What Chinese model, President Zardari?

Published: July 15, 2010

Mr. President, please tell me if you are absolutely convinced that China is really a success story?

Speaking at the China Pavilion of the Shanghai Expo President Zardari said what has pretty much become a cliché:

“Pakistan can learn a lot from the Chinese model of economic development.”

I assume President Zardari is aware of an ideologically circumscribed, intellectually coherent set of policies or strategic decisions which together make up a ‘China model.’

The Chinese think tanks, scholars, diplomats, entrepreneurs, and journalists that I frequently meet seem to have divergent and pragmatic view of what constitutes this Chinese model, and how it differs from the previously worshiped ‘Asian model’ or ‘Japanese model.’

Does President Zardari want to learn from Chinese experience of lifting approximately 300 million out of poverty? This would of course be a noble endeavor. But it will be terrible if our President thinks of  the ‘Chinese model’ as economic freedom but political repression.

I am sure he meant something – maybe he characterised the Chinese model as export-oriented growth? But wait, wasn’t that the Asian development model? Our leaders used to lecture us on how we should be following that model of growth until it fell apart.

Maybe President Zardari finds China’s success in selective industrial policy? But that would make it a Japanese model, wouldn’t it?

I wish I could pick my phone, call him and ask:

“Mr. President, please tell me if you are absolutely convinced that China is really a success story? Please, tell me if China’s growth was planned, intentional and by design? Please tell me if China’s footstep can be copied in Pakistan?”

I know our president is so witty, he may have responded with a popular Chinese idiom: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”

And, I respect that. There is no consensus on ‘Chinese model’ – economists, policy makers and entrepreneurs have their guesses. China has been pragmatic in seeking opportunities and fostering innovation from the bottom up. The hallmark of China’s success has been it’s refusal to espouse any complete scheme of change. This has defined China’s development style ever since the policy of reform was initiated in 1978.

The majority of reforms in China have resulted from a process of experimentation, usually on a limited jurisdictional scale. China has 32 provinces. The bankruptcy law, for example, was tested out in one province and then it was rolled out to the rest of the country. Similarly, the special economic zones in four provinces were an important precursor to a whole raft of market-oriented reforms that followed.

In addition to the top-down experimentation, there have been plenty of bottom-up innovation and grassroots efforts. In fact, most rural reforms in China were driven from the bottom up. The disbanding of the communes, for example, was initiated when a commune decided to break ranks with party orthodoxy and decided to sell their surplus food on the market. This was a reaction to a desperate situation and it spread. Within the space of a few years, almost the whole country had followed suit. These things were allowed by the state; they were not designed by the state.

But the wisdom of the Chinese government was to step back to observe changes and to make room for good practices to spread.

Following the flow can be a good practice but not an economic model – at least not one taught in text books.

And, that brings me to second key ingredient of a model – “success.” It is true that China has lifted nearly 300 million people out of poverty but growth has been polarizing. China’s Gini coefficient (It is commonly used as a measure of inequality of income or wealth), has in a few years already surpassed that of the United States, which is rather interesting for a communist country. The fruits of growth have been largely shared, but there are also a lot of massive swaths of the population who are excluded from this growth. There has been massive dislocation that has resulted from this growth, too. Unprecedented scale of urbanisation; from about 20 per cent just a few years ago to nearly 50 per cent today—the largest movement of people from the countryside to cities ever seen in the history of humanity.

Maybe President Zardari finds success in China but for many, the jury is still out. However, all agree that China’s progress has been significant. Pakistan can learn plenty from China’s bottom up approach. It is high time that Islamabad allows provinces to make key strategic decisions and be around to cheer their progress.

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

A Pakistani-American writer, technologist, and social entrepreneur. Malick graduated from New School for Social Research with a masters degree in anthropology. He holds several technology and management certifications.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nusrat

    Brilliant piece. Zardari says whatever comes to his mind. I like the Chinese idiom you have cited, ““A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
    In Pakistan all our politicians are crows. They make noise becuase they can’t sing. Recommend

  • zubair

    You think very highly of our president. I be he doesn’t even know what this sentence means ” I assume President Zardari is aware of an ideologically circumscribed, intellectually coherent set of policies or strategic decisions which together make up a ‘China model.’”Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    What I take from your blog is one needs to think hard before making any policy or even a strategy. Couple of very important points you have raised here are: Is Chinese development a success story? Can Pakistan replicate chinese development model?

