【英语中国】中国需要升级“软件” China needs to overcome its ‘software’ deficit

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所属分类:双语中国

2014-1-21 08:41

小艾摘要: The longer we have to reflect on it, the more last November’s Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist party emerges as a watershed. It seems increasingly clear that Xi Jinping, the new party chief, is ...
China needs to overcome its ‘software’ deficit
The longer we have to reflect on it, the more last November’s Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist party emerges as a watershed. It seems increasingly clear that Xi Jinping, the new party chief, is managing to corral support behind a substantial leap forward from the reforms begun 30 years ago by Deng Xaoping. As state and market continue to jostle for pre-eminence in the leadership’s carefully balanced rhetoric, it would appear that when Mr Xi signals left, he means to turn right.

The plenum was characterised by an interesting metaphor. A senior official told China Daily that while three decades of rapid development had dramatically closed the “hardware” gap between China and the developed world – particularly in the coastal areas in the south – it still had a “software” deficit. While the west focuses on ideas like ‘opening up’ as describing what we want from China, the software metaphor tells us a lot about China’s weaknesses and what it needs from the rest of the world.

The “software” of China’s political economy will still be built around centralised control. But its rapid growth has overlaid – and undermined – this control with expansionist regional government and growing networks of private economic power. China’s software is also badly degraded by “bugs” such as endemic corruption and gross misallocation of resources. Set against Beijing’s inherent desire to control and direct, this growing functionality gap is a source of frustration. China feels like it is running Windows 95 in an Android world.

This frustration, in turn, has been characteristically channelled into intensive hoovering up of information and frenetic efforts to improve the skills of officials. At the same time, systems of social control are being modernised – there will be no more repressive labour camps. But these instincts are not confined to the political machine. They are familiar in the external investment strategies of Chinese business whose management realised years ago that, to grow and become truly competitive, they needed a rapid infusion of developed economy intelligence.

There are three areas where the need to upgrade China’s software should be seen as particularly important. The first is in the state-owned enterprises. The new political leadership says it is setting out to rebalance the public and private sectors and establish “equal footing” for private and state-owned companies before the law.

Whether this fully produces the “decisive results” demanded by 2020, there is now no doubt that Mr Xi is determined to drive professionalisation of SOE management and raise their exposure to greater market disciplines.

The second important area is the state’s role as a market regulator. The more the party’s crude command-and-control mechanisms are replaced by a more sophisticated software of governance, the more outcomes will be shaped through market frameworks. This is most important in using the power of a market economy to allocate resources and rationalise costs.

This means more open markets for energy and natural resources, both of which have long been badly distorted by subsidy or skewed incentives in China. But it also applies to credit and the banking system, which has the same problem and needs regulatory and supervisory sophistication to manage the transition to a more liberalised capital account and more market-based money market. These are some of the questions the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone experiment should help answer.

But it is also important in areas where more objective regulatory discipline will help the party politically – like the health and safety rules that provide minimum guarantees for Chinese consumers, and the environmental governance systems that will start to get a grip of the country’s massively degraded physical environment and its human impact.

The third area where the software metaphor captures something important about the way the party is thinking is the role of local government. While Mr Xi is busy consolidating his central authority, there is also a recognition that there has to be a more effective, more transparent and incorruptible exercise of power at the local level. Without this, the building of public resentment will in time produce a backlash that will threaten the party’s rule.

For many years to come, China will sit astride the two horses of state and market, and it will not always make for a comfortable ride. What is happening will at times seem confusing and contradictory, as the need to rewire and relegitimise the state as the instrument of the party’s power will coexist with the acquisition of western corporate methods and the deepening of market forces. We will see “reform” and “opening up” but not for its own sake. The priority is equipping the state and the party with the upgraded software to manage a huge and changing country and economy through the next phase of its capitalist-oriented development.

