In 1988, the Chinese government passed a legislation encouraging Chinese farmers to trade 'wildlife resources' (some are endangered species). Initially, it was meant to allow small-time farmers to lift themselves out of poverty, and it was indeed a success for quite some time.
But then, it went terribly wrong.
Almost two decades before COVID-19, other coronavirus spawned from a wet-market in Foshan, Guangdong Province. The virus then spread to dozens countries outside China. As of 2004, hundreds of deaths reported due to the outbreak.
Yup, it was the SARS epidemic.
In modern context, COVID-19 is just a relapse episode of SARS - but only significantly worse, with greater extent of latitude and exponentially higher fatalities. The WHO classified it a pandemic.
Bats, cat civets, pangolins, these are among the animals traded in the Chinese wet-markets; the exact same critters highly suspected to be the culprit of the coronaviruses.
Due to the wonder of advertisements, China wildlife industry is now a niche of high caste consumers. The government re-opened the wet-market after SARS supposedly due to enormous pressure from lobbyist groups backed by the Chinese 'fat cats'.
"This parochial commercial interest of a small-number of wildlife eaters are hijacking China's national interest", says Peter Li, professor at the University of Houston.
Today, thanks to COVID-19, China’s unemployment rate reportedly reached the all-time high in the last two-decade; undoing years of economic improvement. China’s ambition in eradicating poverty has fired back, massively.
But the story goes way back.
The Birth of the China Model
After the collapse of Mao regime, President Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in 1978. He was instantaneously dazzled by the vibrantly modern city-state and its flourishing economy. At that moment, he opted China to change course.
It was the late Lee Kuan Yew, patriarch of modern Singapore, who pioneered the Asian Values, a cultural doctrine incorporated the Sino-teachings of Confucianism. But it was Deng Xiaoping who made the most of it.
In essence, the doctrine was predicated on principles differed radically from Western liberalism. Emphasizing on social harmony instead of individual liberty; on abiding the authority rather than public scrutiny; on fulfilling one's duty in oppose to requiring one's rights.
Deng embraced the Asian Values as his socio-political cornerstone. But he envisioned something even more formidable for future China, and his project was later proven to be more nuanced and delicate to that of Mr. Lee.
Deng experimented with two idiosyncraticly distinct variables which were hardly been combined elsewhere in the world, namely a totalitarian communist state and an ultra-capitalist system.
Thereby, he aimed for -altogether- unwavering political stability and thriving market economy; a substantial reform for a new China after Mao.
He named his experiment: Reform and Opening-Up.
The paramount archetype of Deng's experiment was Shenzhen, a city near the China-Hong Kong border, where is now home to big corporations and burgeoning start-ups; one of the most affluent business hubs in Asia.
This was the blueprint of what we know today as the China Model.
The Rise of China, and Problems that Come with It
In late 2001, amid the rising turmoil after 9/11, China marked a crucial milestone in its continuing reform by joining the WTO. As of 2008, at the height of the US mortgage crisis, China has already transformed itself into a global economic powerhouse, with Beijing Olympics as the icing on the cake.
At the time when all this happened, the US (the reigning superpower) was heavily preoccupied in the Middle East and its War on Terror agenda - and as a consequence, China grew unchallenged, particularly in Asia.
In 2013, President Xi Jinping launched China’s most ambitious infrastructure project, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while visiting Indonesia at a national meeting with ex-President Yudhoyono. In present-day, half of world countries have agreed to take part in the development project.
The current Chinese government reveals that public satisfaction in China has improved dramatically with regards to the economy - and to some extent, it is true.
In fact, China is now already the largest exporting country in the world; and the second-largest economy. Some economists predict that China will surpass the US in the next 1 to 2 decades.
However, the China Model is only anything but perfect.
In spite of its success in creating new industrial and commercial hotspots for global investors, China’s modern economy is not as triumphant as it boastfully claimed to be.
As of 2019, per capita income in China is quite inconsequential ($ 10k) compared to other developed Asian countries, such as Singapore ($ 56k), Japan ($ 40k), or South Korea ($ 31k). The GDP per capita of Hong Kong ($ 49k) and Taiwan ($ 24k) are even higher to those of the mainland.
For a self-proclaimed socialist country, China is also somewhat a divergent.
Some even equate ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ to neoliberal trickle-down for the fact that it favors high-income individuals rather than the general population. China’s frequent claims on lifting millions out of poverty is almost a hubris for inequality is still rampant in modern China. Chinese middle-class is growing, but by laggard, especially for the last couple of years.
Billions of dollars of taxpayers' money had been fled out of the country in mega corruption scandals involving its 'tiger figure', which refers to high-ranking members of the CCP. “Corruption is deeply entrenched in China”, says Victor Ghao, former translator for Deng Xiaoping.
With none-to-little data available for public scrutiny on GINI index and perception of corruption, it is equitable to infer that the CCP is concealing the damning predicament.
The political aspect of the China Model is even more problematic.
The CCP and its 'cylinders' of propaganda had long insisted that 'China miracle' in recent decades was made possible not despite of its authoritarianism, but precisely due to it. Such a blunt claim indeed.
Zhang Weiwei, pupil of Deng and solemn proponent of the China Model, argues even further that liberal democracy would be "terribly wrong for China." Zhang provides that given the size of the population, the one-party communist state is the most suitable system in governing the society.
He also posits that the "selection plus election" process in the CCP which could take 10 to 30 years for a politician to rise to the central committee would prevent China to be ruled by mediocre politician, such as Prime Minister Noda of Japan or George W. Bush of the US. And to some extent, he has a point.
Nevertheless, the world cannot afford to ignore the opaque and autocratic element of the China Model.
The CCP long struggle for political legitimacy in Hong Kong -and of course, Taiwan- depicts the very peril of its hostile approach in exporting the model -- not to mention Xinjiang, which is internal to China.
Prior to the protests, Hong Kong used to enjoy considerably high-level of autonomy and blossomed economy that can grow steadily above 5% per annum. It is arguably one of the most successful liberal democracy in Asia aside from Japan and South Korea; a model for other Southeast Asian democracies.
However, China’s newly-passed National Security Law would most likely dwarfed Hong Kong's democracy, as it would allow Beijing to exert its draconian measure upon the former British colony. Just few days ago, The Economist reported how the pro-mainland government curbs freedom of speech by hammering satire criticism from television comics.
Another staggering problem is the 'nine-dash-line' diplomacy in the South China Sea.
First of all, 'nine-dash-line' is an absurd claim based on Beijing's impulsive interpretation on 'China history'. No country in the region recognized it; the international tribunal also had overruled the claim. Even Vietnam, a communist country in Southeast Asia, is unhappy with China when it comes to South China Sea; so does the Philippines, Indonesia, and other neighboring countries in the region.
(The BRI is not helping much when it comes to China's political endeavor, as the looming ‘debt trap’ is now also being unveiled from underneath the ambitious project.)
However, the maneuver persists. China's vessels keep devising military compound on the Spratly Islands, despite surging concerns for open-season confrontation with the US.
In recently-published essay by Foreign Affairs, PM Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore eloquently asserts that Southeast Asian countries must not to be forced to side either with China or the US, since both are equivalently important in various respects. Escalating the tensions could only bring harm to the region.
In the end, no one would deny 'China miracle' in the last four-decade, but it does not confer China to impose its power upon its neighbors. Eric Li, Chinese venture capitalist, believes that the China Model is indeed hard to sell primarily due to its political variable. But most importantly, he affirms that the China Model was not meant to be replicated in other countries, rather “it was meant to show that alternatives exist.”