China’s opening to the world is a gradual and complex process that calls for a comprehensive analysis of the motives behind it. On June 20, 2003, the Asia Program hosted a seminar, “Why China Opened to the World.” David Zweig, professor of Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, discussed his recently published book, Internationalizing China: Domestic Interests and Global Linkage at the seminar.

Zweig argued that between 1978 and 1999, domestic forces such as local governments, bureaucrats, companies, and individuals with links to the international economy—more than just central elites—drove China’s global integration. As he emphasized, internationalization, rather than globalization, best describes China’s opening; globalization implies a phenomenon outside government control, while internationalization suggests increased transnational flows combined with decreased regulatory controls, retaining the state as a core part of the analysis.

Zweig explored four key factors related to China’s internationalization, 1) political leaders’ decision to open China to the world, 2) domestic demand for transnational exchanges, 3) the bureaucratic interest in international transactions, and 4) the incentive for local governments to facilitate global exchanges and thus undermine the very rules set down by the state. He then surveyed four cases of China’s openness. First, local governments’ competition and lobbying for policy preferences from the center promoted the establishment of development zones, and created a periodical “zone fever.” Second, the development of rural joint ventures dramatically increased foreign direct investment to China’s rural areas and local governments’ international links. Third, international exchange in higher education resulted in a considerate number of returning scholars, whose better positions and treatment encouraged more students in turn to study abroad. Fourth, the struggle over foreign aid among different sectors enhanced global linkages between China and foreign countries.

While China’s internationalization has been facilitated by unorganized actions of local governments and bureaucrats, Zweig argued that in the long run China’s WTO accession is more likely to make the state respond to market, rather than bureaucratic and local interests.

Drafted by Gang Lin, Asia Program Associate
Robert M. Hathaway, Director, Asia Program
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