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Placing China in the Washington Consensus

Authors: Chris Meulbroek*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Economic Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: World Bank, China, state capitalism, critical discourse analysis, cultural political economy
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


China and the World Bank are often characterized as the embodiment of entirely different models for economic statecraft: while the Bank has been represented as an exemplar of mainstream market fundamentalism, China's maintenance of state ownership of strategic firms and its close articulation of finance and industry is often proffered as an alternative, and perhaps, increasingly successful approach to capitalist institutionalization. These stylizations are frequently represented as mirror images of one another. In contrast, this paper employs critical discourse analysis to explore the complex and contradictory nexus between ‘China’ and the World Bank, asking how the Chinese variant of ‘state capitalism’ has been (mis)represented, (mis)construed, and (mis)adjudicated by the Bank in the post-Mao era. Examining the Bank’s prognostications for Chinese reform, the paper reveals significant continuity in its diagnosis of policy problems, though justifications for continuing reform have shifted from what I call a ‘rationale of calculation’, concerned with inadequate measurement of economic activity, to a ‘rationale of integration’, concerned with the destabilizing effects of China’s growth. Moreover, the Bank’s growth narratives are continually reconstructed in dialogue with the shifting performance of divergent capitalist development models. China's state-capitalist ‘deviation’ from the Washington consensus orthodoxy sets up a case for re-visiting an important facet of neoliberalization as a transnational hegemonic process: the ongoing process of absorption and neutralization of contending economic imaginaries. Through an analysis of the World Bank/China nexus, the paper seeks to contribute to cultural political economy approaches to capitalist geopolitics and to methodological development in critical policy studies.

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