(ECNS) -- Prof. Wolfram Elsner was born in 1950. He is professor of economics at University of Bremen, Germany. He is a preeminent economist and was president of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE), 2012-2014 and 2014-2016.
In recent exclusive interview with China News Service's W.E.Talk, Prof. Elsner said that China has worked out a way to achieve its peaceful rise, without repeating the previous hegemonic conflicts. As for the Belt and Road Initiative, he believes that even though there would be problems, the trend is unstoppable.
Here's the excerpt of the dialogue.
CNS: It seems that many Western people do not judge China’s development in an objective and fair way. Would you agree? What in your opinion are the main causes?
Prof. Elsner: The mental conditionality in the “West” still is characterized by the colonial heritage. The historical consciousness of most Europeans and US citizens is crude and tacit only, and it reaches back only for 500 years, at most. Their stereotypes are the “discovery” of “America”, their mental reach only covers the “Columbian Epoch” (D. Losurdo), and there is only reluctant and regretful acknowledgement that the world is larger than the USA and Europe together with their ex-colonial and imperial systems.
And the dynamics of world history is taking place in South East Asia today. But the ruling forces of the “West” and their dominant media are keeping the average US and European citizens shackled under a media “cheese dome”, with highly selected and usual hostile information, namely towards China and Russia and the entire Eurasian renaissance. I have always realized that the average Chinese citizen knows much more about Germany than the other way round. And the dominating narratives in the “western” media has been based on “imperial way of thinking”, a hardly-disguised neo-colonial and neo-imperial, hegemonic way of “western” supremacy, making other peoples happy with “our values”. They ignore, and are not even aware of thousands of years of highly-civilized history of China. And the once progressive Greens and some of the Lefts are caught in this mental world view, too. A tragedy that entails the danger that the “West” will disconnect itself from modern world history ...
CNS: In recent years, on the one hand,there has been a scepticism voice against every aspect of China in the western media, whether the growth rate, population census or even the pandemic infection and death statistics. They argue that China is faking everything and is going to collapse soon. However, on the other hand, the western media always portrays China as the biggest threat to the West, China’s investment in Europe being framed as “buying out European companies and techonogies”. How do you interpret these two polarized and contradictory arguements?
Prof. Elsner: This is just one of many inconsistencies in the mental set that the “western” media cultivate. Note that the “western” countries are experiencing a new way of “social divide”: between those managers, SME-entrepreneurs, engineers, technicians, scientists and many others, who have visited China and worked there, and the “rest”, the great majority regrettably, including the political caste that refuses to accept the invitations of the Chinese government to visit China (and namely Xinjiang).
Also note that the old narrative that a “western democracy” always and quasi-“naturally” will outmatch a planned and regulated socio-economic system has considerably lost ground and will no longer convince most people. And so the new definition of China as not only the “competitive partner” but also the “systemic rival” has come to the fore. I personally consider this a step forward to realism: What else should a nation on its way into a sustainable future for humankind and into socialism be other than a systemic rival to the increasingly rotten neoliberal financialized plutocracy that capitalism has developed into? So there is a flashlight of insight in the “West”, a helpful clarity. The point, thus, is not that there are rivaling systems, but what they make out of this insight. Here, the “West” is still caught in its mental cage of ex-hegemony, imperial dominance, “values” supremacy, inability of letting go, and military threatening to the rest of the world, China in this case.They will learn that their Cold War 2.0 will lead into nowhere, if not into war with China and Russia.
CNS: In one of your speeches, you mentioned that China has created a new model of the relationship between the state and the market, and that we should not continue to look at China’s primary stage of socialism through a Europe-centric way. You also mentioned that it will be terrible if China totally copies the capitalist model. Can I conclude your opinion as follows, that the rest of the world should not focus on whether China is “socialist” or “capitalist”, but rather observer its own development objectively?
Prof. Elsner: The capitalist world system commanded much more resources than this first socialist attempt. However, also, the soviet system had the “birth defect” of not generating any financial surplus that would have given it more room to maneuver. Today, for China, therefore, the global conditions not only are better, and China has acted to considerably improve these conditions for its own development and the development of the entire developing world. But also, China has learned to avoid the mistakes of the more crude early European socialist model, which had remained in a largely real-economic planning, with no financial capital surplus generation. Here, China has made a huge step forward through its opening and reform: generating and making use of the dynamics of (properly regulated) decentralized structures and processes (“markets”), which has hugely mobilized the productive forces, with SMEs and millions of young entrepreneurs, but also mobilizing workers and people in general.
Of course, the “West” was hugely disappointed after 2001, when China had entered the WTO but turned out not to follow the neoliberal capitalist way. Many leftists keep saying, China is “capitalism”, “turbo-capitalism” etc. This all have been crucial misunderstandings on both the political right and left. I keep saying that China “has” capitalism and “has” a market economy, but as a system is neither capitalism nor a “market economy” (what ever that should be). I also disagree to characterize China as a “socialist market economy”, which is a flawed conception in my view. It is, after all scientific sincerity, in an early phase of socialism – a socialism, though, that we have not known so far, that takes steps, well-grounded through knowledge, experience, and scientific analysis, into new areas, and paves ways for humankind.
