今天张化桥在《日经亚洲论坛》Nikkei Asian Review
d capitalism is serving China well
What the West keeps missing when it maligns China's state-owned
January 27, 2021 05:00 JST、
Joe Zhang is the author of “Party Man, Company Man: Is China’s
State Capitalism Doomed?” He was chief operating officer of
state-owned enterprise Shenzhen Investment from 2006-08.
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do,
John Maynard Keynes is credited for having said this. While
economists the world over claim to respect Keynes, many do not seem
to follow his teachings — at least not when it comes to analyzing
China. Since China embarked on its economic reforms 43 years ago,
Western analysts have maintained two predictions.
First, that China would sell most of its state-owned enterprises
and allow the private sector to prevail. Along the way, it was
thought, China would become a Western-style democracy. But as time
has gone by, these analysts have become increasingly frustrated by
their mistakes. China does not fit their chosen ideological
In the 1990s, China did sell a large number of SOEs including
retailers, restaurants and small manufacturers of fertilizers,
pesticides, clothing and footwear. But China has maintained control
over virtually all important sectors of the economy including
finance, oil, energy, aviation, education, telecoms, autos,
transport infrastructure and medical care.
Ironically, most SOEs we see today were created during the past 10
to 20 years. There has actually been a massive reversal of the
initial privatization program. This is on top of the large numbers
of private-sector businesses that have been acquired by the state.
Outsiders taking a close look at China’s economy would be shocked
to see the growing dominance of the state sector. In banking and
finance, for example, virtually all of the 4,000-odd institutions —
banks, trust companies, leasing, insurance, asset management and
securities companies — are state-owned and have been built up in
Western economic thinking dictates that the private sector must be
more efficient than the state sector. But the metrics Western
analysts use are deeply flawed. Each year, for example, hundreds of
thousands of private-sector businesses go bust and drop out of the
statistics, leading to a survival bias.
Confronted with this inconvenient truth, Western analysts argue
that SOEs enjoy unfair competitive advantages in China because they
have greater access to finance at lower interest rates. Sure, that
is all true. But comparing the private sector with the state sector
based on return on equity — or other measures — is a pointless
exercise. Additionally, simple comparisons on ROEs ignore social
returns and the spillover effects to society at large.
Some analysts draw comfort from private sector standouts such as
Ping An Insurance Group and China Vanke. But are they really
private-sector enterprises? Of course not. They started out with
government money and the state remains a significant shareholder.
The fact that they have been given more autonomy does not make them
By the same token, the fact that many companies are listed does not
make them private-sector entities either. One has to ask who is
calling the shots? It is true that some of the big technology
companies are all private-sector owned. But the likes of Alibaba
Group Holding, Tencent Holdings and JD.com and their ecosystems
remain a relatively small part of China’s economy. And they have
benefited hugely from lax regulations on personal data and
unnecessarily tight rules on their incumbent competitors as well as
zero taxes on online sales.
In terms of research and development, the dominance of the state
sector is even more noticeable. With a few exceptions, China’s
thousands of universities and polytechnic colleges are all
state-owned and state-funded, and they shoulder most R&D
Roads, railways and ports have always been constructed by the
state, and this has helped private-sector enterprises thrive.
Across China, urban infrastructure projects employ hundreds of
millions in various forms. It is there that workers have their
wages and pension contributions reliably paid, safety and dignity
protected, and essential training provided. It is there that large
numbers of private-sector businesses have been able to become
feasible, including catering, hotels, personal care and retail, not
to mention the suppliers of raw materials and components.
Mariana Mazzucato, professor in the economics of innovation and
public value at University College London, has demonstrated that
the real driver of innovation is not lone geniuses but state
investment. This is true not just in Europe and the U.S. but
Both the global financial crisis in 2007-08 and the pandemic in
2020 have highlighted how critically important the state is to the
stability, and even survival, of capitalism. It is just that China
has chosen to provide the safety net through SOEs rather than the
helicopter money and zero interest rates favored by the West.
Still, the jury is out as to which approach is more efficient and
When it comes to China, some Western analysts have turned
themselves into missionary-like figures. But they have little to
show for their stubborn efforts over the past four decades.
Twisting definitions of the private sector does not make the
private sector’s performance any better looking. While many Chinese
officials and members of the public openly criticize the bloated
and corrupt state sector, their view of the private sector is even
The truth of the matter is that 43 years into the current age of
prosperity, China’s private sector has credibility issues. Western
scholars ought to see the uniqueness of China’s historical path and
admit exporting Western capitalist ideas to China is a lost
Unlike the West, China has long stopped trying to export its
ideology. China does not blow its own trumpet to other third-world
countries on how to grow an economy, or how to develop a society.
The West should do the same. One thing I have learned as a student
of development economics is that, in poor countries, capital is
scarce, but organization — or governance — is even rarer. China’s
state sector has provided that crucial organization for economic
activities to happen.