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Event report - China's Future and Reporting EU-China

16 November 2016

On 15th of November the EU-Asia Centre held a panel discussion on “China's Future and Reporting EU-China”. Opening the event Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, said the future of China was of huge importance to everyone. He recommended two books by the panelists; President Xi, by Professor Kerry Brown; and China in the 21stcentury’, by Professor Frank Pieke.


Frank Pieke, Professor of Leiden University, said that it was a mistake to try and measure progress in China through Western perspectives. This attitude often led to a distorted view of modern China.  China had been on a steady upward path since 1989 and could be described as a ‘neo-socialist’ state. On the economic front, Xi’s neo-socialism advocates a decisive role for the market in resource allocation where the state plays a more regulatory rather than an interventionist role. On the societal front, Xi’s neo-socialism envisages a society more vertically than horizontally integrated, marked by a dense network of hierarchical organizations instead of vibrant civic associations. At the same time, there is greater emphasis on the provision of social services. On the political front, Xi’s neo-socialism will see the Party playing a dominant role in leading the reforms. The Party had allowed more and more freedoms but now some of these gains were being eroded. This was an unnecessary trend but reflected the turbulent manner in which Xi came to power.


Kerry Brown, Professor at the Lau Institute, London, noted that the Party narrative was of a strong, powerful, modern state. Xi had the power but how would he use it? He was surely aiming to create sustainable one-party rule but this was not being challenged at present. It was interesting to consider how Xi’s leadership affected the economy, society and politics. What kind of market economy did he want? The fiscal system was hugely important with only a handful of people deciding on resource allocation.  How would this change over the next decade? Just like the Brexit and Trump campaigns the Party has made many promises at the 13th plenum – now the big questions was whether they could deliver?


Men Jing, Professor at the College of Europe said that China was still experimenting with its system It was not a Western democracy and not a market economy. But the lengthy period of high economic growth had conferred real legitimacy on the Party. Its guiding philosophy was pragmatism. China was still facing a lot of uncertainty which meant that it would continue to find solutions with ‘Chinese characteristics.’


Xinning Song , China Director of VUB Confucius Institute, said you could not describe China as a market economy but rather the official term ‘Socialist Market Economy with Chinese Characteristics’ was correct. There were wide differences in how regions, cities and even universities behaved. Xi knew the political and economic system very well and was genuinely popular because of his anti-corruption campaign. He probably had more power than Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao due to due to the recentralization of authority.


In the discussion there were questions about the impact of Trump on US-China relations, MES and over-production, and reform of the economy.