China is Turning, but to Where? 中国在向何处转变?by Bowen YU


A Rejoinder to Professor Carl Minzner’s Op-ed

Nowadays, it is clear to most observers that China is going through a systemic transformation. The economic rules, the norms of elite politics, the ways of social governance, and foreign policy are all subject to this change. As a result, with the increasing sense of uncertainty, the discussions on “whither China” will always draw people’s attention. Among all the debates, Professor Minzner’s recent article is both innovative and disturbing for that he makes an astonishing point: President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are looking back to its 1950s-60s tactics, and are becoming more conservative. If his judgment is correct, we should surely be anxious about the future of China and the world.

As far as I am concerned, although Minzner is right in his empirical observations, he more or less exaggerates their implications. My response to Minzner contains two parts. On the matter of Chinese economics, I argue that the current policy ‘turn’ is less a ‘backlash against’ than an improvement of the ‘Opening Up’. And concerning politics, although I agree with Minzner that Xi is showing some characteristics of charismatic or personalistic rule, I argue that it is too soon to make conclusions about Xi’s attitude towards the rule of law.

Beijing’s economic policies in recent years are both reformative and consistent. On the one hand, marked by the recent antitrust campaign, regulations on foreign capital are indeed under adjustment. However, it is less convincing to argue that this change is against the spirit of the ‘Opening Up’ process. During the early ages of ‘Opening Up’, the needs to attract foreign investors led to ‘super-national treatment’ on foreign capital. Under the implicit norm of ‘Western exceptionalism’, the recent punishment of foreign monopolies will easily be seen as a conservative turn. However, the implementation of the Antitrust Law can be traced back to at least the 2011 China Mobile and China Unicom case. The only change now is its application to previously untouched foreign companies. Therefore, the seemingly biased antirust campaign is a part of efforts to correct the uneven pro-foreign capital regulatory system. We are now witnessing the foundation of real market impartiality, a more mature ‘Opening Up’ under regulation, rather than back to the past.

Furthermore, supporting domestic ‘national champions’ has always been the national policy of China and most East Asia NICs (for example, South Korea). Similarly, the Chinese government’s preference for a homegrown operating system has a long history, and is largely a result of security concerns. To see these as clues of any policy turn at this early stage would be an exaggeration.

Compared to economic adjustment, the direction of China’s political reform is less clear. Minzner is correct in his observation of the centralization of power. But what does this mean? For starters, on the one hand, centralization of power contains positive aspects. Though the ‘collective governance’ model started by Deng successfully institutionalized elite politics, it also caused fragmentation of elite coalitions. In practice, though consensus-seeking in Hu’s period maintained political stability in general, the energy of reform was sacrificed. Therefore, the re-centralization of power, marked by the creation of special leadership groups, is a crucial step to break the boundaries of departmental interests and local interests, and to push the implementations of top-level designs. As the delayed progress of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone shows, the power of the central government is not too much, but still insufficient.

On the other hand, the centralization of power contains uncertainty since the reform will be heavily influenced by Xi’s personality. The anti-corruption campaign, the emphasis on Confucianism, and the recent forum on literature and arts all raise observers’ anxiety that Xi may be more interested in building charismatic authority and launching ‘movement governance’. However, I would argue that it is too early to make this conclusion. Ideologically, Xi is less conservative than Chinese-centric. The ‘Chinese Dream’ narrative shows that Xi’s target is to build a core Chinese ideology and value, not simply to turn back to Maoism. Politically, it is correct that Xi is now utilizing campaigns and personal moral requirements to purify the Party. But it is incorrect to claim that Xi has no interest at all in formal regulations—rule of law. The focus of Xi’s campaign has been to tighten Party discipline until now. There is no convincing evidence to show that this ‘movement governance’ will be used as a standard model of national governance. In addition, the newly revised Budget Law is showing its power to regulate government expenses. As Wang Qishan, head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, recently states, the aim of the anti-corruption campaigns is to buy time for the institution building that follows.

In one word, be patient, the journey has just begun.


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Bowen Yu is pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Toronto with a focus on International Law, Global Governance, and China’s Foreign Policy. He holds a degree from Renmin University. His op-ed was previously published by Lianhe Zaobao.
He can be reached at bow.yu [at] mail.utoronto.ca
Twitter: @jediyubowen



 

中国在向何处转变?
A Rejoinder to Professor Carl Minzner’s Op-ed

今日的中国正在经历一次大转型,包括经济制度、政治游戏规则、社会治理方式和外交政策在内的一系列方面都处于调整之中。变革的重要影响之一就是不确定性的上升。正因为此,“中国向何处去”作为一个经久不衰的议题,总能吸引国内外学者和决策者的兴趣。Minzner教授的最新文章对中国的改变进行了饶有趣味但又极富争议的评述。他提出了一个令人多少有些不安的论点:以习近平为核心的中国领导人们正在“向后退”——他们正失去改革的动力,并越来越倾向于依靠上世纪五、六十年代的高压方法来治理国家。显然,如果这一论断成立的话,中国和世界的前景都将堪忧。

