Global Radar Screen
Communist China in a US-dominated World Order
While there is no denying that the Chinese are a people of considerable genius and inventiveness, the secret of their collective survival as a communist state has to be sought in their great ability to learn from history, besides other factors. They were, for example, quick to learn from the soviet collapse of the early nineties and recognized the reality in time that communism in its most austere forms cannot survive in a market-driven world.
That was where the Soviet Union went wrong. The soviets were slow in coming to terms with the fact that communism in its totalitarian aspect could no longer be sustained in an international order where economic liberalization had seemingly triumphed. The more perceptive sections of the world now know that free market economics is no panacea for the world’s material ills, but in the first flush of market liberalization the world over some 30 or more years ago, the ‘open economy’ seemed to be the prized strategy to prosperity.
However, the soviets dwelt in the delusion that history had evolved, in their part of the world at least, in the most correct direction and that this seeming forward movement was irrevocable. In other words, there was a strong tendency among the soviet leadership to be rigorously theoretical, although there were some notable indications during the Gorbachev years that ‘pure Marxism’ needed a deep re-think.
The Chinese, on the other hand, learned studiously from the soviet experience and initiated the relevant political and economic reforms in gradual degrees. It is this gradualist approach that holds the key to China’s survival as a communist state and it is well to remember this as the Chinese state celebrates its 70th anniversary as a communist entity.
One of the most engrossing features about contemporary China is that it has opted for pragmatism in its approaches to domestic development as well as on the foreign relations front. Way back in the seventies, under the supreme leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the People’s Republic of China opened-up to the US and this was no opportunistic move, although China’s ‘cold war’ with the ‘revisionist’ Soviet Union had reached fever pitch by then. The opening-up was dictated primarily by the consideration that a constant daggers-drawn approach to the West was not going to pay off in material terms in the long run. The soviets, on the other hand, made this mistake, resulting in increasing internal economic hardships for the soviet people. After all, constant enmity with the US meant increasing military expenditure which the Soviet Union found it could not afford indefinitely.
The choice had to be made by the Chinese leadership to embark on less strained relations with the US, thereby avoiding the need to siphon more and more money into military budgets. Besides, it was found that a measure of economic liberalization was needed to eliminate the possibility of material hardships building-up locally, resulting probably in gathering social discontent. This had happened in the Soviet Union and China had resolved not be in these distressing straits.
The efforts by China to use the socialist development paradigm pragmatically and flexibly seem to have paid off. To sum up, just a few of China’s economic positives: today China’s is the second most vibrant economy. She is second in strength to only the US economy. The country contains a strong consumer base along with a manufacturing sector of phenomenal proportions. So much so, China is referred to as the ‘world’s factory’. In fact, there is no country in the world that is not impacted in some way or another by the Chinese economy, so wide ranging are China’s economic links. In fact, the world economy’s health is determined a great deal by China’s material robustness.
Given her prolific successes and notable consumerism, China is referred to by some detractors as socialist only in name. This amounts to making a fundamental error. Her economic liberalization measures have in no way diluted China’s socialist underpinnings. For examples, China has not deviated from economic planning that ensures the effective deployment of her work force and the absence of unemployment. This is not the case in the majority of Western economies.
It could be said that China’s phenomenal economic successes have prompted the US under President Donald Trump to be wary of her. This accounts in the main for the ongoing trade war between the economic giants. Trump seems to be intent on ‘cutting China down to size’. This is only to be expected because Trump is on a populist policy course that accords to US national interests utmost and overriding priority. Making ‘America First’ in every conceivable field is the cornerstone of US policy currently.
However, the indications are that it is the US which would lose out in the long run in this bruising encounter in the economic sphere. For example, the Trump administration’s efforts to impose punishing duty levies on incoming Chinese goods and services are having the effect of sending quite a few US enterprises out of business, resulting in growing US unemployment.
One would be naive to attribute to China any idealistic or altruistic motives in her efforts to establish and proliferate business and economic links the world over. This is not the case at all. It is the profit motive and the need to feed her growing population that are driving China. For example, China’s ‘Belt and Road’ mega project is all about furthering China’s economic growth, although there would be gains for participating countries as well.
However, China is more circumspect and pragmatic than the US in these mega economic engagements. While the US is brash and overtly nationalistic in her efforts at achieving her economic aims, China could be said to be using a comparatively ‘soft’ touch. Rather than use coercive tactics and measures to further her aims, China goes about advancing her interests by ensuring ‘win-win’ solutions to the material issues of the countries she deals with and invests in. This is the modus operandi at the heart of ‘B&R’ initiative. China gains and so do others in this exercise. This amounts to making a fine art out of the exercise of soft power.