At the ongoing global climate conference in Paris, China is claiming to be a ‘developing country’. That is a way for it to reduce the obligations it will have to take on in a global pact, and to shift responsibilities on to others.

But is China a developing country? It is often opportune for the leaders to be able to put their country into that category, but this is a case of modesty that others should reject.

First, it is false. A developing country is one in which governance is severely restricted by inadequate fiscal and administrative capacity. That is not the case for China.

The state is fiscally solid. It was near to being bankrupt after Mao’s disasters. The first purpose of economic opening up was to rebuild the fiscal basis of the state. That has been successful and the Chinese state now has ample resources for public policy. When Mao left the stage, state revenues were at about 10 percent of (the then small) GDP, now they are at about 40 percent of (the now big) GDP.

It is also administratively solid. There has never been a bureaucratic state like the Chinese one. About 75 million officials are in the pay of the state. The Internet is controlled by an army of about 2 million ‘internet opinion analysts’. The birth control bureaucracy is about 500 000 strong. This is a state that has adequate administrative capacity for such policies as it wishes to pursue.

Second, it is always wrong to try to understand the Chinese regime as belonging to any general category. It is a dictatorship, but not like any other. There is much capitalism in the economy, but the economy is not a capitalist one. There is also much socialism, but not a socialist economy. The regime is totalitarian, but with a brand of totalitarianism of its own making. And there is much underdevelopment, but China is not a poor, helpless and backwards developing country.

Always, we need to understand China on its own terms, not as a system of this or that kind, but as one of its own kind.


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