Tag Archive | "People’s Republic"

Chinese urban center

Critical Analysis: China’s ‘Rebalancing’ Through Urbanization

Chinese officials recently announced their intention to move 250 million rural residents into cities over the next decade in an effort to reform China’s economy. The goal is to create a new class of urban consumers and increase demand domestically, thereby making economic growth more sustainable. The policy follows in the footsteps of previous actions by the Chinese government to expropriate farmers’ land for development while providing little to no compensation. This mass urbanization could prove to be similarly controversial.

Chinese urban center

A Chinese man in the shadow of the future for rural peasants (Reuters)

China’s economic success in sustaining economic growth through the last decade has been based primarily on exports. It accomplished this by a combination of low wages, currency controls, and investment in manufacturing, in turn becoming the world’s largest exporter in 2010. Recent forecasts have predicted that China’s growth will slow in the next few years, prompting officials to seek a more sustainable economic strategy, termed ‘rebalancing’. Urbanization, or relocating peasants to urban centers, is a highlight of the new strategy. The idea is that by providing rural farmers with apartments in cities, they will find better paying jobs and become a new consumer class, thereby increasing domestic demand and allowing China to be less dependent on exports. The plan is not without its drawbacks.

Problems have already arisen in this process. Jobs are not readily available for the unskilled peasant class, forcing laborers to take jobs significant distances from their subsidized housing. Urban living also has a higher price tag than a rural lifestyle, requiring a substantial portion of income for utilities and basic necessities like heat and electricity. Of course, farmers have no leverage in this process as urban land is owned by the government and rural by local farmers collectively. Without sufficient property rights, farmers are dependent on the meager subsidies provided by the government once moved into the city, while the market value for land is not truly reflected in the costs for development, leading to inefficiencies in land use and availability.

The last time China attempted economic engineering of this scale was in 1957 with Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward. Rural peasants were responsible for providing the food supply for the country’s rapid modernization as well as laboring in heavy industry like iron and steel in backyard furnaces. The result was the largest famine death toll in world history. While technology and improved planning would hopefully prevent a recurrence of famine, there are nonetheless several flaws in China’s urbanization plan. The most glaring is that consumption growth follows an increase in disposable income, which will not occur if wages continue to be suppressed by maintaining a surplus of unskilled labor in the market. Unemployment could lead to discontent and, in turn, a more organized opposition to the Communist parties as farmers are already the most vocal opponents to government actions. Additionally, emphasizing consumption rather than investment in innovation or technology will limit the future growth of the economy.

There is little doubt that China’s economic strategy must adapt to a more sustainable model, although it is yet to be seen whether urbanization will result in continued subsistent existence for peasants or a new era of prosperity. Along with environmental concerns and an aging population, China has its work cut out for it.

Alex Milgroom is a rising 3L at the University of Denver and the Online Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Judge Xue Hanqin

Chinese Perspectives Part 1: Introduction

Judge Xue Hanqin

Judge Xue Hanqin

In 1984, the People’s Republic of China’s preeminent scholar of international law, Wang Tieya, taught a Special Course at the Hague Academy of International Law called “International Law in China: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” As and a key advisor to the PRC on such matters, Professor Wang discussed international law in ancient China, political developments related to the Chinese conception of international law, and the guiding principles of international law in modern China. According to Professor Wang, the three animating factors of the Chinese international legal perspective were the “five principles of peaceful coexistence1,” the concept of sovereignty, and the rule of pacta sunt servanda2. By surveying China’s past and present, Professor Wang’s course offered an early look at how China would interact with the world in the future.

In 2011, Her Excellency Judge Xue Hanqin picked up where Professor Wang left off 27 years earlier in her Special Course at The Hague Academy of International Law entitled, “Contemporary Chinese Perspectives on International Law.” Judge Xue became a member of the International Court of Justice on June 29, 2010. She received her legal education at Peking University (diploma in international law) and Columbia University (LL.M and J.S.D.) and served as China’s Ambassador to the Netherlands as well as China’s first ambassador to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) before being selected as a member of the ICJ.

Throughout the week of her Special Course, Judge Xue did more than merely deliver a comprehensive presentation. She was willing to stay in the corridors of the Academy, sometimes an hour after her lectures, to answer students’ questions and respond to their concerns. Judge Xue honored us with her presence and shone a great deal of light on the Chinese perspective. While Judge Xue did not speak for the Chinese government, her service as an ambassador and a representative to the International Court of Justice suggests that her views closely track the official views of the PRC. Over the next few weeks, I hope to share my understanding and impressions of the contemporary Chinese perspective on international law as expressed by Judge Xue.

This six-part series will proceed as follows: Part 2 will give a brief overview of Chinese history as it relates to international law; Part 3 will focus on the Chinese notion of sovereignty and how China’s history has colored that notion; Part 3 will focus on sustainable development, the environment, and climate change; Part 4 will discuss China’s conception of human rights, focusing on constitutional, legislative, administrative, and jurisprudential developments, and; Part 5 will conclude by offering some commentary on and criticism of the Chinese model and Chinese state practice.

China has become a central player on the international stage, and its importance will only deepen and broaden in the future. As such, it is essential for those interested in international law and foreign affairs to gain appreciation for the Chinese worldview. Hopefully, this six-part series will paint an accurate and informative portrait of contemporary Chinese perspectives on international law.

  1. Announced in the Preamble of the Agreement between the PRC and the Republic of India on the Trade and Intercourse Between the Tibet Region of China and India of April 29, 1954, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are: 1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; 2) mutual non-aggression; 3) mutual non-interference with each other’s internal affairs; 4) equality and mutual benefit, and; 5) peaceful coexistence.
  2. This phrase, literally translated as “agreements must be kept,” reflects the notion that all treaties must be signed, ratified, and kept in good faith.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law