What Does China Think? | Mark Leonard

Summary of: What Does China Think?
By: Mark Leonard


In ‘What Does China Think?’, Mark Leonard offers a deep dive into China’s intellectual awakening and its impact on global affairs. Grappling with diverse opinions and complex debates shaping China’s economic, political, and international policies, the book uncovers the driving forces behind its rapid development. Readers will be introduced to key thinkers and their ideas, which tend to challenge conventional Western theories. As China continues to evolve and exert its influence on the world, Leonard explores the possibility of a ‘Beijing Consensus’ that challenges the long-standing ‘Washington Consensus’.

China’s Rise

China’s economic and intellectual growth is changing the world’s perception of international affairs, politics, and economics. The country has achieved exceptional wealth without relinquishing political control. China’s emergence from Maoist rule was focused on economic development and American capitalism. Still, there is an ongoing intellectual debate about creating a unique model. This model is unlikely to be a liberal democracy, as democracy may tear China apart. The country’s economy is not dominated by private enterprises, and state intervention and protection of public property are crucial. China is co-opting and exploiting vulnerable areas in the U.S. order to revolutionize foreign engagement. The Beijing Consensus, a state intervention approach, might rival the Washington Consensus, opposing it in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The Great Divide in Chinese Economic Thought

In China, two opposing schools of thought dominate the economic discourse: the “New Right” that favors privatization and market reforms, and the “New Left” that advocates for a stronger government to address issues like inequality and pollution. While the New Right brought the concept of special economic zones and private factory ownership to China, the New Left focuses on creating a new model of capitalism that ensures social and economic justice. However, public anger is growing over the costs of reform, with protests by laid-off workers, concerns over illegal demolitions, corruption, and unpaid wages and pensions. The Tiananmen demonstrations of 1989 manifested the workers’ concerns for economic and social justice. Today, social unrest and even violent demonstrations against expropriation are multiplying. In present times, the New Left’s perspectives are echoing in the policies of China’s current leaders. The book also enlists the major figures representing the two ideologies, including Zhang Weiying, Wang Hui, Wang Shaoguang, Hu Angang, and Cui Zhiyuan.

China’s Democratic Model

China’s suitability for democratic governance has long been a topic of debate. While proponents of democracy have pushed for Western-style elections, some belieive in a hybrid model of government. Western-style elections exist in some regions, but their significance remains a topic of contention. Those opposed to democracy fear ethnic groups opting out of the nation or market mechanisms and private wealth being threatened. Despite these reservations, democracy remains necessary in ensuring fair governance and countering the power of wealthy individuals. Key players in the ongoing debate include Yu Keping, Pan Wei, Fang Ning, and Wang Xiaodong.

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