China's dual circulation paradigm has nothing to do with 'decoupling'
Andrew Korybko
Beijing downtown skyline at dusk. /Getty Images

Beijing downtown skyline at dusk. /Getty Images

Editor's note: Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst. The article reflects the author's views and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The Washington Post published a provocative opinion piece on December 15 by columnist Ishaan Tharoor titled "Xi's China is preparing for a new world order". The author claims in the text that the "similarly adversarial worldview" of outgoing U.S. President Trump's envisioned "decoupling" of the American and Chinese economies "is crystallizing in China" through the latter's new development paradigm of dual circulation. He also quotes an expert who describes this model as "an economic strategy fit for a new Cold War." This is a grossly inaccurate way to interpret the role that China's dual circulation paradigm plays in its grand strategy.

A possible explanation for Tharoor's mistaken views might be due to him being politically biased against China. Earlier in his article, he condemned China as a "regime" which he claims behaves "ruthlessly" in Hong Kong SAR, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and Taiwan, as well as against India. With such a mindset, it's not all that surprising that he'd wrongly regard China's dual circulation paradigm as having a hostile geopolitical angle.

Even so, however, he earlier acknowledged that Chinese President Xi's recent speeches emphasizing the role of the domestic marketplace are "in keeping with how other more mature economic powers developed over time in the West."

This schizophrenic assessment doesn't make sense and is inconsistent with the narrative that he's pushing throughout his piece, though he should nevertheless be applauded for telling the truth at least once. 

Dual circulation is a naturally occurring development in many advanced economies, but it shouldn't be associated with the superficially similar protectionist trends that sprouted up in the West over the past few years, especially after the global economic crisis brought about by COVID-19. Dual circulation and protectionism are actually two very different visions.

Screenshot Washington Post's article.

Screenshot Washington Post's article.

The first aims to reinforce globalization processes by strengthening the domestic marketplace in order to make international trade more sustainable, while the latter aims to "decouple" from the globalized world in order to become as autarkic as possible. That second-mentioned goal is impossible to achieve nowadays after the irreversible economic progress of the past century, but it appeals to rising populist trends in some Western and other countries, hence why it's politically exploited by many demagogues there. In other words, protectionism and "decoupling" are political delusions, while dual circulation is an economic reality.

Having clarified the significant differences between those two diametrically opposed concepts, it's now time to debunk the other falsehoods in Tharoor's article. For some inexplicable reason, he built upon his mistaken assessment of dual circulation's superficial similarities to protectionism and "decoupling" to predict that this somehow represents the emergence of a so-called "Beijing consensus". To his credit, he quoted a Chinese expert who threw cold water on this claim of implied hegemonic aspirations (considering that the term recalls the U.S.'s own "Washington consensus"), yet he still carried on with his hypothesis in spite of that.

Tharoor concluded by quoting economic historian Adam Tooze who "sees the demise of liberal fantasies in the West that the weight of China's global connections would inevitably lead to its liberalization." There's nothing in and of itself controversial with this objective observation except the fact that it's presented in an ominous way against the backdrop of the author's earlier biased portrayal of China's actions in its internal affairs as well as toward India. What the columnist seems to be implying is that the global rise of an "illiberal" China - especially one that's supposedly "decoupling" through dual circulation - might be a threat to the West.

Tharoor is totally wrong with his assessment about China's dual circulation paradigm and innuendo about the country's rise. Dual circulation has nothing to do with decoupling since President Xi has proudly said on many occasions that China wants to create a community of shared future for mankind, which is the complete opposite of what Trump and other "decouplers" want to do.

There's also nothing to fear about China exercising its sovereign right to practice its own models of development, be they social, economic, or political. For this reason, Tharoor's latest article shouldn't be seen as anything other than a misguided piece about China.

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