CNS: At the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak last January, China has introduced a lot of measures such as lockdown, wearing masks, quarantine... The European media criticized those measures as “violating freedom”. However, today those measures have been adopted by most countries in Europe, even though it seems to still have a long way to go before EU countries could be back to normalcy. Do you think Europe could have been less arrogant when they looked at China’s practice of fighting against COVID-19?
Prof. Elsner: Absolutely. At some point at the beginning of this year, we had a dozen of dramatic reports and newspaper articles from the East-Asia correspondents of all major media in the “West”, telling us what most countries there have applied successfully and asking to learn from that in the “West”: Masks, tracking, and local quarantining in a proper combination in order to break the virus chains and avoid wave after wave, lockdown after lockdown, as is reality in the “West”. (Note that these reports opportunistically focused on South Korea rather than China.) Not that it was not heard, but the “West” has become so much run down, after four decades of neoliberal austerity, redistribution to the top 1%, and plutocratic rule, that it is now lacking state capacity, public and collective action capability, science-following, social homogeneity, and rational political debate. This cannot be remedied in the foreseeable future.
So, there will be openings in spite of fourth or fifth waves, taking into account further hundreds of thousands of deaths, that basically were avoidable. While China reconfigures the global value chains for a more resilient and sustainable future, the “West” is in danger of a complete resignation of the state in terms of health policies, or required economic transformations.
CNS: Financial Times said that the withdrawal of US troops from Afganistan provides further evidence that the post-American world is upon us. Do you think that China has worked out a way to achieve its peaceful rise, without repeating the previous hegemonic conflicts?
Prof. Elsner: Definitely. China has proved over decades, and in fact since the establishment of the PR, that it interacts with other countries in qualitatively different ways than the hegemonic capitalist system, see the South-South-cooperation or the UN-majority policies in many UN-organizations and -agencies as examples.
The BRI for the first time in history seriously industrializes Africa, providing “patient capital”, an alternative to intervening, restrictive and prescriptive IMF and World Bank. This is all appreciated even by a number of US-universities and their development research centers. There will, of course, always be problems, given the huge amount of capital invested and number and size of projects. Also, the hegemon still seems to be successful sometimes to intervene, e.g., breaking some traditionally anti-communist countries of the European east off from the BRI-engagement. But the caravan will push along …
CNS: Can you predict that when the 14th five-year plan is finished, what will China be like at that time?
Prof. Elsner: The 14th Five-Year Plan is a most impressive document. Things forecasted there, will, according to all my experience with China’s performance, be attained before 2025 rather than later. It is well thought-through in terms of mobilizing grand ideas, such as pushing “Made in China 2025” further, the Dual Circulation conception, which makes China both more independent from malevolent countries and further opens up to benevolent partners, further pushing what I call “Reform and Opening 2.0”, with most important pushes in ecology, namely energy mix improvements and CO2-emissions reduction, up to reforms in primary and secondary school education, supporting child raising, better integrating aged and retired people up to improving the relation of doctors to population, increasing life expectancy above the US-Level etc. … I have often presented slides on the 14th Five-Year Plan to bankers, who were interested in green-funds’ investments, and they were stunned, as I was before, about the comprehensive approach, and about what is possible in a country and system that truly pushes humankind forward. Note those bankers have been frustrated already about the non-motion in Germany and the EU, concerning the pandemic, technology, IT, schooling, ecology, let alone broader social progress.
After this 14th Five-Year Plan (2025), China will be further ahead of the “West” in terms of climate policies and will be an overall technological, economic, ecological and social laboratory, the world will look upon China with great interest.
CNS: Is the West ready to cooperate with China to revive the globalization?
Prof. Elsner: Basically, there are many experienced and prudent people in corporations, managers, entrepreneurs, engineers, working people in general, who have an existential interest in and would be ready to peaceful and constructive win-win-cooperation. But the question is whether this system is “ready”, i.e., capable of comprehensive cooperation. While China opens for “western” investments, including financial investment, the EU and Germany have made a move towards a restrictive “industrial policy”, designed to impede Chinese investment in the EU and Germany (although these are at a low level still, and have declined already for several years in a row).
Top-corporate managers have warned against such destructive strategy of an overheated political caste being far away from the people: “China will do without us, but we cannot do without China” (Joe Kaeser, former Siemens CEO). China seems to me to be prepared with its Dual Circulation strategy to cooperate with those who want to and to let behind those who do not. Hopefully the big corporations, making a large part of their profits in China, will clearly and decisively put their feet down vis-à-vis the new German government after October. (End)
Wolfram Elsner, born in 1950, is professor of economics at University of Bremen, Germany. Prior to that he worked in regional economic development in Germany at the state level. He was also president of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE), 2012-2014 and 2014-2016. He has served on the editorial boards of a number of international academic journals, on many committees of heterodox academic associations in the USA and Europe, edited books and book series, published many articles in numerous journals on institutional and evolutionary issues.