Phnom Penh, 23 August 2018 – The United Nations in Cambodia organized a public lecture during which Professor Yuen Yuen Ang, author of the book How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, spoke on “The Real China Model: What other developing countries should learn from China”. Professor Angspoke to a room of senior officials from the Royal Government of Cambodia, diplomats, UN officials, and development professionals.
Professor Ang presented her work and explained how it relates to Cambodia’s socio-economic development opportunities and challenges.
“When developing countries and partners think of the China Model, they often, incorrectly, think of it as purely a top-down model,” explained Professor Ang, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Her lecture and book debunk the common misunderstanding by systematically tracing the history of China’s economic and institutional changes from 1978 to 2012.
“In reality, different parts of China have followed many different paths to economic and social development over the last several decades. Their commonality is the adaptation of central mandates to local conditions,” Professor Ang argued.
“China has overcome complex development challenges to move into the ranks of a middle-income country and lifting millions out of poverty. And while it has not been a perfect transition, there’s much developing countries can learn from China’s success,” argued Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, who opened the public lecture.
Efforts such as the Belt and Road Initiative present great opportunities for countries like Cambodia to sustain and expand economic growth, but the role and quality of governance institutions is at the heart of discussions on inclusive socio-economic development.
“The United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals provide a roadmap for what I like to call the “social investments” for development,” Xu further explained.
In her book, Professor Ang points out that the real key to China’s success is not top-down control; instead, it’s “directed improvisation”— the mixture of top-down direction from Beijing and bottom-up improvisation among numerous local governments—that enabled a locally tailored pattern of development.
“I suggest we speak of educated or guided improvisation [concerning development], rather than directed improvisations”, explained H.E. Dr. Mey Kalyan, Senior Advisor, Supreme National Economic Council of the Royal Government of Cambodia, who participated in the following panel discussion.
What countries like Cambodia could learn from China is to adapt “directed improvisation” to democratic settings: leveraging local resources that may not comply with Western best practices, giving a broad scope of actors a personal stake in development, and fostering bottom-up improvisation within society and/or government.
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Disclaimer: This event is designed to provide a different perspective for policy-makers, economists and development professionals in Cambodia. This event is not meant to be an endorsement of the Author, her book or any specific development strategy, but merely as learning opportunity for the community.
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About the United Nations in Cambodia: The United Nations (UN) in Cambodia works to support peace, poverty eradication and human rights in the country. The UN is committed to enhancing development effectiveness in support of the priorities, plans and programs of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), civil society and other relevant partners.