    Your conclusion is definitely the need of the hour: “It is high time that Islamabad allows provinces to make key strategic decisions and be around to cheer their progress.”

    As always a thought provoking and out of the box blog. Recommend

  • Faseeh Iqbal

    This article is very critical of China. There is no political oppression in China. Author should first do some studies about China before making such terrible allegation. Our only friend is China to protect us from India and American interest.Recommend

  • Hira Shah

    @ nusrat: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
    this is something i will always remember :) it made my day!! and i dedicate to all pakistani politicians (who are representatives of the people, and this time they are truely representing the nation)

  • http://www.zeitgeistpolitics.com Alexander Lobov

    Well put together piece, Ibrahim, but I’m afraid you might be ascribing a bit too much importance to Zardari’s statement. Sounds to me like regular diplomatic flattery rather than a serious policy idea.Recommend

  • http://dirtypoliticsofpakistan.blogspot.com Murtaza Moiz

    Mr. Ibrahim I totally agree with you… He has been a copy cat, but like you said he had to explain the term Chinese Economic Model, and I personally think even if he gets one, is there a possibility that such plans would be implemented in Pakistan, like using the poverty to stabilize the economy and succeed like China did?Recommend

  • Saif

    Such a disgrace, for our country!Recommend

  • Malik Rashid

    China’s economic growth might not have a set pattern to follow but there are some policies that Chinese government opportunistically pushed. You mentioned poverty reduction and urbanization, health care has been another hallmark of the socialist government. A plan to provide health care to 90% of their population by 2020 has been undertaken. I will leave you with a Arundhat Roy quote:
    “Privatisation is presented as being the only alternative to an inefficient, corrupt state. In fact, it is not a choice at all… it is a mutually profitable business contract between the private company (preferably foreign) and the ruling elite of the Third World”Recommend

  • imran

    no one can doubt the wonders achived by china on the economical front……but the social and political fronts need lots of wonders as well…….Recommend

  • Niaz

    I agree with Mr.Ibrahim that we must understand what we want to follow before we follow it.

    @Alexander Lobov
    I agree with you. Too much importance to a statement of someone who doesn’t even know what model of economy we follow at home. Recommend

  • Haroon M

    I second your opinion, Mr. Malick. Pakistan needs to learn from bottom-up approach of China. Islambad must step back and let provinces make decisions.
    Congratulations for writing another scholarly article. I don’t find this level of depth in other bloggers from Pakistan. Please keep us informed and educated.Recommend

  • Aslam Arsalan

    Very good and information packed article. Please join Facebook group Long Live Pak China Friendship


    You can discuss Ibrahim’s article there as well.Recommend

  • Nusrat

    @Hira Shah
    That line I qouted above was from the article itself. Not my line. I don’t want to take credit for someone else. But I agree this is the most appropriate statement. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
    Zardari has niether a song nor an answer.Recommend

  • uzma

    ASA……..i have simple ans those nations will never gain the progress and reach to thier best level when their people and rulers want to change ,,,,,,,,if our rulers have progassive guts than may be possible to gain success and reach on such level that other countries follow our rules of prograss rather than we fellow them .we should set an example and make history onthe map of the world,,,,,,,,,so 4 our poor president even didn,t know much about our GREAT LEADER AND FOUNDER OF PAKISTAN,how he can set a goal 4 our future progassive nation ……..Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed

    I am not aware of Pakistan following an export-led growth strategy that “fell apart”? I think that is precisely our problem. Growth has been led by either the public or private sector and, more disasterously, by consumption in the previous government — a bizarre strategy for a savings-constrained economy.

    Growth has never been export-led.

    As for stepping back and letting the provinces do their thing, have you seen their budgets? All in deficit after having got billions in the context of the NFC award. No revenue-enhancing measures. All in a mad race to spend. They are more profilgate and irresponsbile than the federal government! Because of their deficits (they were supposed to produce a surplus of 1% of GDP) the consolidated fiscal deficit target for this year 2010-11 is already at risk.

