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Hedge-style East Asian model does not fit China

By Tang Xianxing (Global Times)

16:47, August 17, 2011

Edited and translated by People's Daily Online

The Global Times published an article on Aug. 5 titled "Discovering the East Asian Model: Hedging between rights and power" by Fang Ning, director of the Institute of Political Science under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Fang spent three years conducting field research of political development in the process of industrialization in some East Asian countries and regions, including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Chinese Taiwan, in the hope that China can draw on overseas experience. The core point of the East Asian model he found is that the "hedge" between rights and power, namely a mechanism in which a centralized government can protect the people's rights, is a political precondition for complete industrialization.

It is innovative to use the financial concept of "hedging" to analyze political development, but such a research method is paradoxical in itself. If a centralized government can ensure the people's economic freedom and interests by narrowing their political rights, and the people's losses can be largely offset with tangible gains, what will be the gains and risks for the people and the government, respectively? This is not only an economic question but also a political and moral question.

In fact, the paths to industrialization of many East Asian countries and regions are varied and not all of their industrialization has been achieved through the elites' monopoly of political power and the expansion of economic freedom. It is the opening-up of resources and greater freedom in the economic and social sectors instead of a growing concentration of political state power that have stimulated the public enthusiasm for production and provided industrialization and economic development with enormous dynamics, the classic examples of which include Indonesia and Thailand.

Although Japan's Meiji system made the country one of the global powers through concentrating political state power, the country had already had the capacity to achieve the industrialization and modernization before the system was put in place. Japan's success was mainly due to the fresh foreign influence as well as the development of production technology, commerce, cities and education rather than the effective coordination and control capabilities of the central government.

Using power as a hedge against rights to interpret the process and conditions of industrialization will develop more potential conflicts. The essence of industrialization involves not only economic development but also social and political topics, such as enlightening the masses, improving education, granting more power and addressing conflicts. When China attaches importance to order and stability amid industrialization and modernization, China appears to neglect the fact that East Asian countries and regions can rarely replicate many of China's "experiences."

For instance, China's attempts to use strong state power to realize stability and order have resulted in elites' monopoly of social resources rather than allowing the masses to participate in free competition in the economic sector. Another instance shows that although the government has strived to achieve highly institutionalization of political power, it has selected a path that is against the coexistence of democratic and political order, keeping the masses from expressing their rights in an institutional manner during the process of industrialization and causing many conflicts not to be effectively tackled during the period of social transformation.

Fang's logic actually belongs to Samuel P. Huntington's theory that believes expanding political participation too early will shake the fragile political system. Then, will it satisfy both society and government to let the interest and power "hedging" against each other?

The "hedging" is not the essence of the East Asian mode. If he has to say it is, then China especially should not follow this kind of mode, but should learn from it and surpass it. First, China's industrialization is still in its medium stage and China still has a long way to go, but the social conflicts accumulated in China have become very severe and many of them were caused by the "hedging."

Second, the globalization situation that China faced during its past industrialization course and will face in its future development is completely different from the international situations that these East Asian countries once faced. For the industrialization and modernization carried out in the background of reforms, it is impossible for China to think much of only the "production incentives" and ignore the "distribution incentives."

Third, industrialization and modernization have continued to foster new social actors since they were started, and politics follows its own law of development and is not solely influenced by the economy. Fourth, if some people want to turn the "hedging" into the institutional foundation of industrialization and modernization, they must guarantee such an important precondition: The elites holding the political power and huge amounts of resources must morally possess the faith that after the industrialization is completed, the democracy and freedom must be promoted in the political area so that a strong vitality will be guaranteed for long-term economic development.

(The author is a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs under Fudan University)

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