Model is competing with the Western model which can create a misunderstanding abroad.

It can be foreseen that the competition between China's development discourse and its Western version will continue to hold the stage in the future. While China's development itself speaks volumes, it is imperative to move toward a more holistic approach to telling China's story well.

Global influence, which is usually in short supply, entails global engagement, for which there is typically a big demand. Both academic and diplomatic engagement in narrating both Chinese characteristics and universal principles should be strengthened. For example, more bilingual or multilingual publications and platforms can be employed to draw attention of the targeted subgroups.

As a latecomer to the international community, China has increased its soft power in many important aspects yet considerable room for improvement remains. More talent with expertise in national development and international communication is expected in the global ideas market. The so-called "revolving door" mechanism, i.e., transfer of talent between think-tanks and the public sector, deserves further investigation.

The author is an assistant research fellow with the Central Institute of Party History and Literature.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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