This edition of Thesis Corner focuses on Peter Henning’s research into China’s ongoing domestic and foreign economic development plans that has been dubbed in some circles, a “Beijing Consensus”. A little context is needed to understand the implications of the term “Beijing Consensus”. It is a direct reference to the economic policy plans the US built its economic aid, reform, and development plans in less developed countries around the world. The goal at hand was the promotion of neoliberal free market economies and aggregating US power and increasing the number of liberal democracies globally. Peter argues that examples can be found in the numerous development efforts in South America and the liberalization attempts of eastern European states post-soviet control. Ultimately, Peter takes a realist’s perspective that sees foreign development policy initiatives are at their core in service to aggregating state power.
The greater impetus behind Peter’s thesis has been the creation of the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) in 2015, it is a plan by the People’s Republic of China to reignite old land and maritime trade routes by building new logistics networks and further connecting large economic hubs across the Eurasian continent. The BRI has grown rapidly with currently 126 members practicing increased transparency in trade and new relationships with newly created infrastructure development banks and a specific BRICs investment bank. The expected results the BRI will be drastically lowered transaction costs from improved infrastructure, which even the US will benefit from, and show integration alone can be a powerful development factor. There are some larger concerns over whether this project will add legitimacy to authoritarian regimes and some critics paint this activity as neo-colonial and related to China’s attempts to institute a global regime to rival the US.
In the end, while Peter retains substantial concerns over China’s history of suppressing free speech, minorities, and democratic movements, he concludes that the fears over a potential Beijing Consensus are overblown and that China is primarily seeking to maintain the geo-political status quo while working within the frameworks of transparency and international institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and UN. But, as with all things, only time will tell.