UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reframing reform : positioning the Chinese economy in the World Bank Meulbroek, Christopher


The rise of China as an economic power is one of the defining economic trends of last forty years. There has been considerable academic and policy controversy over the extent to which China’s political economy can be classified as capitalist, resulting, in many instances, in a problematic apriori distinction and separation between state and market. This thesis explores how development economists have managed this distinction through an extended case study of the World Bank. Through a critical discourse analysis of the Bank’s corpus of reports on China, along with a historical analysis of archival material, speeches, and academic journals, this thesis traces the Bank’s policy diagnoses, prognostications, and prescriptions since the late 1970s. Chapter 1 introduces the thesis by situating the role of the World Bank in the international development sector in general, and in China, in particular. Chapter 2 examines the first decade of the World Bank-China relationship. I argue that the Bank deployed the discursive technology of ‘transition’ to reduce the complexities of managing economic policy formulation within a state-socialist framework. Through an examination of industrial, labor, and financial policy discourses, I claim this ‘transition imaginary’ was predicated upon an ascendant hegemony of a neoliberal policy nexus within the Bank, coupled with the use of market-based policy instruments in Chinese economic statecraft. In the 1990s, however, the posited teleology from ‘central planning’ to ‘market economy’ grew unsustainable in the face of post-Soviet collapse and the continuation of state-backed credit provisioning to state-owned enterprises, weakening the dominance of the transition imaginary. Chapter 3 examines the introduction of the ‘gradualist model’ of economic reform in the World Bank in the uncertain geopolitical-economic context of the late 1980s. I argue the contested acceptance of ‘gradualism’ as a distinctive reform model challenged the Bank’s extant ‘shock therapy’ model, but was subsequently articulated into a unified post-Washington Consensus paradigm. Chapter 4 concludes by highlighting the significance of shifting discursive and institutional boundaries between market and plan in the global political economy.

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