A China Model with A British Accent – OpEd


No friends, no enemies, just interest.” Ideologically speaking, there is almost no common ground between the socialist and open-yet-authoritarian China and most other capitalist and democratic states such as Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa, not to mention Germany.

Beijing is determined to gain recognition and friendship from them through all types of commercial deals so as to cultivate some common interests.

China has gradually emerged as a gigantic business conglomerate with hundreds of national and regional state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under the command of the State Council. The Politburo acts like a board of directors managing a holding company which runs a great variety of industries ranging from commodities and shipping to beer and mobile phones.

This holding company by its very nature is authoritarian for serving its commercial (and national) interests, conceptually the same as all other normal business enterprises worldwide. Simply speaking, it is always the Chairman and CEO who make absolute decisions.

The interesting feature of this China Model is that the chairmen and CEOs, batch after batch or generation after generation, are not selected by the ‘shareholders’ – the citizens. They are nurtured by a special personnel (and training) system which is similar to the British cadet system.

The British cadet system

In the 19th and 20th centuries, young and bright British graduates were recruited in London to join the Foreign Office as cadets and then posted out to serve in the governments of the overseas colonies in different continents. After a number of rotational postings, some of them climbed up the hierarchy ladder to become governors and colonial secretaries there.

This cadet system also applied to private firms and one of them was the then Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Sir William Turner, Sir John Saunders, Guy Sayer, Sir Michael Sandberg and Sir William Purves were all cadets initially who then rose from trainee level as “Eastern” staff to become the chiefs of the Bank after years of on-the-job training and rotational postings [1].

What is happening in China is almost the same

Young graduates are recruited into the Chinese Communist Party or the civil service. After a series of party school training courses for statecraft and business risk calculation as well as rotational postings among the local governments, ministries, SOEs and mass organizations, those who have been assessed as talented and loyal to the party gain sponsored mobility on the fast track to the top and finally secure a seat in the Politburo which is the board of directors of the holding company (like a “China Incorporated”) [2].

Administratively speaking, this cadet system with Chinese characteristics can be named as a helmsman ruler system which generates helmsmen for the nation to act as the rulers of the state. This system is basically similar to what, as reported by TIME magazine online on Oct 17, was explained in a Beijing 5-minute cartoon video “How Leaders are Made” on how young citizens go through a series of training at different levels of administration to reach the top [3].

The major advantage of this Helmsman Ruler System is that the chairmen or CEOs or rulers, whatever the name may be, can devise and run very long term policies which have to be implemented beyond their tenure. Unlike other democratic developing countries, China with this system bears little pressure for meeting the short term populist demands.

After the acquisition of The Midland Bank in 1992 by Sir William Purves, the consistency and continuity of development by his successors brought huge success to HSBC. Like all other corporations, China’s rise needs consistency and continuity in the 21st century, and Beijing also tends to work with those governments with policy persistency because China is already operating like a business unit which strives to gain friendship and recognition from other nations through only one way – mutual benefits of common, however little they may be, “interests”.

“Iron silk road”- coalition?

Although Chancellor Merkel needs to run a coalition government, the super success of the Christian Democratic Union in the federal election 2013 will consolidate not just Merkel’s leadership since 2005 but also Germany’s political weight in the EU as well as the world arena for at least four more years.

Putin, whose smart tactical moves in the Syria crisis have confirmed both his personal as well as Russia’s political influences in the new “nomos” of the earth, is likely to remain in his office as the president for two terms until 2020.

Xi Jin-ping and his teams of helmsman rulers of China will also stay in power until 2022/3 to oversee the long term policies regarding commodity reserve accumulation, infrastructure construction and international recognition.

These three states are now symbolically connected by a 10,214-kilometer “iron silk road”. It takes 15 to 18 days for a train loaded with more than 40 containers to travel from Zhengzhou to Hamburg, passing through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland. Moscow in Russia and Klaipeda in Lithuania are connected by two spur lines [4].

These three states are relatively independent of the United States’ influence when compared with, say, Japan. They may rise quickly to challenge the superpower status of the U.S. in the world. What must be noted is that, on the political and economic fronts, Beijing running in a mode of “China Model with British Accent” is able to give the necessary confidence to Germany and Russia that China is a predictable and, to a great extent, reliable player of the game.

The author: Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate, a Fellow of The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), a former Manager (Asset Management) at HK Monetary Authority and now a retired businessman; and the author of “Helmsman Ruler: China’s Pragmatic Version of Plato’s Ideal Political Succession System in The Republic”.  

References: 1. Details can be found in King, Frank H. H. (volume 1 in 1987 and volume 4 in 1991), The History of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2. Brief information can be found in Shambaugh, David (2008), Training China’s Political Elite: The Party School System, The China Quarterly, 196, pp. 827-844, doi:10.1017/S0305741008001148. For details, read chapters 3 and 5 in Hui, Keith K C (2013), Helmsman Ruler: China’s Pragmatic Version of Plato’s Ideal Political Succession System in The Republic, Singapore: Trafford. 3. http://world.time.com/2013/10/17/whats-the-secret-to-chinas-incredible-success/
领导人是怎样炼成的in Putonghua http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjIxNTg1NzI0.html?f=20407034 4. South China Morning Post, “Iron Silk Road Delivers Trade Edge”, page B2, Sep 9, 2013

Keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate, a Fellow of The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), a former Manager (Asset Management) at HK Monetary Authority and now a retired businessman; and the author of “Helmsman Ruler: China’s Pragmatic Version of Plato’s Ideal Political Succession System in The Republic”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *