In little over 40 years, China has emerged onto the global scene as a key player in the world economy. It has regained a self-confidence last seen centuries ago. This rapid ascent has prompted change in global ideas about politics, economics and world order. Rather than rush headlong into capitalism, China has tried to modernise the planned economy, implementing incremental changes and downplaying any discussion of the ultimate goal. China has gone from a foundation of state-owned enterprises to having some of the most fascinating private companies in the world. As Deng Xiaoping noted, it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it can catch mice. Over the 40 years of economic reform and trade liberalisation since 1979, China’s GDP has grown more than 35 times. In 2014, it became the largest economy in the world (in purchasing power parity terms). The speed of China’s ascendance and its strengthened global position have led to questions over where it might be headed.
China’s ability to combine a gradual opening of its economy, a large state sector, and authoritarian rule has broken the historic link between economic development and political liberalism that is popular in the west. Instead, China has sought to embrace the economic benefits of globalisation without the external political ideology. China’s thinkers want to create a world where national governments can be masters of their own destiny, especially given that China was not involved in writing those ‘global’ rules during the 20th century.
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