BY WANG XIAOZHU
As a foreign affairs writer, I have noticed Chinese leaders have incorporated a new line in their remarks when meeting with foreign counterparts, especially those from smaller states, in recent months.
China respects the development path chosen by the people of themselves, Chinese leaders have said.
They have repeated this line for various times in the recent weeks, during their meetings with African nations’ leaders at this year’s China-Africa summit, during President Xi Jinping’s meeting with his Mongolian counterpart on the sidelines of the fourth Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, and in his meeting with Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, in Beijing.
Politicians are extremely careful about their wordings. Chinese leaders don’t say things randomly.
Saying China respects the other people’s own chosen development path shows China has no intention to intervene in other countries’ domestic affairs.
It shows China has no wish to “export” its own ways of governance to other countries, despite it has achieved formidable success over the past four decades.
It is Beijing’s response to criticism that China seeks to export the so-called “China model”, or “Beijing Consensus”, especially following the introduction of the Belt & Road initiative, incorporated by Xi exactly five years ago.
As Beijing’s presence in international affairs keeps expanding, some are worried that China is to offer an alternative development model to that long promoted by the West.
In the West people worry that developing countries want to copy “the China model”, the Economist has argued back in 2010.
“China’s form of authoritarian government will gain immense prestige, implying a large negative effect on democracy worldwide,” Francis Fukuyama, author of the End of History and the Last Man, famously wrote in 2016.
If One Belt, One Road meets Chinese planners’ expectations, the whole of Eurasia, from Indonesia to Poland will be transformed in the coming generation, Fukuyama wrote.
China’s model will blossom outside of China, raising incomes and thus demand for Chinese products to replace stagnating markets in other parts of the world. Polluting industries, too, will be offloaded to other parts of the world, he wrote.
Stefan Halper, author of The Beijing Consensus, How China’s Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century, argues that “just as globalisation is shrinking the world, China is shrinking the West” by quietly limiting the projection of its values.
For many Western analysts, the so-called Beijing Consensus has come to denote a non-democratic challenge to liberal capitalism, constituting, as political scientist Pei Minxin explains, a combination of “authoritarian rule with pro-market economic policies.”
“Beijing consensus” was dubbed in 2004 by Joshua Cooper Ramo, an American consultant, playing on the idea of a declining “Washington consensus”.
But actually in China, scholars and politicians have been divided on whether there is a “China model”.
The ruling Communist Party had been diffident about laying claim to any development model that other countries might copy, until the 19th Party Congress in autumn 2017, for some observers.
For the first time, China presented itself as a model for other developing countries, Frank Ching, who opened the Wall Street Journal’s bureau in China in 1979, argued, citing Xi’s speech to the Congress.
During the past five years, said party leader Xi, “we have seen a further rise in China’s international influence, ability to inspire, and power to shape, and China has made great new contributions to global peace and development”.
He added: “The Chinese nation, which since modern times began had endured so much for so long, has achieved a tremendous transformation … It means that the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization.”
A little over a week after these words were uttered, Ching noted, Global Times, which is affiliated with the official People’s Daily, denied that China was promoting or exporting its political model to other countries.
It said that unlike the West, which had been “enthusiastically promoting its so-called democratic system,” China was merely “offering a choice to nations that seek to develop rapidly” by “providing the China wisdom and model to resolving problems facing humanity.”
China’s official media outlets, like Xinhua News Agency, China News Service, China Daily, etc, have since then run a number of stories on official delegations from African and Latin American countries coming to China to learn Beijing’s experience in governing the country.
Signs are Beijing’s official tone is “you are always welcome to learn from our experience, but is by no means we are promoting, or exporting, our model”.
As Xi himself has once used a folk saying as a metaphor: “No one but the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”
The year of 2018 has, to date, been an uneasy one for Beijing internationally.
It is still too early to evaluate the impact of the Trade War with the US on the economy.
The Belt and Road initiative has also met some unprecedented headwinds overseas, with some key projects shrank or even cancelled in neighbouring countries.
In such circumstance, it’s important to keep a low profile internationally. It is far to early for Beijing to “export” its so-called “model”.
As former Chinese president, “the Elder”, Jiang Zemin has famously said in 2000:
“In Chinese we have saying, ‘make a fortune quietly’.”
The writer is a foreign affairs analyst