AuthorHarris, Peter


Author: Jonathan Fenby

Published by: Polity Press, Cambridge, 2017, 120pp, 35 [pounds sterling] (hb), 9.99 [pounds sterling] (pb).

In this updated version of his 2014 book of the same title, the British journalist and scholar Jonathan Fenby reminds anyone still in awe of China's extraordinary growth and increasing influence why its prospects may not be as good as they look.

He starts by briskly outlining the reasons why China's achievements in the past 35 years have been so impressive. At 8 per cent, its annual real growth during much of this period has been far greater than that of any other major state. In the same period an unprecedented 600 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. The stimulus programme launched in 2008 was the most extensive infrastructure development programme ever seen. Internationally China sees itself moving into the vacuum left by a receding Pax Americana, with an ambitious trans-Eurasian ('Belt and Road') development plan, growing external investment and other initiatives. China is also, some say, run more effectively than democratic states, having a capable meritocracy providing wise, long-term rule--though Fenby is quick to dismiss this last point, noting that by President Xi Jinping's own admission China's political wellbeing is compromised by cliques and cabals, not to mention widespread, vitiating corruption.

Fenby then goes on to argue that despite these successes China 'is hidebound by a set of factors which will limit its progress' from now on. Before considering these, we should pause to qualify a couple of the reasons he gives for China's achievements to date. Yes, the country has maintained a high rate of growth since the early 1980s, with the government only now accepting that growth should slow down somewhat to 6.5 per cent. But in recent decades China was at an early stage of economic development, and had to make up for years of slow growth and economic mismanagement during the Mao Zedong era. Likewise, the deep inroads made into poverty in China, remarkable though they were, were given a huge impetus by the simple expedient of putting right a wrong policy in the early 1980s and bringing a de facto end to collective cultivation of the land. (Fenby is misleading when he says that all farmland in China is owned by the state; in fact nominally at least it is still owned both by the state and collectively.)

These provisos aside, Fenby is clearly...

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