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Learning from China

Despite 40 years of unprecedented economic growth, Chinese leaders' efforts to promote their development model have run up against political suspicion. But it makes little sense for countries to reject outright the lessons of China’s economic miracle, and deepening hostility between China and the West is in nobody’s interest.

BEIJING – Since beginning its reform and opening up 40 years ago this month, China has been a very good student. And now, after four decades of rapid development, the country is increasingly presenting itself as a teacher. As it commits more capital abroad, it has a strong interest in how countries where it invests are run. But is the world ready to learn from it?

In recent years, China has been using its more assertive “going out” policy – most ambitiously expressed in its massive Belt and Road Initiative – both to advance its own economic self-interest and to project soft power. China’s leaders want to restore their country to what they view as its rightful position in the world.

China’s economic weight reached its peak in 1600, when it accounted for more than one-third of the global economy. Its share of global GDP declined slowly until 1820, when it began to drop precipitously, owing to the Industrial Revolution’s enormous impact on economic growth in the West. By the early 1960s, China’s share of global GDP had fallen below 5%.

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