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Opinion

President Xi’s Singapore Lessons

By A. Michael Spence, William R. Berkley Professor in Economics & Business

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There are times when muddling through – or, in the Chinese version, crossing the river by feeling the stones – is the right governing strategy, and there are times when a bold resetting of values and direction is required. Successful leaders know what time it is.

China is at a crucial point today, as it was in 1978, when the market reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping opened its economy to the world – and as it was again in the early 1990’s, when Deng’s famous “southern tour” reaffirmed the country’s development path.

Throughout this time, examples and lessons from other countries have been important. Deng was reportedly substantially influenced by an early visit to Singapore, where accelerated growth and prosperity had come decades earlier. Understanding other developing countries’ successes and shortcomings has been – and remains – an important part of China’s approach to formulating its growth strategy.

Like Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in their first few decades of modern growth, China has been ruled by a single party. Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) remains dominant, though that appears to be changing. The others evolved into multi-party democracies during the middle-income transition. China, too, has now reached this critical last leg of the long march to advanced-country status in terms of economic structure and income levels.

Singapore should continue to be a role model for China, despite its smaller size. The success of both countries reflects many contributing factors, including a skilled and educated group of policymakers supplied by a meritocratic selection system, and a pragmatic, disciplined, experimental, and forward-looking approach to policy.

Read full article as published in Project Syndicate