Chinese IPE: The Global Conversation

As China’s economic heft continues to grow, so it’s importance to the field of study of the international political economy. IPE has grown leaps and bounds over the past three decades and it appears to have reached an inflection point with the ascent of emerging powers and their rising share of global market share and it’s effect on the global geopolitical order. Thus far, the discipline has proffered minimal coverage on these emergent countries with China leading the pack amongst it’s peers. Continuing this trend, a recent special issue in Review of International Political Economy (RIPE) is devoted to gauging, assessing, and forecasting on a distinct Chinese IPE school. No doubt, scholars will grapple with these issues and debates as the Middle Kingdom’s clout in the global economy deepens.

The special issue, aptly, consists of five papers, each co-authored by a Chinese and western scholar. Introducing the issue, Gregory Chin, Margaret Pearson and Wang Yong provide a thorough historical overview of the field in China, the leading centers of thought, academics, intellectual antecedents of their variant approaches and major junctures that have shaped their thinking. Chinese IPE has three characteristics – it’s chief policy concerns as China integrates further into the global economy and notably how the later impacts it’s growth; it’s overt statist character that manifests through policies that favor mercantilist style of economic policymaking and closely tied to this is the role of the CCP; and finally, it’s theoretic diversity typified by various schools of thought, rationalist and constructivist to marxist. Despite marked strides, major gaps remain including issues like China’s role in global governance, agency in south-south arrangements and the possibility of internationalising RMB.

For the foreseeable future, Chinese policymakers will view the global economy and their relationship to it through the prism of their principal bilateral relationship, that of the United States. Yong Wang and Lou Pauly  consider debates regarding American hegemony from the Chinese perspective, looking askance at their asymmetrical partnership with the US but also realising that they are both tightly interlocked in a web of intricate bilateral linkages. Incumbent under this tepid attitude are reservations over the domestic politics within the United States and its pernicious effects on the bilateral, also global, accord that both have devised over the past two decades. Pauly and Wong end with Chinese misgivings on the systemic role that the United States currently plays and the privileges that endows them but with a clear understanding that they are major stakeholders in sustaining that precarious equation.

Pang Zhongying and Hongwing Yang dissect another critical issue for China, their emergent and evolving role within the global governance architecture that has assumed more importance than ever. China’s relationship with international organisations and other international regimes will be of considerable interest as its interests expand and their problems also transcend territorial boundaries. To protect and advance their interests in this case, China needs to invest more towards multilateralism and also sharpen its views and visions vis-a-vis the global order. But the domestic intellectual side appears to be hardpressed to address this lacuna. Most institutions and academics that focus on this critical relationship fail from offering thoughtful advice to their policymakers given the dominant western-centric conception of the order and consequent difficulties associated with locating China’s role within it; the authors also bemoan the existing institutional environment, which militates against the generation of adequate knowledge for this purpose due to several bottlenecks, including the inability to be candid and forthright publically on these issues.

Qingxin Wang and Mark Blyth offer their thoughts on the gradual emergence of a constructivist school of inquiry within the Chinese IPE and their progress made thus far. There are innovations taking place on this particular theorizing front. Wang an Blyth provide a robust overview of the range of concepts being used to explore and analyse major international economic decisions being taken in Beijing. Recent work by Yan Xuetong considers the works of several Qing era scholars and, in particular, their views on international affairs and global order. Through his work, Yan argues that current policymakers can draw from confucian philosophical tenets to better grapple with the challenges that globalisation and global relations pose to the Chinese government. Other constructivist accounts on Chinese IPE also exist; Wang Qingxin investigates how the socialisation of Chinese economists impacted their accession to WTO in 2001. And Su Changhe examines the interactions between the international system and  the domestic political economy through a rational materialist framework looking at the distribution effects on various domestic actors and how that impacts their economic policy choices.

All in all, the special issue is a valuable resource for students and scholars of IPE as they wade through the issues pivoted around China’s interaction with and influence on the global economy and vice-versa.

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