Development: Lessons from China

Published on 30th January 2012

China's wave is spreading
Learning, Adopting and Modifying: Ingredients for Africa’s Future Growth and Development Lessons from China.

By Ntono Diana,
Graduate Student, Institute of International Studies,
Jilin University,


This paper is a brief view of how China’s recent economic development is not a new phenomenon but an extension of the East Development model. It aims to illustrate how similar methods or policies used by other Asian pacific nations like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan  point out the implications of the East Asian model to China and lastly a few comments on how Africa would learn from China and the East Asian economic development experiences.


Africa and East Asia in world history have undergone almost similar stages of development as a result of the spread of western civilization for many decades. Africa and East Asian regions have faced colonization from western powers; taken part in endless western and foreign political power struggles (like the World Wars and the great Cold war); and have struggled with economic crises such as the mid-80s and 1990s third world crisis. However, in the twenty first century, Africa’s economic growth and development is still very slow and far behind compared to the East Asian region.

Chinese fast economic growth and development in recent years is not a new phenomenon but an extension of the “East Asian miracle” (Paul Krugman:1994) whereby the Chinese have learnt, adopted and applied similar developmental factors but modified them to fit their political, social and cultural environment, thus becoming the new model to Africa’s development dreams.

While factors responsible for China’s recent development are not clearly outlined, they can be traced from various examples in the Asian pacific countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Hence the aim of this paper is to point out and discuss the three major factors that have greatly influenced the growth and development of East Asian nations of South Korea and Taiwan under the East Asian development model and any implications to Chinese economic development. Then lastly, comment on Africa –China economic relations. 

China’s fast economic growth and development started in the 1970s under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and open door policy (Richard Baum: 1994). The end of the cold war era resulted into the triumph of the capitalist liberal economic order; China had to make changes to adjust to the new international capitalist order but maintained its political ideology as a communist state under the strong governance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Although China continues to be under a communist regime politically, economically Beijing has accepted and embraced the liberal economic order becoming a member of many international organizations like the IMF, World Bank and the United Nations. On the regional level, it has greatly participated in various multilateral institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Asian Development Bank. The increased economic integration of Beijing has resulted into China’s interdependence to the global economy and vice versa. In 2010, China’s economy was able to jump to the second position after the USA as the fastest growing economy after overtaking Japan. (

Despite the fact that China has become the centre and subject in political economy in the twenty first century as another miracle of economic development in the East Asian region, factors that have contributed to the development are still not clear. Various theoretical perspectives have been put forward to explain the East Asian economic development.

Flying Geese Theoretical Framework

According to Chi Hung Kwan, China’s new position as the fastest growing economy in the East Asian region is neither a threat nor disrupting the flying geese model. (Chi Hung Kwan: 2002). The ‘flying geese’ theory was coined by a Japanese economist Akamatsuk. It is also referred to as theory of the flying geese pattern of industrial development. The model is seen as an important instrument to understanding the development and international economic relations in the Asian pacific. (Pekka Korhonen 1994). The theory aimed at explaining the development trajectories of less developing nations and has nothing to do with political ideologies but industrial development. He divided countries into three segments: The advanced countries or ‘leaders’ such as Europe and America; the middle group or ‘rising’ nations such as Japan; and nations that are developing faster than the third group called the ‘followers,’ that is, less developed. It therefore forms the V shape like flying geese trend.

In order to join the developed nations, Akamatsuk uses the example of the textile industry in Japan. He suggests that less developed countries begin by importing technology and new products from industrialized countries. However, with time, the developing nations are able to acquire the required techniques and capital goods which enable them to establish similar industries rather than importing. In the final stage, the less developed countries can industrialise and attain export capabilities which later lead to trade conflicts between rising nations and advanced ones (Mitchell Bernard and John Ravenhill 1995).

In addition to the above, to further illustrate this phenomenon under an open and globalised economy, Chi Hung notes that the flying geese model would explain the shift of industries from advanced nations to developing nations rather than reestablishing the same industry in the same nation hence a shift from Japan textile production, electronics and other high tech products from Japan to other Asian nations including China. Therefore, by being part of the flying geese, one can argue that China has adopted similar policies to associate with the East Asian developmental model to achieve its recent economic development.

China and East Asian Development Model

The origins of the East Asian development model continue to be controversial among scholars but relevant to explain China’s current economic development. In this section the paper will look at three factors, the role of the state, societal factors and role of the hegemony as major elements of the East Asian development model as explained by various scholars in relation to China’s development.

The East Asian economic development model can be simply understood as a theory that has been dominant to explain the economic success in East Asia. (Yongping Wu: 2004) notes that the “statist’’ school has been helpful in understanding the role of the state in development of East Asian economies. Using the example of Taiwan’s industrialization, he argues that the small and medium enterprise (SMEs) that are the major contributors of its exports were established as a state political strategy that determined public policy to privatization sector hence a politically inspired industrial success. Economic bureaucracy is vital to understanding East Asian economic development and this can be explained in relation to the leadership support and role they played in the policy process. The bureaucrats or elites were strong men who supported the industry policies in Taiwan and those industries that were not supported like the automobile collapsed.

