Rising Powers workshop

July 16, 2010

The first workshop of the “China as the new ‘shaper’ of global development” research network has just finished at Tsinghua University in Peking. I was impressed with the contributions — everyone talked ex tempore! — including by Master of International Development students from Tsinghua. This is an English-language programme for foreign students, and while one of them told me the programme does promote the “Chinese model,” this does not seem to prevent the students from having a good analytic edge.

I feared that the “Chinese views on development” panel would only give the official view, but in addition to that — represented by official Africa expert He Wenping from CASS — there was a “new left” contribution by Gu Xiuling (“I agree 40% that China is a neocolonial power in Africa” and the problem is global neoliberalism) and a liberal one by Tao Ran, director of the Public Policy Centre at People’s University (“China’s growth model is unsustainable unless fundamental [read: political] reforms happen within a few years”). So in the end the panel gave quite a nice cross-section of opinions.

Considering Tao Ran’s contribution — which could easily be seen as subversive — it was a reflection of the oddities of Chinese censorship that people from Oxfam, a co-funder of the workshop, had difficulties attending it because of some negative comments made about them by a Ministry of Education official earlier in the year. Although the Ministry officially denied having any problems with it, the Tsinghua organisers apparently decided that it was too risky for them to have Oxfam officially involved.  

Many participants of the workshop remarked that while the contributions by the British organisers focused on aid, those by the Chinese talked about economic growth. The former was surprising; the latter was not, considering the dominant view in China is that — as Zhang Yanbing put it — development is about “wealth and power.”