Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
This is an interesting discussion between Francis Fukuyama and Zhang Wei Wei on the so-called China Model. Zhang is an apologist but overall the discussion is enlightening. Fukuyama’s perspective is the familiar liberal democratic one so I excerpt Zhang below.
ZHANG | … In his presentation, Dr. Fukuyama raised four issues concerning the China Model, namely, accountability, rule of law, the “bad emperor” and sustainability. I would like to respond to Dr. Fukuyama’s view. I think what China has been doing is very interesting. China is now perhaps the world’s largest laboratory of political, economic, social and legal reforms in the world. What Dr. Fukuyama said reminds me of my conversation with the editor-in-chief of the German magazine Die Zeit last February. The topic was also the China Model. After a recent visit to Shanghai, he felt that there were more and more similarities between Shanghai and New York. In his eyes, China seems to follow the US model. “Does it mean there is no China Model but only the US model?” he asked. I counseled him to look at Shanghai more carefully and know the city well. A careful observer will find that Shanghai has overtaken New York in many respects.
Shanghai outperforms New York in terms of “hardware” such as high-speed trains, subways, airports, harbors and many commercial facilities, but also in terms of “software.” For instance, life expectancy in Shanghai is three to four years longer than New York, and the infant mortality rate in Shanghai is lower than New York. Shanghai is a much safer place where girls can stroll the streets at midnight. My message to this German scholar is that we’ve learned a lot from the West; we’re still learning from the West, and will continue to do so in the future, but it’s also true that we have indeed looked beyond the Western model or the US model. To a certain extent, we are exploring the political, economic, social and legal systems of the next generation. In this process, the more developed regions of China like Shanghai are taking the lead. …
… I have visited the US on many occasions and found that the definition of corruption matters a lot. In my new book, I put forward a concept of “corruption 2.0,” as the financial crisis has exposed many serious “corruption 2.0” issues. For instance, rating agencies gain profits through regulatory arbitrage by granting triple A’s to dubious financial products or institutions. I think this is corruption. But these issues are called “moral hazards” in the American legal system. I think the financial crisis can be better tackled if these problems are treated as corruption.
We can also make horizontal comparisons. I have visited more than one hundred countries. The reality is that no matter how much Chinese complain about corruption at home, it is much worse in other nations of comparable size, say, those with a population of 50 million and above, and at similar stage of development such as India, Ukraine, Pakistan, Brazil, Egypt and Russia. The evaluation of Transparency International echoes my view.
Furthermore, it’s necessary to look at such a large country as China in terms of regions. China’s developed regions are more immune to corruption. I once stayed in Italy as a visiting professor and visited Greece several times, and I think Shanghai is definitely less corrupt than Italy and Greece. … Indeed, whatever political system, be it a one party system, a multi-party system, or a no party system, it must all boil down to good governance and what you can deliver to your people. Therefore, good governance matters most, rather than western-style democratization.
This brings me to Prof. Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. I have not published my point of view yet. But mine is exactly the opposite to Prof. Fukuyama’s. I take the view that it is not the end of history, but the end of the end of history.
The Western democratic system might be only transitory in the long history of mankind. Why do I think so? Two thousand and five hundred years ago, some Greek city states like Athens, practiced democracy among its male citizens and later were defeated by Sparta. From then on, for over two thousand years, the word “democracy” basically carried the negative connotation, often equivalent to “mob politics.” …
But today, this kind of democratic system cannot solve the following big problems. First, there is no culture of “talent first.” Anyone who is elected can rule the country. This has become too costly and unaffordable even for a country like the US. Second, the welfare package can only go up, not down. Therefore it is impossible to launch such reforms as China did in its banking sector and state-owned enterprises. Thirdly, it is getting harder and harder to build social consensus within democratic countries. In the past, the winning party with 51% of votes could unite the whole society in the developed countries. Today American society is deeply divided and polarized. The losing party, instead of conceding defeat, continues to obstruct. Fourth, there is an issue of simple-minded populism which means that little consideration can be given to the long-term interest of a nation and society. Even countries like the US are running this risk.
In 1793, King George III of the UK sent his envoy to China to open bilateral trade. But Emperor Qianlong was so arrogant that he believed that China was the best country in the world. Therefore China did not need to learn anything from others. This is what defined the “end of history” then, and ever since China lagged behind. Now I observe a similar mindset in the West.
It is necessary to come to China and see with one’s own eyes how China has reformed itself over the past three decades. Small is each step, yet the journey is non-stop. The West still has strong faith in its own system, but it is the same system that has become more and more problematic. Greece, the cradle of Western democracy, has gone bankrupt. The British fiscal debt is as high as 90% of its GDP.
What about the US? I did a simple calculation. The 9/11 attack cost the US about $1 trillion, the two not-so-smart wars cost US about $3 trillion and the financial crisis about $8 trillion. Now the fiscal debts of the US are somewhere between $10 to 20 trillion. In other words, if the US dollar was not the main international reserve currency—this status may not last forever—the US would be bankrupt already. …
See also Zhang’s NYTimes editorial Meritocracy Versus Democracy.
… Virtually all the candidates for the Standing Committee of the Party, China’s highest decision-making body, have served at least twice as a party secretary of a Chinese province or at similar managerial positions. It takes extraordinary talent and skills to govern a typical Chinese province, which is on average the size of four to five European states.
Indeed, with the Chinese system of meritocracy in place, it is inconceivable that people as weak and incompetent as George W. Bush or Yoshihiko Noda of Japan could ever get to the top leadership position.
Take the incoming leader, Xi Jinping, as an example. Xi served as the governor of Fujian Province, a region known for its dynamic economy, and as party secretary of Zhejiang province, which is renowned for its thriving private sector, and Shanghai, China’s financial and business hub with a powerful state-sector.
In other words, prior to taking his current position as the heir apparent to President Hu Jintao, Xi had in fact managed areas with total population of over 120 million and an economy larger than India’s. He was then given another five years to serve as vice president to get familiar with running state and military affairs at the national level.
China’s meritocracy challenges the stereotypical dichotomy of democracy v. autocracy. From Beijing’s point of view, the nature of a state, including its legitimacy, has to be defined by its substance: good governance, competent leadership and success in satisfying the citizenry. …