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Gideon Rose was recently named the editor of Foreign Affairs, where he served as managing editor of the magazine from 2000 to 2010. Prior to this, he was the Olin senior[…]

Will a new “Beijing consensus” replace Washington as the dominant economic role model for the developing world, or will the democratizing powers of technology put an end to authoritarian state models?

Question: Will developing countries look to China instead of the United States as a model for economic growth in the future?

Gideon Rose: Anybody or any country that does extraordinarily well becomes a model for others to emulate. If Alex Rodriguez’s has a fantastic season, suddenly every kid is going to have their swing to try to be like Alex Rodriguez’s. The Chinese economy has had, you know, three decades of spectacular growth, and it’s only natural that a lot of people around the world are trying to emulate the growth the Chinese have had.

More importantly, they’ve managed to achieve this growth while retaining an authoritarian system; it has liberalized around the margins, but not at the core. And so for a lot of authoritarian rulers, a lot of tyrants around the world, they would love to be the next China. They would love to grow rapidly, develop all sorts of wonderful capabilities, but not give up their power at the center. And so, that’s the root of the idea that the Beijing consensus is a new positive role model for the world, displacing liberalization or democracy or capitalism and so forth. I think that’s all a lot of hooey because the trick that the Chinese have managed to pull off requires extraordinary technocratic skill, it requires great domestic sources of strength and opportunity, and even then, it’s not really a long term game.

The Chinese growth that has occurred is at the early stages of economic and political development. What it will achieve is what we all would love it to achieve, which is, first of all, a more dynamic global economy; second of all, a dramatic rise in the standard living in China taking hundreds of millions of people out of poverty; and third, setting up the Chinese for an advance into true modernity that will actually allow their people and their political system to partake a lot of the good things of the world and join with other nations in a cooperative way. The fact is, there is no reason to believe that you’re going to have uninterrupted growth, continued tyranny, and nastiness in China down the road. Something’s gotta go. Either the growth will stop as they hit barriers because the society isn’t free enough. Either the country will hit demographic roadblock or it will break up in some kind of way. Or the political system will liberalize, and you’ll end up continuing the growth trajectory with a more harmonious and positive and democratic domestic order.

Now, all of that means that China is set to become an increasingly large player in the globe, but it can’t and it won’t be able to do so on the terms it wants. What the Chinese rise to power has brought it is an opportunity to be free of Western chiding and Western countering, but if the Chinese use that power poorly, if they antagonize all their neighbors, they will find their neighbors flocking to the United States for protection. And if the Chinese don’t ultimately do the kinds of domestic reforms that are necessary for them to reach the next levels of development, they’ll find their wonderful rise stagnating a bit, or going into chaos.

So essentially, I think we should applaud what’s happened in China, and I think that it will only have positive benefits down the road for everybody—the Chinese and others—and I’m not worried by it, although it does mean that the United States has to get used to other people having an important say in the world.

Recorded November 17, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

Produced / Directed by Jonathan Fowler