In traditional neoclassical economic thought, state regulation of the economy has often been seen as detrimental to economic growth and development. However, a new wave of literature on Asian economic growth models points to the opposite of these traditional claims by observing that regulation has been instrumental for better economic performance in countries like China and Japan. The rapid economic transformation challenges both economic and political orthodoxy. The ability of China to lift millions of people out of poverty has not translated to changes in the political system especially the drive towards democracy.
This research seeks to analyze the factors that have contributed to the economic transformation of China and how the same factors have hindered human rights progress and democratic transition. The argument advanced in this paper is that because China managed to develop a regulated economy that produced positive results, that also made it possible for it to retain the same kind of powers in the political and social arena. Human rights campaigns are seen as an attempt to subvert economic gains and they are therefore suppressed.
Scholars like Roselyn Hsueh seek to answer the question on why China’s political-economic model does not conform to the established liberal economic model, coordinated market economy, or state-led development models by analyzing government regulation and liberalization of specific factors. What makes China different? Hsueh argues that China’s economic power and political authority has increased and it has become so due to the state selectively relinquished control in non strategic areas and enhanced role in strategic ones. This assertion runs contrary to the growth and democratization literature which sees China’s regulatory state disintegrating and a stronger civil society emerging. This idea of strategic selectivity is important because it applies to all facets of Chinese life. The Chinese government rarely regulates religious activities and this is evidenced by the fact that Christianity is spreading more in China than any other part of the globe. It is when religious practices challenges the fabric of the Communist Party that government interferes in the affairs of religious organization.
China has an economic system that is suited for the political structure that denies political human rights when need be. Monshpouri and collegues argue that for decades China has evaded democratic transition and constitutionalism. They further note that with the movement of time economic prosperity will force Chinese citizens to demand more political freedoms and personal expression. This has however not been realized because the Chinese government has managed to sustain economic growth and focus the attention of the population on the economy rather than politics. The cases of individuals like Ai Weiwei are exceptions to the human rights campaign.
Since Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government has resorted to more subtle suppression methods like internet blackout as compared to outright physical violence. One explanation for the success of the Chinese anti human rights system is the strategic value approach. It is applied in the economic sector as well as political responses. According to Hsueh, by pursuing a “strategy of economy-wide market liberalization and sector-specific re-regulation, China has managed to obtain technological know-how, foster domestic champions and retain an upper hand over foreign competition even in a liberal environment”. In addition to substantiating the embeddedness of the market relationships in the institutionalized hierarchies and validating the impact of non state actors in the market, Hsueh observes that the sectoral and company case studies of Chinese industrial sectors advance our understanding of China policy making by showcasing how strategic value logic determines sectoral variation in government regulation and state-industry relations.
The Chinese state relinquishes central regulatory control in less strategic sub sectors of strategic industries. The two sectors at the center of Hsueh‘s argument are telecommunications and textile industries which constitute the most political as well as critical sectors at the center of China’s growth. Hsueh’s observation is that, in the telecommunication sector, the state maximizes its ability to take control of telecommunication networks by prohibiting FDI and private entry.
The inner workings of China’s economy also mirrors its political decisions. With the economy, market entry and exit in telecommunication equipment is however less restrictive than in service markets because equipment makers do not operate communication networks and their products are installed into the network infrastructure already owned and managed by the state. The Chinese government exercises deliberate reinforcement in telecommunications and thus not only preserves but enhances control over telecommunications, a sector strategic to national security and economic advancement. On the other hand, decentralized engagement combines the liberalization of market entry with the decentralization of economic decision making to local governments and branches of the commerce ministry in the textile sector which tends to be less strategic to the central government. Hsueh ignores or downplays the importance and motivation of political repression in her analysis. This also comes with a price that relates to workers rights and the use and buse of women and kids in factories. For economies like China big projects come first before human rights. The country does everything to make sure that it maintains its manufacturing position at the top and because it is not a democracy, decisions that affect workers can be made without much worker input or resistance.
There is deliberate control of sectors of the economy that applies to to politics. The most significant cases are those that involve disputed territories like Tibet. Tibet has for years been fighting for independence and autonomy from China and this has been denied. Tibet has a disparate cultural and social history from that of China. It is a buddhist region and its political practices are quite different from that of China. Despite this distinction, China refuses to grant Tibet full independence like it still denies the autonomy of Taiwan even though Taiwan has existed as an independent sovereign state. China has dealt with Tibetian resistance with brutality and impunity. The destruction of monastries and imprisonment of monks has been part of the Chinese strategy to feal with Tibet.
The denial of political rights is based on the assumption that if one group manages to wrestle autonomy from China, all other small groups will do so thereby complicating China’s position as a global power. China does not hold Tibet hostage for economic gain but as political ransom. Tibet like other sectors of the economy has strategic value, hence the need to control it. The case of strategic value can be observed in how the Chinese government treats people in the Muslim region of Ugihur who enjoy more freedom as compared to Tibetians. The government still makes a point that some religious activities are regulated but Ugihur enjoys more freedom of cultural and religious practice as compared to Tibet.There is also a case of government making it a point that pilgrimages to Mecca are approved by state authorities. As Monshpouri observes, China has a long history of civil war and any effort of granting independence to regions like Tibet is bound to set a dangerous precident of wars of independence. The Chinese authorities would rather violate international human rights charters than let Tibet take a path to independence.
In conclusion, the strategic value approach shows that China’s political human rights record is affected by the performance of the economy and how much the state perceive a group to be dangerous to the unity of the Chinese state. Regions like Tibet are not granted autonomy just the same way that industries like the telecommunication industry are at the hands of the ruling party. For achieve stability is more important than human rights and the future of the Communist party depends on the ability of the state to control all kinds of dissent.
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Mahmood Monshipouri, Claude E. Welch, Jr., and Sergio Brian Cruz Egoaval, “China’s Rising Power: Economic Growth vs. Freedom Deficit. Journal of Human Rights 10 (2011) 290-310.
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