China has recently overtook the United States as the biggest economy in the world. While there can be doubts on the figures that China has, there is no doubt that it has improved a lot since the failure of implementing the Maoist brand of communism in its early modern history. The development of mainland China can be attributed to the state institution present in the state. This development is sometimes compared to the developmental states of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan – which, ironically, is her “rebel province.” The state in China plays a big part in this economic trend but its model may be different to that of other East Asian states.

It can be argued that state intervention in the economy can yield negative or neutral results in the firm level, but reforms within the bureaucracy and the state-party structure can actually be helpful in producing positive results for the economy. This is what happened in Mainland China. Communism in China have somewhat failed to produce the desired development until the Deng-instituted post-Mao reforms in the late 1970s up to the 1980s. Changes in Maoist communism, dubbed generally as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” modified the ideology to include economic liberalism, opening of the economy to foreign investments, and focus on regional economic zones, among others. Despite initial criticism that there was uneven regional development in China, this new approach to communism did not hampered growth. Compared to other East Asian countries, China is a much bigger state; we may find it hard to find an effective economic plan for the regions of Tibet and other far-flung areas distant from centers of economic activities and easy to find one within the coastal areas for obvious reasons. “Decentralization” of the Chinese economy would initially benefited certain areas with favorable conditions.

Aside from these things, similarities between China and East Asian developmental states can be cited such as state control over finance and domination of public enterprises which, again (ironically), resembles the Taiwanese model. Chinese products ranging from food products to electronic devices have been exported to many countries after its membership to the World Trade Organization and have become famous (and infamous) worldwide. Cheap labor attracts multinational companies to set up factories and manufacturing plants to cater to the growing Chinese and Asian markets. If these are the bases for a state to be considered developmental, mainland China has a rightful claim over the title while exhibiting a main distinction of having a “communist” ideology perpetuated in its political system.

The state institution is very much involved with the Chinese economy just like developmental states. Any development that the economy manifests can be pointed out to (or used by) the state. It is said that actions of Deng Xiaoping, the reformist leader of this Asian state, to remake the Maoist philosophy became the start of an improving Chinese economy as this Marxist variant was seen to restrict growth. Its gross domestic product steadily grew an average of ten percent since 1978, its economy doubling its size every decade, huge foreign reserves, favorable balance of trade, together with the commitment of its communist government to public works, and – admit it or not – rising pollution in urban areas shows how the state institution can act to “reexamine” the existing norms and ideologies of a country. Despite the apparent capitalist characteristics of its economy, the Chinese Communist Party continues to hold its official ideology of Maoist-style communism and refuses to call it by any other name.

Changes in the Maoist China can be an effect of the “communism is dead” battlecry of the capitalist world. The Chinese may have been affected by this collapse of an inherent weak ideology during the late Cold War but has bounced back impressively. No one might have seen that a so-called communist state may become a developmental one; or maybe it is just the West that does not recognize it because she is, in paper, still communist. Yet, without leaving the philosophy, Mainland China managed to become a developmental state “with Chinese characteristics.”

Image source: The Guardian