Yang Yao: The End of the Beijing Consensus





[Yang Yao is Deputy Dean of the National School of Development and the Director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University.]

For the last 30 years, the CCP has intentionally adopted policies favoring specific groups or regions to promote reform and economic growth. It has helped that the disinterested CCP government was not permanently beholden to certain groups or regions. China's integration into the world economy is a case in point. At the end of the 1970s, the United States was eager to bring China into its camp as a buffer against Soviet hegemony, and China quickly grasped the opportunity. Yet that early adoption of an "open-door" policy gave rise to domestic resistance: special economic zones, such as Shenzhen, enjoyed an abundance of preferential treatments that other parts of the country envied. Moreover, the CCP's export-led growth model required that Beijing embrace an unbalanced development strategy that encouraged rapid growth on the country's east coast while neglecting the interior; today, nearly 90 percent of China's exports still come from the nine coastal provinces....

Despite its absolute power and recent track record of delivering economic growth, the CCP has still periodically faced resistance from citizens. The Tiananmen incident of April 5, 1976, the first spontaneous democratic movement in PRC history, the June 4 movement of 1989, and numerous subsequent protests proved that the Chinese people are quite willing to stage organized resistance when their needs are not met by the state. International monitoring of China's domestic affairs has also played an important role; now that it has emerged as a major global power, China is suddenly concerned about its legitimacy on the international stage....

The reforms carried out over the last 30 years have mostly been responses to imminent crises. Popular resistance and economic imbalances are now moving China toward another major crisis. Strong and privileged interest groups and commercialized local governments are blocking equal distribution of the benefits of economic growth throughout society, thereby rendering futile the CCP's strategy of trading economic growth for people's consent to its absolute rule.

An open and inclusive political process has generally checked the power of interest groups in advanced democracies such as the United States. Indeed, this is precisely the mandate of a disinterested government -- to balance the demands of different social groups. A more open Chinese government could still remain disinterested if the right democratic institutions were put in place to keep the most powerful groups at bay. But ultimately, there is no alternative to greater democratization if the CCP wishes to encourage economic growth and maintain social stability....

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