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China’s modernization has global significance

Author  :  WANG YOURAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-11-12

China’s modernization has not only enhanced its overall level of development and international standing, but also contributed in a unique way to global development and stability.

Unique features and achievements

Jim Yong Kim, 12th president of the World Bank Group, described China’s battle against poverty as “one of the great stories in human history.” The same can be said about China’s development and modernization in the past decades, noted Maria Adele Carrai, an assistant professor of Global China Studies at New York University Shanghai. China has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty since the start of its economic reform in the late 1970s. It has maintained an average economic growth rate of 10% a year in the past four decades, and became the world’s second largest economy in 2010. China is now a global leader in manufacturing and more recently, in technology, especially in artificial intelligence.

“Whenever I go back to China, I am always impressed by the speed of its change and transformation,” Carrai said. One aspect about China that strikes her is how China has preserved and cultivated its own identity against some of the dictates of neoliberal orthodoxy. In the past century, China has defied many expectations and become a living contradiction to dichotomic ways of thinking that view reality in black and white. China was able to develop economically, but it has not transformed politically into a Western liberal democracy. It implemented the reform and opening up policy, but it still has state-owned enterprises that lead the economy and has built a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics.

Theoretical contributions

Modernization theories of modern economics such as the Washington Consensus cannot explain the new and uniquely Chinese path to modernization, said Liang Yan, a professor of economics at Willamette University in the US. Some earlier theories of development economics, including Paul Rosenstein-Rodan’s big push theory, Albert Otto Hirschman’s unbalanced growth hypothesis, and William Arthur Lewis’s dual-sector model, can partly explain China’s modernization, for instance, in terms of China’s achievement in infrastructure development, economic restructuring, and urbanization.

“Institutional economics can explain certain aspects of China’s modernization, for example, the contribution of institutional development and technological advancement to economic growth, but cannot thoroughly explain the particularities of China’s modernization,” Liang noted.

In Carrai’s view, modernization is a tricky term, filled with bias, stereotypes, and normative imperatives. The issue with the idea of modernization is that it has often been regarded as unidirectional and linear: the way Western countries economically, politically, and socially developed became the end goals against which other experiences were measured. A general trend in the study of China in the past was to view its experience as deficient, non-modern, undeveloped, and as passive recipients of Western modernization precepts. However, modernization continues to be contested.

“That said, if one takes as a benchmark economic, technical, or industrial modernization, we can see how China has caught up with developed countries in the past decades, and in certain sectors like artificial intelligence has even surpassed it,” Carrai continued. Important social infrastructure investments supported China’s economic development and productivity, as well as improvements in the average quality of life.

Besides, China has become a key source for development finance. It provided development finance options that would have not otherwise existed. It focused on large infrastructure projects and imposed less conditionalities than the developed world, adapting to the host countries’ requests. China’s new presence in the area of international development assistance has helped awaken some Western financial institutions to the needs of the developing world, namely, basic infrastructure, Carrai noted.

Benefits to the world

Both the goals and the means of the new and uniquely Chinese path to modernization differ from the modernization of Western countries, Liang remarked. In terms of goals, China puts more emphasis on high-quality, sustainable, and inclusive development. Common prosperity has become a new goal since the elimination of extreme poverty. The inclusiveness and sustainability of development is emphasized. In terms of means, while the market points the way, the Chinese government plays a significant role of support and guidance in regulation, industrial policy, infrastructure, educational investment, and in other meaningful ways.

Carrai noted that competition is not the only relationship that can exist between different models of development. Competition between China and the developed world can be healthy, and cooperation is key moving forward. Many synergies exist between Chinese and Western development finance institutions which are already collaborating in many respects. For instance, the China Development Bank and the French Development Agency have discussed promoting co-financing operations in underdeveloped countries, particularly in Africa.

China has stressed that national prosperity is not a zero-sum game. Countries should seek common ground while reserving differences in pursuit of win-win results. Global challenges such as climate change require coordinated efforts. Liang believes that China’s development benefits the world.

Editor: Yu Hui

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