A Comment: Opening Up China, but How?


First of all, the intention to write this comment came from my first reaction after reading an article appearing in the "Personal View" section of the internationally renowned London-based newspaper Financial Times. Therefore, the readers are advised to look into that article first, please click here: Opening Up China.

OK, now you have seen what Ms. Susan Shirk was arguing about. Here is my message sent to a few friends, accompanying the Shirk article of which I forwarded to them:

I read this article in today's Financial Time. The author is a UC(San Diego) professor, and also a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, who's responsible for China.

I feel only deeply puzzled at the author's viewpoint. What she is proposing may be based on prgmatism, and arguably bears some "knowledge of sinologist". Nevertheless, I just can't agree with that. I just think that if her proposal is really carried out (adopted by CCP), its impact to the reality is very bad: bad to China and bad to foreign investors, as well.

I know that I do not offer any meaningful clue here, maybe you have to read the article and think of it for a second, to see whether you can feel the same (and guess out what I mean). I think I will write a brief comment to this article and put it online, the next time I update my website. (Currently I'm translating my dissertation from English into Chinese).

Fortunately, her article is put in the "Personal View" column of Financial Times. (Another bad news, FT is going to become fee-based, too. Free viewers can only read article published within recent 7 days. But I've found that this "Email-this" service is quite good, it enables unsubscribed reader to see the article being forwarded, just as what WSJ does.)

After several days' editing of other postings on my website, now I want to elaborate on my thought and am writing this comment. I did not think about this comment during the past two weeks, so I think that what I am going to write down here is exactly my reaction and thought back to the time I wrote the above message to my friends.

The Shirk article discussed the enforcement of WTO obligations by China. I still remember that when the world applauded on China's accession to WTO in November 2001, it was emphasized equally that not only a grand market was opened to the world, but also an internal change was set off -- the change would lead to the ultimate realization of the "rule of law" in China.

"WTO helps China to establish the rule of law". That was also a favorite, and powerful, argument for people in-and-outside China who encouraged the United States Congress to pass the "PNTR for China" Bill in mid-2000. Among those people were: the President of the United States of America, Ambassdor Barshevsky of USTR, Chairman Martin Lee of Democratic Party (Hong Kong), and even those Chinese dissidents, for example, Wang Dan in U.S. and Bao Tong at Beijing. For if not the WTO is operating on a rule-based basis, merely opening up a market of 1.3 billion people (Beware: do not count all 1.3 billion as "consumers"!) is not indeed a thrilling deal. China may withhold concessions it has already given, or just feels freely to pretend forgetting promises made. Nevertheless, it was the WTO package that China signed on, and all the world, including Chinese government, knew what it meant. It brought China into a club that can enforce rules whenever they are breached. It brought China into a new stage that more independent and competent domestic judicial tribunals will arise, not only by Chinese leaders' reform efforts, but under international pressure, too.

What is the "rule of law"? What is the difference between "rule of law" and "rule enforced effectively and affirmatively"? Different people, may, give different answers to this question, but I have to point out that Ms. Shirk does not understand this important difference, at least as shown in her article.

Ms. Shirk wants to see the effective and affirmative enforcement of obligations that China undertook when it joined the WTO. However, she does not rely on courts, does not rely on the Government, does not rely on any settled rule, to achieve this goal; she relies on personal authority and the interference from the Party, which are intrinsically full of flexibility and uncertainty.

The Communist Party does control governmental officials, but to ask the Party to establish a special WTO "leading small group" ordering ministries and local governments what to do and what not to do, is bluntatly slapping into the faces of those who claimed that "WTO helps China to establish the rule of law". Alas, we shall see: for the so-called rule of law, merit goes to the small bunch of Party leaders, who are at the top end of, quoting words of Ms. Shirk, a "hierarchical and authoratarian political system".

Incorporating the Party power into the enforcement of WTO obligation is introducing an ultra-institutional power into the operation of law and order.

The propsed mechanism also creates problems for foreign governments and businesses. Currently, it is the Chinese Government who will be held accountable for variances to and deviation from China's market concessions, and the MOFTEC is delegated with the reponsibility on the level of central government to deal with those problems. Foreign governments can request co-operation from the Chinese Government, and foreign businesses can make petitions to the MOFTEC. Once the "small leading group" comes into existence, what would we feel if the Government and MOFTEC tell foreignors, at the end of their meeting, something like "Well, please do not count on us, we need go back and report to the omnipotent small leading group. Whatever we have told you today... you guys better pray that the leading group feels same like you and us." Remember why the USTR has been fighting hard to ask the Congress giving the Administration the "Trade Promotion Authority"? Yes, you get the answer!

So who is going to hold a negotiation with the elite Commuinist Party group? No one... unless, you comrades are coming from Pyongyang or Rangoon.

In addition, the reliance on special Party leading group presumes that there is always someone at the central Party level thinks in the same manner as free-trade promotors do, and such a person of virtue is always backed up by the Number One Big Brother. Whether this is true, well, its answer is a lot more difficult to know than reading what the written law is.

No one disputes that promises should be kept, but we must see how it comes so. Is it from the personal influence, or from a set of rules? How would we strengthen the rules? Through outside power or a higher level rule -- the spirit of the "rule of law"?

By promoting the rule of law, the safeguard for legal rights is distributed to every person. By enhancing the interference power of ultra-institutional players, it is encouraging people playing tricks and competing for guanxi against each other. That is more than "disruption of market"; that is the disruption of a basic ground where the market is supposed to locate in.

Nevertheless, Ms. Shirk tells us that it is good to have a special Communist Party small leading group takes substantial responsibility in looking after performance of obligations created by the rules that the WTO adheres to.

Ms. Shirk also thinks that it is good to have a small leading group inside the Party to lay pressure on local governments, not to have the law does the work. One word in her article that spcifically makes me raise my eyebrows is pliant, which is at the end of the fifth paragraph. That word reveals that Ms. Shirk knows clearly what she is exactly interested in: the external pressure, not an institutional one, tramping over laws and good governance.

The realization of the fundamental importance of rule of law is an intrinsic value of China's historic accession to the WTO. When talking about another achievement of the WTO accession -- bigger market access and lower tariff barrier, people should remember what is the safeguard for these economic gains, and should not engage in any dismantlement thereof.

Fortunately, the Shirk article appeared in the column of "Personal View" of the Financial Times, and I do wish that not many people out there have such personal view as Ms. Shirk does. I am also delighted to see that Ms. Shirk merely "was" a deputy assistant secretary of state with responsibility for China. Well, she has to go. China is to be opened up, but not through efforts of people who are addicted to uncensored power and purely economic gain while proposing irresponsible recommendation which works as a poison-pill for the essential value promoted by the WTO.