中国模式的最大考验China’s ‘market-Leninism’ has yet to face biggest test
Last year, the writer and political analyst Ian Bremmer was invited to a meeting at the Chinese consulate in New York to discuss the global financial crisis. He Yafei, China’s then vice-foreign-minister, asked the assembled group partly in jest: “Now that the free market has failed, what do you think is the proper role for the state in the economy?”
State capitalism is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is very much in the ascendant at the moment. Not only has the financial crisis sapped confidence in the sorts of free-market policies that Washington has promoted since the end of the cold war, but the continued rise of China with its particular blend of “market-Leninism” has given new respectability to the idea of the state taking a large, even dominant, role in the economy.
If Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History seemed to define to intellectual zeitgeist of the early 1990s, then it is books such as Mr Bremmer’s recent The Rise of State Capitalism that are dominating discussion at the moment.
如果说弗朗西斯•福山(Francis Fukuyama)所著的《历史的终结》(The End of History)似乎定义了上世纪90年代初的学术时代精神，那么主导当前这场讨论的就是像布雷默的《国家资本主义之崛起》(The Rise of State Capitalism)这样的书。
“It’s now much harder for westerners to champion a free-market system and easier for China and Russia to argue that only governments can save economies on the brink. After all, government spending has been essential for recovery in both America and China,” says Mr Bremmer.
“The financial crisis has provided Beijing with new evidence that enlightened state management will offer protection from the natural excesses of free markets. This experiment will probably expand, and continue to exert a growing influence on the shape of the global economy.”
There are plenty of other countries that operate a form of state capitalism, from Russia to the Gulf. Indeed, around three-quarters of global oil reserves are in the hands of state-owned energy companies. Yet, it is China that is the poster-boy for state capitalism.
A decade ago, the Chinese state sector seemed on the verge of collapse. In the late 1990s, hundreds of companies were forced to close and tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. Yet the sector now looks to be in rude health.
According to a recent report by the body that manages the country’s largest state-owned companies, their profits rose by 22 per cent a year from 2003 to 2009, when they accounted for 2.1 per cent of national GDP, up from 0.3 per cent in 1998.
Taking advantage of the crisis, China has been providing aggressive financial backing to its companies to go overseas and sign opportunistic deals in sectors such as energy and raw materials – hoping to forge new multinationals while securing supplies of vital commodities.
China has also been putting increased pressure on multinationals to hand over important technologies in return for access to its market. The authorities intend to make the know-how available to some of their own companies.
Under the rubric of promoting “indigenous innovation”, China has introduced a string of policies – ranging from patent laws and technology standards to procurement policies and product approval rules – that many foreign technology companies believe are a huge threat to their intellectual property.
“With these indigenous innovation industrial policies, it is clear that China has switched from defence to offence,” says Jim McGregor, a Beijing-based consultant and former director of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.
“这些自主创新产业政策清楚表明，中国已经转守为攻，”驻北京咨询顾问、中国美国商会(American Chamber of Commerce)前会长麦健陆(James McGregor)表示。
“Many single-industry and single-product companies could be destroyed in the process. Global markets are likely to become increasingly distorted, and the end result could be a chilling effect on innovation globally.”
Yet it is easy to be overly impressed by the apparent potency of China’s state sector. For a start, there is less to these companies’ headline profitability than meets the eye. About half of those profits come from just four companies – China Mobile and the three oil and gas giants – which have semi-monopoly positions.
China may have the biggest banks in the world, but their profits would collapse if the government did not impose large interest rate spreads that penalise depositors.
Efforts to create national champions have faced many problems. China’s two most successful car companies – Chery and Geely, which recently acquired Volvo – were not the ones that planners in Beijing chose to support.
At the same time, some of the potential threats from the resurgent state sector are also overblown. China’s oil companies are not shrinking global oil stocks by inking long-term supply deals. Their investments in places such as Sudan and Iran, where western multinationals are barred for political reasons, are expanding international oil and gas supplies.
Most of all, the biggest challenge for the Chinese model is yet to come. Heavy state direction has worked in other countries, as it is working in China now, to develop heavy industry and manufacturing – which require ready access to capital – and to promote urbanisation.
Yet large bureaucracies have a much less impressive record at producing the innovation that Chinese leaders believe is crucial to the long-term future of the economy. That will be the real test for Chinese state capitalism.