Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Beijing Consensus

What is the Beijing Consensus? There is little consensus on the Beijing Consensus yet. Arif Dirlik put it this way: "I would like to suggest that the term derives its meaning and appeal not from some coherent economic or political position but from its suggestion of a pole in the global political economy which can serve as a gathering place for those who are opposed to Washington imperialism" ("Beijing Consensus: Beijing 'Gongshi': Who Recognizes Whom and to What End?" 17 January 2006, p. 2).

Whether China can be such a pole remains to be seen, but in contrast to Washington -- which seeks to aggressively remake other countries' political economies to conform to its vision of capitalism and to redraw the political geography of the world according to its geopolitical doctrine, by force if necessary -- Beijing mostly bases its international relations on more or less business calculations alone, leaving the internal affairs of other nations to themselves. Note the absence of "conditionality" in China's relation with Africa, for instance:
Just like other Western powers, China has used aid strategically to support its commercial and investment interventions in Africa. Aid has taken the form of financial investments in key infrastructural development projects, training programs, debt relief, technical assistance, and a program of tariff exemptions for selected products from Africa, not dissimilar to the agreements that Africa has had with Europe, the US, and other Western economies. China's aid is attractive to African governments not only because it offers favorable terms, but in particular because it doesn't come with the conditionality that has so constrained, and many would argue undermined, the development that would have the potential for bringing about social progress. (Firoze Manji, "China Still a Small Player in Africa," MRZine, 28 April 2008)
Thus Beijing deals with the West, it deals with Latin socialists, it deals with everyone with whom it pays to play. That is better than the economic Washington Consensus whose military corollary is the Project for the New American Century.

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