Chinese Dream and China’s governance
Kenneth Lieberthal, senior fellow in foreign policy and global economy and development at the Brookings Institution
China’s new leadership has sought to inspire the country with its call to realize the Chinese Dream, which is collective and responsive to deep historical sentiments in China. China’s leaders face an extraordinarily complicated set of obstacles in trying to achieve the goals that are central components of successfully pursuing the Chinese Dream. Most of these are well known, such as:
The most rapid demographic transition in peacetime history, and the first that will produce a country whose population is old before the country in per capita terms is rich;
Resource scarcity — especially the scarcity of usable water in the North China Plain, but extending on a per capita basis to most types of natural resources — that is of staggering dimensions;
A revolution in information technology that is producing rapid changes in society, whose repercussions for governance are inevitably uncertain but potentially very consequential.
The sheer magnitude of the social strains generated by simultaneous massive changes in terms of urbanization, marketization, globalization, growth of the non-State sector, and the information revolution. All are necessary for long-term success as a modern state and society, but each in the short run is a challenge to social stability.
The Party’s Third Plenum resolution lays out a substantive conception of directions of change in Chinese policy between now and 2020 that are exceptionally wide-ranging and complicated. On balance, these changes seek to enhance the importance of market forces in determining the allocation and utilization of resources, the legal system in assuring basic rights and fair outcomes, bureaucratic reforms, and monetary and fiscal policy changes to shift incentives throughout the economy in order to create a more efficient, productive, fair, and sustainable set of economic and social outcomes. The implications for governance of these changes are very complicated and in many cases potentially contradictory.
The success of a more modern, well-educated, wealthy, internally and internationally connected Chinese population will depend on the wisdom, capabilities, and incorruptibility of Party cadres at all levels.
This is a major challenge. It will require huge changes to the current realities within the Party, the current distribution of power within the political system, and the current incentives and practices throughout the polity.
But the polity is already massive, with complex internal structures, norms, incentives, principles, and existing policies and regulations.
Navigating this terrain to produce the massive changes identified will require tremendous political skill and will inevitably generate many crises that will need to be managed and resolved.
And the market itself will produce unpredictable and at times very unwelcome outcomes that will also require skillful political adjustments to keep things moving in the desired direction.
It will require extraordinary skill to manage the politics of turning this broad Dream into operational programs that can successfully be implemented.
And the implications for future governance will be determined not only by the strategy for implementing the Dream but also by the forces that develop as China’s economy and society are themselves transformed. refutes the foreign stereotype that China sacrifices individuals to serve the purposes of the collective.
The historical Chinese Dream recognizes that China’s rich millennia-long civilization with its high culture and seminal achievements, aspiration and expectation, turmoil and trauma, challenge and triumph, and China’s more recent development of its political theory. A unified, stable, sovereign and peaceful China has long been the goal of the Chinese people and of Chinese leaders.
The global Chinese Dream can be described as how the world benefits from the Chinese Dream and why the world worries about the Chinese Dream. That the entire world derives material advantages from the Chinese Dream is apparent in the globalized economy. The higher the standard of living of the Chinese people, the greater their domestic consumption, which means that more products are imported, creating jobs and prosperity with a multiplier effect worldwide.
Furthermore, as China advances in science and technology, the more the world can share in the benefits of China’s success by getting needed products at affordable prices.
The antithetical Chinese Dream takes a different perspective, focusing on the tensions or contradictions among the various kinds of Chinese Dreams. These are the normal tradeoffs that all societies must continuously consider.
There are several natural tensions implicit in the Chinese Dream: economic development versus environmental damage; economic development versus social imbalances (i.e. it is usually more efficient to invest in developed areas, but that would make social imbalances worse); national versus personal (investment tradeoffs between national projects such as basic science research, the space program, defense needs, and the like, and the immediate needs of the people, such as healthcare); national versus global (balancing China’s vital sovereignty over disputed borders or maritime territories with the concerns of neighbors, and protecting the national without disturbing the global); long-term versus short-term (investment tradeoffs between long-term projects such as the South-to-North Water Diversion Project and the many short-term needs such as subsidies for poor or rural citizens).
By rejuvenating China, the Chinese Dream will benefit the entire world.