笔者认为,Minzner虽然敏锐地观察到了中国转变的种种迹象,但他对这些转变的动因、性质和影响的判断多少有些反应过度和夸大其实。作为对Minzner文章的评论,笔者将在此着重讨论两方面内容:在经济方面,本文认为当前的政策调整并非意味着“开放”的收紧,而主要意味着“开放”的规范化;在政治方面,笔者虽然大致认同Minzner对习近平“魅力型”领导倾向的观察,但不赞同他过早地对习近平关于制度建设(依法治国)的态度下结论。

创新性和连续性并存是对中国政府近年来经济政策的最好注解。近段时间反垄断打击力度的加强,尤其是几宗针对外资的反垄断诉讼都说明,中国政府对外资的管理模式正开始调整。但是,上述调整并非意味着对“开放”战略的挑战,而主要是对具体开放模式的微调。在改革开放初期,为了尽可能多地吸引外资,中央政府和各级地方政府为外国投资者提供了一系列政策优惠,从而使外资事实上享受了“超国民待遇”。其结果是,对外资管理的松懈助长了“外资例外”观,并在很大程度上纵容了外国公司的价格和技术垄断。虽然《反垄断法》早在多年前就已经开始实行,并在规范国内的通信和互联网等行业方面显示了威力,但外资在《反垄断法》执行初期还是享受了一定的豁免。因此,此轮针对外资的反垄断调查并非特意设计的“反外资”政治运动,而是反映了反垄断法规体系和相关部门执法能力的逐渐成熟。在宏观层面,中国政府正在力图纠正改革开放初期遗留下来的过分有利于外资的规则体系,以建立真正的公平竞争环境。因此,与Minzner的判断相反,当前的改革正意在建构一个更成熟的、更规范的“开放”体系,而非否定开放。

此外,对本国企业的支持不仅是中国政府的一贯政策,还被以韩国为例的东亚国家广泛采用,谈不上变化。与之类似,中国政府各部门一直致力于办公系统和软件的国产化,这更多的是出于信息安全考虑,与宏观经济政策关系不大。

与经济政策调整相比,中国政治改革的方向尚不够明确。Minzner对中央集权化现象的观察无疑是准确的,但这种集权化是否一定意味着传统统治术的回归?我们尚不能下结论。首先,中央集权更多地是出于推动改革的考虑。虽然邓小平开创的集体领导制度成功地使政治精英间的互动制度化,但政治精英间的合作却呈现碎片化趋势。在实践中,集体认同的建立往往非常困难。在胡锦涛执政期间,虽然政治稳定性得到了很好的维护,但领导力和改革的动力却是缺失的。在此背景下,中央权力的重新加强显然已经成为改革的前提条件。中央深化改革领导小组的建立意在打破部门利益和地区利益的阻碍,从而推动顶层改革计划的实施。事实上,中央的权力目前不是过多,而是不足。上海自贸区改革的进展远远低于李克强总理的预期,这在很大程度上是由于地方和部门利益阻挠的结果。因此,在近期内,权力的集中化仍将是中国政治的主旋律之一。

另一方面,集权化确实也增加了不确定性。习近平个人的政治理念对改革的影响无疑将被放大。习近平主导的反腐败运动,他对儒家、法家等思想的提倡,以及他在全国文艺工作座谈会上的讲话都给了一些观察家担心的理由。如果习近平过分倾向个人权威的塑造和“运动式治理”,改革的前景将不明朗。但是,笔者认为现在就对习近平的政治理念下定论还为时尚早。在意识形态方面,习近平并非保守,而是更强调中国文化和“中国式”理念。从习近平关于“中国梦”的论述中可以看出,他旨在建构属于中国的核心价值体系,而非提倡“左”的思想。在政治理念上,虽然习近平目前仍青睐于通过“运动”和强调个人道德来实现共产党的纯洁化,但我们并不能以此断定他主张以“人治”代替“法治”。一方面,“运动式反腐”主要旨在“从严治党”,尚没有证据显示中央有将“运动”作为常态国家治理模式的打算。另一方面,中国政府正在制度建设上做出卓有成效的努力。例如,最新修订的《预算法》已经开始在规范政府经费使用方面发挥巨大作用。正如中共中央纪律检查委员会书记王岐山指出的,反腐运动是一项标本兼治的系统工程,治标是为治本(即制度建设)赢取时间。

总之,中国的改革征程才刚刚开始,虽然前路艰险、过程曲折,但总归是会向前进的。


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Bowen YU is pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Toronto with a focus on International Law, Global Governance, and China’s Foreign Policy. He holds a degree from Renmin University. His op-ed was previously published by Lianhe Zaobao.
He can be reached at bow.yu [at] mail.utoronto.ca
Twitter: @jediyubowen


This commentary reflects only the author’s personal opinion.

 

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