    Thanks guys for screwing up the entire macroeconomic framework!Recommend

  • A Baloch

    Meekal Ahmed,
    You are very wrong. Federal government is corrupt. Islambad should stay away from the resources of provinces. Gwadar Port, Reko Diq Gold and Copper Project, Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline should immediately be cancelled.

    Balochs are not bound under any circumstances by the international agreements signed between Islamabad and different countries of the world on projects related to the Baloch resources. The Baloch people were not consulted while inking these projects. Therefore, we do not abide by their terms and conditions. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    It is said that Balochistani nationalist leader Habib Jalib is recently assassinated for demanding self-determination for Balochistan. Balochistan was forcefully annexed into Pakistan and since then it has been governed from outside the province. Nationalist movements in Sindh have been old. Sindh has always raised its concern for being short handed by Punjab. Pakhtoonkhaah has been in an insurgency for a decade. And since few years Punjab has also experienced terrorism. Pakistani provinces have been complaining of not getting their fair share in resources.

    East Pakistan faced the same situation for 23 years finally separating itself after great and absurd violence. We must learn from that bloody blunder!

    Looking at the serious discord among four provinces of Pakistan it is an appropriate strategy to give more independence to each of the provinces to stabilize Pakistan in an attempt to save it from disintegration.Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed

    Signed as “A Baloch” I see since there are no rules in this paper. I have complained about it before. Sign your real name, Sir.

    I do.

    On your other points, let me ask are you not a part of Pakistan? Then Pakistan’s international commitments apply to you as well, Sir. If they are projects that have been funded internationally — and I am sure they are many in Baluchistan — you cannot refuse or choose to refuse to pay the debt-service obligations of that loan. Furthermore I am sure that many of the internationally funded projects and programs have conditionality attached to them. You are obligated to respect and adhere to those conditionalities. If the money came from the Asian Development bank for example I am sure someone from the Baluchistan Government (from the project sponsoring authority) negotiated and signed the agreement with the AsDB. The government got the loan from the AsDB and on-lends it to the province concerned.

    I am all for political and fiscal devolution and more power to the provinces. But I am astonished at the display of recklessness that ALL provinces have shown — not only Balochistan — in presenting their tax-free high-spending budgets.

    Do you not want that ALL provinces should show a bit of fiscal prudence and fiscal responsibility?

    Actually the Baluchistan budget deficit is probably the smallest of the lot so my criticizing the provinces applies least of all to them. But Baluchistan should have also demonstrated some good fiscal sense and come out with — at the minimum — a balanced budget. By doing so it would have made the others look reckless and foolish.

    These sorts of free-wheeling budgets will only lead to more inflation, or least, stall its decline and prolong the agony of the poor who are least able to protect themselves from the ravages of this cruel tax. That inflation will affect ALL provinces and the poor in ALL provinces. There are no islands in Pakistan –disconnected from the rest and each other — and that includes Baluchistan.

    Your people too will feel the anguish of seeing their living standards fall as inflation takes its toll.

    I hope you will be brave enough to go out and explain the problem to them.

    Pity that a story about China has been hikacked by inter-provincial and federal-provincial bitterness and discord. Recommend

  • A Baloch

    Hello Meekal Ahmed

    My name is Abdul Baloch s/o late Murtaza Baloch resident of Makran. Today I am in Quetta to observing strike to protest the assassination of my beloved leader Habib Jalib Baloch. But you know police fired tear-gas shells on us at Sariab road area. I am very tired but i want to reply to you.

    I want to tell you to leave my land Baluchistan once and for ever. We can manage our own business with Pakistan and other international powers.Recommend

  • http://www.balochonline.com Abid Mengal

    @Meekal Ahmed

    We would rather not be part of Pakistan. Federal government has usurped our resources and in return has given us debt and obligations. Balochs are trying to tell the world about the inequality and oppression of the Baloch people by Pakistan and its tyrant Punjabi institutions.

    To the dominant Punjabis in Pakistan, who make up 58 percent of the population, it is unthinkable that the Baloch Nation should have special claims to Balochistan, which represents 48 percent of the land area of the country.

