China’s Future: The World Bank Chimes In


SHARM EL SHEIKH/EGYPT, 19MAY08 - Robert B. Zoe...

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China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society.

That China’s economy and polity are at an historic crossroads is so often repeated these days that it has become a truism. The question that faces prognosticators is what China should do about it. Even if the lessons of economic development of one country could be applied to another, the scale, speed, and urgency of China’s economic challenges seem push the nation’s leaders onto an uncharted course.

So what to do?

In joint effort with the Development Research Center of the State Council, The World Bank has produced a China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society laying out a series of macro-level recommendations to address the issues China’s economy is facing over the next 20 years. What the framers of that report mean, of course, is that China faces these challenges today, but it is impolitic to suggest as much. (To suggest that the United States could also use such guidance would be similarly impolitic but no less accurate.)

What is compelling (read “different”) about this report is the participation of the Chinese government in the process. For that reason alone, the report is worth the read for the insights it should give into the kind of forward thinking that is “permissible” in the current policy environment.

The work has already been criticized for not addressing CCP politics and the role of the Party in the policy process. What I wonder about is the extent to which the World Bank was compelled to pull its punches on its recommendations

in order to retain the government’s participation. At a conference reported by Bob Davis ofThe Wall Street JournalWorld Bank Group President Robert Zoellick was fairly optimistic about both the resilience of the Chinese economy (“stress points will expand over time rather than turn into a crisis”) and about the possibility that some if not all of the reports recommendations would be carried out (“I think that in some form you’ll see this move ahead.”) That does not sound like a man doling out bitter medicine.

If the medium is the message, though, and this report does have legs, it may be as important as China’s own vaunted 12th Five Year Plan in helping to divine the future of China’s economic policy.

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