Once, the world existed in an economic darkness, under the oppressive shadow of a singular path to prosperity, carved and dictated by the doctrines of the United States. The U.S., like a celestial tyrant in the realm of global economics, wielded its influence unchallenged. In this era, the American model of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism reigned supreme and demanded obeisance as the only viable route to economic development and success.
Nations worldwide found themselves ensnared in the orbit of this American-centric system, frequently bending to the whims and dictates of U.S. policies and market preferences. Trade, development aid, and financial systems were under the tight grip of American institutions and ideologies. This was the world before China's economic reform – a world where the light of alternative economic narratives was eclipsed by the overwhelming presence of a single, dominating economic doctrine.
Into this milieu, China emerged, akin to Prometheus defying the gods, bringing not just the fire of innovation but also the light of an alternative path to economic enlightenment and prosperity. In 1978, China embarked on a historic journey of reform and opening-up, charting a course not by blindly following the U.S. model, but with the courage and resourcefulness to create its own way. This bold move, mirroring the mythical Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, ignited a new era of economic possibilities.
At that time, China's economy was a modest $149.5 billion. Shunning the prevalent U.S. model, China ventured into uncharted territory, experimenting with a unique blend of state-led capitalism and market reforms. This transformative shift, moving away from a strictly centrally planned system, signaled the dawn of a new economic cosmos, where a single path was no longer the only option.
Gradually opening up to international trade and investment, China catalyzed a dramatic transformation in its economic landscape. The results were staggering: Since 2010, China has become the world's second-largest economy, with its GDP steadily growing to approximately $18 trillion last year. This growth, which significantly improved living standards and nearly 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty, was a testament to China's success in carving out an independent economic trajectory.
China's rise to become the world's largest exporter in 2009, and its increase in global GDP share from 1.8 percent in 1978 to 18.4 percent in 2022, demonstrated the existence of viable alternatives to the Western economic paradigm, offering a new blueprint for development that resonated with many, particularly in the Global South.
This ascent, evocative of the revolutionary revelation of a heliocentric universe, violently shook the very foundations of the established economic order. The West, which had long arrogantly positioned itself as the indomitable center of the global economic cosmos, was jolted by an unforeseen and seismic shift. The rise of China, fueled by an ingenious blend of state-led capitalism and judicious political reform, unfurled a potent alternative that sent shockwaves through the Western world. This pragmatic and adaptable model emboldened nations, particularly in the Global South, to carve their paths to affluence and progress, defying the long-imposed economic doctrines.
Confronted with this audacious economic "heresy," the West's reaction was akin to the historical Church's fanatical opposition to the idea of a heliocentric solar system. Consumed by fear and rage, there was a visceral, almost frenzied resistance, a desperate clinging to the crumbling dogmas of old.
The West, in a frenetic scramble to uphold its faltering supremacy, unleashed a barrage of protectionist measures, stoking the fires of geopolitical strife and casting a cloud of doubt and disdain upon China's model. Yet, the trailblazing flame kindled by China's reform burned too fiercely to be extinguished by the frigid, archaic beliefs of the old economic regime.
Now, 45 years after initiating reform and opening-up, China has shattered the confines of a singular economic ideology. It has shown the world that prosperity can be achieved through diverse and tailored methods. The global economy is transitioning to a multipolar structure, reminiscent of the shift from a rigid and incorrect view that the earth was the center of the universe to one where multiple economic models coexist and flourish.
China's economic transformation stands as a beacon, signaling hope for a more balanced and fair global economy. It demonstrates that success is not limited to a single, rigid framework but can be nurtured through various strategies. The "Promethean fire" has charted a new course, inspiring nations worldwide to ignite their economic flames.
In this new era of economic diversity, the world has stepped out of the shadow of a monolithic belief system. The future now hinges on embracing a spectrum of economic models, each contributing to a more vibrant and inclusive global economic future.
(Andy Mok, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization.)
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