The writer, formerly director of communications for Labour and business secretary, is chairman of Global Counsel

对于去年11月召开的中共18届三中全会,我们思考它的时间越长,就越会觉得它是一道分水岭。现在情况似乎越来越明朗:中共中央新任总书记习近平,正在30年前邓小平启动的改革基础上,推进大幅向前跨越的改革,而他正成功取得人们的支持。在新一届领导层谨慎平衡的言论中,政府和市场还在角逐首要地位,当习近平示意向左时,他的意思似乎是向右。

有一个有趣的比喻,描述了这次会议的特点。中国一位高官告诉《中国日报》(China Daily),30年的快速发展大大弥合了中国与发达国家之间的“硬件”差距,特别是在南方沿海地区,但“软件”差距仍然存在。西方关注“开放”之类的观念,因为它们体现了西方希望从中国得到什么,但“软件”的比喻告诉我们很多有关中国劣势、以及它需要从全球其他国家得到什么的信息。

中国政治经济的“软件”仍将建立在中央集权控制的基础上。但由于地方政府的扩张以及私营经济力量网络的壮大,中国的快速增长掩盖并削弱了这种控制。中国的“软件”还因为腐败猖獗和资源配置严重失调等“缺陷”,而被严重降级。在中国政府内在的控制和指挥欲之下,这种日益严重的功能缺陷成为失望的源头。中国给人的感觉好像是在安卓(Android)系统的世界里运行Windows 95。

这种失望情绪进而以一种独特的方式,转化为密集汲取信息以及提高官员素质的疯狂努力。同时,社会控制体系正在现代化,再也不会有专制性的劳教所。但这种本能并不限于政治机器。它们在中国企业的对外投资战略中颇为常见,多年前,这些企业的管理层就意识到,要实现增长、变得真正具备竞争力,它们需要迅速注入发达经济智慧。

中国需要在3个特别重要的领域升级其“软件”。首先是国有企业领域。中国新一届政治领导层表示,将着手对公共和私营部门进行再平衡,让私营企业和国有企业在法律面前实现地位平等。

不管这能否如三中全会的要求,到2020年取得“决定性成果”,毫无疑问的是,习近平决心推动国企管理层的专业化,并且让他们更多接受市场规则的考验。

第二个重点领域是政府的市场监管职责。中共粗放的“命令和控制”机制向更加精巧的“治理软件”让位得越多,就会有越多的成果通过市场机制产生。在依靠市场经济力量分配资源、合理化成本时,这是最重要的一点。

这意味着中国的能源和自然资源市场更加开放,之前补贴和偏斜的激励措施给它们带来了严重扭曲。信贷和银行体系也是一样,它们存在同样的问题,需要精巧的监管和监督,才能使中国向更为自由化的资本账户和更为市场化的货币市场过渡。新设立的上海自贸区应当有助于找到这些问题的答案。

但在一些领域,实行更为公正的监管将对中共有政治上的帮助,因此“升级软件”同样重要——这些领域包括为中国消费者提供最低保障的医疗和安全法规,以及开始解决中国自然环境严重退化及其对人体危害问题的环境治理体系。

“软件”比喻体现中共思路的第三个重要方面,是地方政府的角色。虽然习近平忙于巩固自己的中央权威,但人们也认识到,必须让地方政府的执政更有效、透明,杜绝腐败。否则,不断累积的公众怨气总会在某个时候产生强烈反应,威胁中共的统治。

在未来多年,中国将同时驾驭政府和市场两匹马,一路上不会一帆风顺。中国发生的事情有时会显得令人困惑、自相矛盾,因为一方面中共需要重新安排和重新合法化它的执政工具——政府,另一方面中国又要吸收西方的企业治理方法,深化市场力量。我们将看到“改革开放”,但改革开放的目的不是本身。当务之急是用升级的“软件”武装政府和中共,他们才能在下一阶段以资本主义为导向的发展中,管理好庞大、不断变化的中国和中国经济。

本文作者为咨询机构Global Counsel董事长,曾任英国工党新闻事务主管和英国商务大臣

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