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China at crossroads – 'Chaos' or the 'Chinese Dream'?

by October 19, 2016 General

DW: What are the factors that drove you to conduct this study on China’s future development?

Bernhard Bartsch: How China is going to develop and evolve in the future is a question of tremendous political and economic significance. It will also have huge implications for Germany and the rest of Europe. That’s why we conducted this study to find out what we could reliably project about China’s future course of development. Of course, it’s true that no one can see into the future to predict with absolute certainty. But still, we have to plan for the future and our research helps to that effect.

It’s believed that predicting the future trajectory of a country’s political development is a very complex task riddled with many problems and uncertainties. In this context, how reliable was your method in this case?

That’s a question we too asked ourselves, particularly against the backdrop of the many false predictions made about the country’s political development so far. As a result, we did not want to make any predictions, but rather wanted to present various possibilities.

We might not be able to predict what exactly will happen. Still, we can predict an array of possibilities, by using the scenario method, which is a strategy instrument. Using this tool, one can assess the potential implications of various developments in a systematic and reliable manner.

Bernhard Bartsch (Bertelsmann Stiftung)

Bartsch: China’s future political and economic development ‘will have huge implications for Germany and the rest of Europe’

In the study, you presented six different scenarios, namely the status quo, the Chinese dream, the Great Wall, the Singapore model, the democracy, and the chaos. Could you elaborate on these various scenarios?

We divided these scenarios into three different groups. The first one is the “Status Quo scenario.” This means that China’s political and economic system will remain largely similar to what it is today. That doesn’t mean it will be exactly the same as today, but rather the way in which the country works now will remain the same.

Then there is the second group, under which we have two different scenarios: the “Chinese Dream scenario” and the “Great Wall scenario.” The former is based on the assumption that all reforms initiated by President Xi Jinping will actually be implemented. The “Great Wall scenario,” on the other hand, assumes tensions between China and its neighbors will escalate. Both of these scenarios are based on the prevailing trends.

Furthermore, there is a third group of actually rather unlikely scenarios. We call them “disruptive scenarios”: the “Singapore Model,” the “Democracy” and the “Chaos.” But in order for these scenarios to occur, something quite dramatic has to happen, which would shift the path of development towards a fundamentally different direction.

Which of these scenarios, in your view, is the most beneficial for Germany?

This is of course a key question. Every scenario presents both advantages and disadvantages, and in every development there will be both winners and losers. Nevertheless, from a German perspective, a successful China is much better than a China that is isolated and beset by internal problems.

Germany has profited from China’s growth and opening up in recent decades. In the scenarios in which China would continue to open up to the world and develop both socially and economically, Germany would have very good opportunities for cooperation, in both political and economic domains. This is particularly the case in either the “Chinese dream” or the “Singapore model” scenarios.

Did Chinese experts also contribute to the study?

The study mainly presents the German perspective of China, and over 100 experts worked to produce it. Most of them were Germans, although many of them have worked in China for years. But there were also some Chinese experts who contributed to it. Furthermore, we discussed the results of the study with various Chinese groups, including an economic delegation, a diplomatic delegation and a host of other institutions.

Have you already received any feedback on your study?

Yes, we have. What pleases us the most is that this study is not only being read and quoted but is also being used by a whole range of actors. For instance, there are companies that are using it to plan and develop their China business. And that is exactly what we hoped for. This study does not provide any final results, but it is an instrument for strategic planning. In addition, we have developed an online tool that allows everyone to relatively quickly compare their own assumptions with those of the experts. And many people have already done this.

Have there been any reactions from China?

The study has also been noticed in China. We have also deliberately shown it to various Chinese actors. For most of them, it was particularly interesting to look at how Germans think about China. This is not a study aimed at the Chinese people; they know a lot more about their country than we do. But they can understand from this study how people in Germany perceive China and the strategic importance of China for Germany.

Bernhard Bartsch is a senior expert at Bertelsmann Foundation’s Germany and Asia program.

The interview was conducted by Zhu Yuhan.