China's opening to trade

 •  Filed under China, International economics

A striking passage from C. Fred Bergsten's comment published in 2004 in Development challenges in the 1990s: leading policymakers speak from experience, edited by Tim Besley:

[Jiang Zemin] said, in perfect English, that he considered China’s entry to the WTO to be closely related to his country’s “deep sleep” during its feudal period while the West was advancing smartly after the Reformation.

I took that to refer to the famous episode when the British ambassador visited the Chinese emperor in 1793 and said that Britain was ready to trade—and the emperor dismissed him, saying Britain had nothing that China needed. Thus China consciously rejected the first era of globalization in the 19th century. As a result it wound up a failed state, with one of the world’s poorest economies and a polity carved up by the world’s colonial powers more than a hundred years ago. China’s current leadership has devoted itself to avoiding that mistake.

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