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Monday, September 22, 2003

China Watching and China Bashing

I'm trying to put together some thoughts on why I don't agree with the 'China is Going to Crash' school of thought. So reading around I came across this interview with the Ford Foundation Representative in China, Andrew Watson in China Development Brief (thanks to T-Salon for the link). The points Andrew makes sum up many of my feelings. China is a complex society, and China is changing. In the same way you can't take GWB and his 'republican guard' as the last word on the US today, it would be a mistake to say China is run by the CCP, period. The devil, as always, is in the detail.

...........in any society each individual performs a variety of social functions regardless of where their work assignment is and some of the most creative researchers and thinkers who've had the greatest impact on, shall we say, economic reform and development, have been in government institutions and quite often their role there enables them to have quite a big impact.

There's clearly a growing diversity of perspectives in China on the whole range of social issues and that reflects the increasing diversity and complexity of Chinese society. Even in areas which were not broadly worked on in society at large — say, international relations — there's a growing difference of perspectives on what is China's strategic interest, what kind of policy China should have towards particular current issues, and this is reflected in the growth of different kinds of institutions that now work on international affairs and foreign policy. In the 1970s that was essentially the preserve of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but now you have — I don't know if you'd call them NGOS, but consultancy groups or independent groups working on international relations issues and producing research reports for provincial governments or companies related to issues that are going to impact on those particular groups. In economic affairs there's a lot of that as well, you have groups like Unirule and Horizon who are no longer part of a formal government structure and can act like independent consulting think-tank groups, and some of those have quite reasonable research capacity.

Many of the emerging types of social organisations are not yet institutionally mature enough or well established enough to be able to run solid research programmes in the area in which they work.................I tend to be relatively optimistic about the prospect for growth and change here. I'm not one of the 'China crashes tomorrow' school. I think there are clearly very significant issues to be sorted out. I'd like to see first of all a reduction in disparities in income, particularly between town and countryside and different regions; secondly, a greater provision of public goods and public welfare more broadly across China - urban areas still get a lion's share of these things and it seems to me increasingly important for the Chinese state to provide educational and health and other opportunities for rural citizens, and I think that's a really important challenge facing the society.............

To date, the reform and growth process in China has been basically driven from above. It's changes in government policy and experiments and innovation from within the system that has opened up the space for reform and change. The whole thing started off with rural reforms. Essentially the leadership took the decision that there could be contracting of land to the household, that the household could then use its labour appropriately, that there could be markets for goods that were not part of the Plan. And in fact those three changes opened up space in which peasant farmers and households were able to move their resources in all kinds of different directions, which helped change the structure of the economy, opened out all kinds of new types of rural activities, transformed the structure of agricultural production and so on. So policy change from above has a very important impact on what happens.

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