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‘Made in China 2025’ is unique - but only in its effectiveness

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Before you set out to demonise an opponent, you must first create a straw man – a crude stereotype with enough snippets of truth to make the unreasonableness of the opponent seem plausible.

So it is that US President Donald Trump’s trade team has set out to demonise China’s distinct and – over the past 30 years – successful economic model.

The characteristics of this particular straw man are built around autocratic, centralised political control by the Communist Party, state-owned enterprises and mass exploitation of subsidies to subvert the market-driven efforts of international competitors.

The straw man is embellished with manipulation and theft of intellectual property, industrial espionage on a mass scale and insurmountable barriers for foreign companies to compete effectively in the China market.

How China is finding new ways to hurt US businesses

As with any straw man, there are threads of truth here. But the complaints are not as clear cut as the stereotype suggests, nor are China’s transgressions unique. Every economy – including the US’ – has large numbers of local companies with “special” influence on government decision-making, preferential access to huge procurement business and privileged control of local monopolies or oligopolies.

Industrial espionage and IP theft are as old as the hills, and China’s transgressions are only visible because of the many in the West who are well-coached in the craft. These are an ugly and widespread reality rather than sins committed only by China.

As for industrial policies, a UN Conference on Trade and Development report says at least 84 countries worldwide have such policies – including the US. China’s is based firmly on Germany’s Industry 4.0 policy, and is distinctive not because it has an industrial policy, but because it seems to have been unusually........

© South China Morning Post