However, scholars like Bruce Cumings, believe that the hegemonic power is responsible for the origins of the development of Asian states. Using the case of Northeast Asia, he applied the world system theory. (Bruce Cumings: 1984.). Noting that USA as hegemony at the core established a hierarchy of nations but not frozen and it can change with time but in line with the hegemony state interests which can be either economic or security concerns. For example: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Manchuria. It is due to the fear of soviet expansion to East Asia; that the USA rebuilt the Japan’s economy after the World War II, ranking it as the second wealthiest economy and supported its economic activities in Manchuria. Its interest in South Korea was due to China’s communist threat. Therefore, these states were shaped and modeled to fit the world system as semi- periphery by the hegemony.

While David Kang illustrates that Asian development was a result of money politics which led to public and private interaction. In the case of South Korea, the government provided public goods, fostered investment and created infrastructure not for state development but because of corruption reasons in the interest of small groups of business and political elites. He therefore believes that politics as opposed to economic consideration dominated policy making. For example the exchange of bribes between the state officials and business had great influence on the policy choice such as export-oriented industrialization or industrial arrangements. (David Kang: 2002).

Using the flying geese model against that above scholarly perspectives implications to understand China’s recent economic development can be discussed as follows. The most important being the role of the government or political factors that has had great influence on China’s economic development. China’s unique communist feature is important when discussing its economic development. China had been closed from the world during the cold war and only joined the liberal economic order in 1970s under the” open door policy” during Deng Xiaoping’s regime. He encouraged foreign investment in the country, modernization of agriculture as well as industrialization for economic development. While in recent years, the Chinese government has continued to promote export oriented industries. Providing business incentives to business men to invest in foreign countries for example various Small and medium Chinese firms have cropped up in Africa as new form of Chinese investment in the region hence a source of revenue and economic benefits to China.

In addition, China’s market size is important. The country is highly populated providing a source of cheap labor as well as acting as the market for finished goods. This has enabled Beijing to develop and sustain it manufacturing and industry sector. However, without the support of the hegemonic state, China would not be able to attain technology through FDI, capital as well as accessing markets of advanced nations as already explained by the flying geese model. Therefore, one cannot ignore the vital role of the hegemony as argued by Bruce Cumings. China has become an important area of interest to the USA in terms of security concerns - refer to the case “North Korea threat” as a nuclear state (Leon V Sigal: 2003). China’s rise has also raised  USA’s fear to be challenged as a dominating power in the Asian Pacific. Just like Japan, China finally opened its market to various foreign investments while the USA has given China great access to its economy.

In summary, China’s economic growth cannot be fully explained by a single factor but the above different perspectives give us a better understanding of the origins of East Asian economic development. Therefore, China being part of East Asia factors contributing to its recent economic development can be traced along the same path. These include include both domestic factors like the role of the state; societal factors like elite behavior; as well as external factors such as the international politics and hegemonic state. These factors have been part of East Asian region and development hence the argument in this paper that Beijing learnt, adopted and modified similar policies form its neighbors. Commenting briefly on Africa’s continued active engagement with China to address it’s economic and developmental concerns, financial aid and assistance, trade, investment plus band wagoning is not the only solution but learning, adopting as well as modifying these lessons from the East in relation to Africa’s needs is very important.


Bruce Cumings (winter, 1984) The Origins and Development of the Northeast Asian Political Economy: Industrial Sectors, Product Cycles, and Political Consequences, International Organization, Vol. 38, No. 1, The MIT Press, pp. 1-40.

Chi Hung KWAN (August 2008), The rise of China and Asia’s flying geese pattern of economic development: An empirical Analysis based on US import statistics. Nomura Research Institute papers NO 52, pp 1-4.

David Kang (winter, 2002) Bad Loans to Good Friends: Money Politics and the Developmental State in South Korea. International Organization, Vol. 56, No. 1, the MIT Press, pp. 177-207. 26/01/2012

Leon V Sigal (2003). Negotiating with the North Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, pp 1-7.

Mitchell Bernard and John Ravenhall (Jan., 1995), Beyond Product Cycles and Flying Geese: Regionalization, Hierarchy, and the Industrialization of East Asia: Reviewed work(s) World Politics, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 171-209.

Paul krugam (1994). The myth of Asia's miracle, Foreign Affairs ABI/INFORM Global, pp 62-69.

Pekka Korhonen (1994), The theory of flying geese pattern of development and its interpretation, Journal of peace research vol.31 No1, University of Jyvaskyla, pp 2-7.

Richard Baum (1994) Burying Mao: Chinese politics in the age of Deng Xiaoping, Princeton University press, pp 3-12.

Yongping Wu (March, 2004) Rethinking the Taiwanese Developmental State, Cambridge University Press, pp. 91-114.

This article has been read 3,107 times