Xi Jinping Fred Dufour/Getty Images

China’s Solitary Development Model

China’s leaders believe their version of economic and political organization is superior to Western systems, and have begun advocating for a “new era” of non-democratic governance. But, for all its allure, the Chinese development model is deficient in fundamental respects, and not easily reproducible elsewhere.

BERKELEY – It seems that China’s leaders have now forsaken Deng Xiaoping’s advice to tao guang yang hui (“keep a low profile”). In declaring a “new era” for China during October’s 19th National Congress in Beijing, President Xi Jinping presented the Chinese system of governance as a model for other countries to emulate. Leaders who “want to speed up their development while preserving their independence,” Xi said, should look to China as “a new option.”

Developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, seem awestruck by this possibility. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, has even suggested that as the West’s democracies falter, “enlightened Chinese democracy” could offer a path forward.

Amid all the lofty rhetoric, it is worth asking: what, precisely, is the Chinese model of economic and political development? And, is it actually preferable to the alternatives?

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