Mario Esteban writes that since the failure of the Washington Consensus –which the United States began to export actively to a number of emerging countries during the 1990’s– the world has witnessed the rise of China, and with it, the birth of the Beijing Consensus. This new model for development is based on an authoritarian government with strongly interventionist policies in regards to its economy. Esteban conjectures that the example of China is attractive not only to authoritarian leaders around the world but also to democratic regimes like Brazil, India, and South Africa who welcome the growing strength of China, and the creation of a multilateral world order.
Mario Esteban is a Doctor and Assistant Professor at the Center of East-Asian Studies at the Autónoma University of Madrid, and is a specialist of International Relations in East Asia and of the political systems of China and Taiwan. He organizes the panel of experts on East Asia of the Spanish Foreign Policy Watch Group, which is a part of the organization Fundación Alternativas (Alternatives Foundation).
AFTER THE FALL OF THE COMMUNIST BLOCK, A NEW MODEL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT based on democracy and free markets began to spread around the world.
The new model, known as the Washington Consensus, was propagated by the United States to a variety of emerging countries, advocating privatization of production, free markets, strong fiscal discipline, and globalized economies. It wasn’t long before this short sighted and simplistic model began to fail in many places around the globe.
THE RISE OF CHINA
Years later the world bore witness to the ascent of China; a country that openly refused to follow the established guidelines of the Washington Consensus in favor of its own system, now known as the Beijing Consensus.
China embodies a model of development based upon an authoritarian regime with interventionist policies, and emphasis on combining economic growth with social stability.
And in its place the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has taken root –a country whose only radical aim is to maintain a peaceful world status in order to allow for the optimal growth of an international economy.
But still, the mere fact that China is presenting an alternative social model to the reigning norms of the West makes many view it as a serious threat.
THE GROWTH OF CHINA´S PRESTIGE
China has been gaining remarkable esteem around the world. A survey carried out in 2005 by CBS and the University of Maryland showed that a large part of the 23,000 people interviewed from 22 different countries viewed China’s role in world affairs more positively than that of the United States or Russia. Even more so, many developing countries hope that China will begin to take a more prominent international leadership role as it did during the G20 summit and in its position in the Group of 77.
The example of China’s economic success is very attractive to authoritarian leaders around the world who seek to perpetuate themselves in power and defend their traditional right to sovereignty. And yet, democratic regimes too, like Brazil, India and South Africa, welcome China’s growing political strength in order to fulfill their goal to establish a more multilateral world order.
WHAT THE WEST SHOULD DO
The European Union should continue striving to create a world order of a more multinational nature, where new emerging powers will feel as if they have a voice. The west should also recognize the desire of the main part of the international community to maintain its independence, protect its ways of life, and defend its political autonomy.
One clearly beneficial measure in order to promote democratic values would be to apply international law universally, in all situations. International law is all too often used as an instrument of control of the powerful nations in order to suppress the weak.
A WORLD ORDER WITH PRIVILEGES
The majority of local populations within the western world see the critiques made by their democracies about the economic growth of their authoritarian counterparts as nothing more than an attempt to maintain their position of privilege in the existing world order.
Until the west makes changes to create a more multinational world order, and to uphold international law, western protests against China, no matter how sincere or altruistic they may be in their concern for human rights, will have a counterproductive effect.
And the authoritarian elite that continues to rule China and a large portion of the world will stay in power, taking advantage of the west’s uncertainty to perpetuate anti-imperialist, nationalistic positions.