Beijing Hotels


"China’s rapid transformation into a global power requires a continuously evolving policy analysis." ~ Muldavin

Reform and Global Integration

Three decades of reform and global integration have transformed China into a global power whose policies, both domestic and international, have important impacts not only in China, but also around the world. The onset of the current global financial and economic crisis has only amplified this reality of closely linked processes. China’s reforms began in rural areas in the late 1970s, and rapidly transformed the country from a development path emphasizing self-reliance and independent development under the primary guidance of state planning, to first national and then international integration under the primary guidance of markets. The effect of this shift has been one of the most dramatic stories of this era, as China’s average economic growth of 10% has increased the size of the economy ten-fold since 1978, and created a new global economic powerhouse. China’s new role in the global economy is complex, being both an industrial platform for the world’s corporations, and a significant new source of national capital for global investment. Recent attention concerning China’s expanding role in Africa’s development through aid and capital flows is but one example of this, and points to the necessity of a nuanced understanding of China in terms of international political economy. top

China's Transformation

China’s rapid transformation and growth has certainly created an immense new pool of wealth, and for most observers this wealth and associated dynamism are proof enough of the wisdom of China’s evolving development path and policies. But other observers, both in China and out, point to the wide range of complex challenges also associated with the ‘China model’, including rapid environmental degradation and rising socioeconomic inequality. The Chinese state has undertaken serious efforts to address these issues, including a very rapid rise in capital investment in ‘ecological modernization’ for pollution control, as well as to limit the rapid rise in greenhouse gases emanating from China. There are also important state-led efforts to address the social issues of China’s rural majority, and the growing gap between urban and rural dwellers and their livelihood options and life paths. The New Socialist Countryside policies are but one of a number of important new policy initiatives that are bringing important improvements to China’s hinterlands. top

Environmental Concerns

China’s environmental problems, including its rapid rise up the ranks of national greenhouse gas emitters to number one by a number of estimates, have elicited criticism and concern both domestically and internationally, and are a serious challenge to the sustainability of the country’s current development path. These problems cannot be separated from the socioeconomic consequences of China’s transformation, both positive and negative, and therefore require integrated methodologies for analysis and greater understanding to help guide the ongoing discussion over policy in a wide range of associated sectors. Furthermore, China’s global integration, and globalization more generally, means that China’s environmental and social problems are also the problems of the world, and visa versa. Climate change, as but one example, knows no borders, though different national strategies mean that relative risk and vulnerability of the majority of a country’s peoples and regions are extremely varied. As an industrial platform for the world’s companies, China also cannot be effectively singled out for criticism without a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of many who find fault in its industrial power, including unwanted environmental and social consequences. Many of the wealthiest countries in the world, as well as many less-favored countries of the South, benefit immensely from China’s industrial platform and its competitive production of inexpensive goods readily consumed around the globe. The export of the problems associated with industrial production to China, is one part of the story, as is the subsequent export of some of these problems from China as its own companies, often in cooperation with large international corporations, move to other world regions to extract resources for this industrial platform, provide energy for China’s booming economy, as well as open up new markets for goods and build new factories.  top

Geopolitical Aspects

The geopolitical aspects of China’s reforms and global integration are not insubstantial, and increasingly are being portrayed in new Cold War terms of competition and conflict. These portrayals primarily serve the powerful interests of those who stand to benefit from a new global arms race, and downplay alternative scenarios in which the immense resources that may be wasted on such global competitions could be productively re-channeled towards the many pressing demands and needs of the world’s majority. Without such a shift in perspective and associated energy, capital, and experience, many geopolitical conflicts will only get worse. Dark scenarios for the future become the norm and appear almost inevitable. In this sense, a new Cold War becomes a self-perpetuating and self-reproducing vision.  top

Alternative Outcomes

But alternatives do exist, and in the policy realm there is important work to be done to move beyond the current status quo and open up new spaces for thinking and action. The work to be done is specific to traditional policy arenas, such as environment, energy, and agriculture. It also requires increased attention to overall synthetic approaches that integrate from the beginning the linked realities of most policy areas when put into action. For example, rising vulnerability of the poorest is often closely linked to declining access to natural resources, and as such some environmental policies may actually heighten social insecurity and thereby increase environmental destruction. Environmental or social policies by themselves cannot solve such conundrums. What are needed in such cases are policy innovations that are multi-scaled, transcend traditional institutional boundaries, and seek to solve problems outside disciplinary blinders among others. top