    But Islamabad views the sparsely settled expanses of Balochistan as a safety valve for surplus population, a source of badly needed materials, and an area of vital strategic importance over which the central government should rightfully hold undisputed sway.

    Baloch and other less Populace Nations will not be permitted to stand in the way of Punjabis so-called modernization programs, though it means the plunder of the Baloch National wealth.

    Long live Balochistan!Recommend

  • Abdul Waheed

    Ibrahim Sajid Sb. This is a very briliant article. Is China really successfull? I have never heared anyone ask this question before.
    Allah hafizRecommend

  • Meekal Ahmed

    I refuse to be a part of a political discourse that implies a break-up of Pakistan. Please rant on but I will not be a part of it. I am a simple economist who tried to lament the absence of fiscal responsibility and no more.

    Good-bye and God Bless You.

    In case you wish to carry on this debate I am always available on [email protected]. You will find me opinionated and a fighter — as an economist. Not a politicians. Recommend

  • Shazia Basheer

    Hello Ibrahim,
    This is a very good article. I think you are still idealist, like your reportings used to be in Daily News. You pay too much credence to people like Zardari. What they say should should go in one ear and come out of another ear. There is no substance in his words. Good to see you again. Stay in touch please.Recommend

  • Insaan Ka Bacha

    I don’t understand if this article is in favor of China or against China.Recommend

  • Ejaz Ahmad

    Very well researched article. Bankruptcy legislation in China started right after Deng Xiaoping launched his pro-market reforms three decades ago. The Law on Enterprise Bankruptcy (Trial Implementation), the first of its kind, was enacted in 1986. Its execution, however, was crippled by its very narrow scope for application, the absence of corresponding laws governing corporate restructuring, excessive government intervention, incompatibility with the policy-based bankruptcy procedure then in place, technical errors, and a general inability to make the code operational.

    So, in 2006, a revised version of the law was enacted, marking an important milestone in China’s efforts to build an effective legal system as it moves towards a market economy. Compared with the original bankruptcy code, the 2006 code is firmly rooted in the needs of a market economy.Recommend

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    Here elaborates the matter not only extensively but also detailly .I support the
    write’s unique pointRecommend

  • Nausheen Khan

    I agree with Dr. Shams Hamid that it is in Pakistan’s interest to give lots of autonomy to provinces. Each province should benefit from their resources.Recommend

  • Wajah

    @Meekal Ahmad
    not talking about balochistan problem is a cop-out.Recommend

  • http://www.telespheregroup.com Deepak Parikh

    Mr. Malick, you are undoubtedly one of the best blogger in South Asia. I always enjoy reading your articles because you don’t just rant and rave. You raise pertinent questions. I find myself more curious after reading your blog.
    Please write for some Indian publications as well. Indians need to meet Pakistani intellectuals like you.
    Thank you,

  • Abdul Shakoor

    Very good article what i not like is all this talk about Baluchistan. You people must realize that we are not punjabi, sindhi, pathan or baloch. first of all we are Muslims and second Pakistanis. All this talk of separation is pure childishness.
    May Allah guide us all in the right path. May Allah make our Pakistan strong country. Ameen!Recommend

  • Khan

    excellent article!Recommend

  • Naseer Baloch

    Habib Jalib’s murder is another nail in the coffin for Balochistan-Centre reconciliation. Habib was a man from a simple background who rose to prominence as a Baloch nationalist leader through hard work and an undying struggle for Baloch rights. He was a person who had no truck with militancy even when he was jailed numerous times by the state for his so-called anti-state activities. He stuck to the peaceful struggle for Baloch national rights. A lawyer by profession, an ex-senator, secretary general of the BNP-M, he had researched the Baloch issues, especially those pertaining to national identity, unity and integration. A democrat to the core, he was no sardar or nawab, but a humble person with a vision for a democratic, prosperous Pakistan, where the rights of all the diverse nationalities that live in the territories of Pakistan are ensured. His murder is a not only a great loss to the people of Balochistan, but also to the federation.Recommend

  • Saif Khattak

    @ A Baloch : About which land you are talking about?
    Do you think Balochistan is not the part of Pakistan? Shame on you.Recommend