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The meaning of liberalism in between Europe and China


The position newly taken by China at international level implies to assess a renewed understanding of liberalism in its economic, political and social dimensions. It involves a comparative analysis of the cultural differences in its interpretation and of the political discrepancies in the enforcement of new rules of law in business, trade and economic matters, in particular with respect to the economy, the society and the environment in China that distinguishes it from imported notions from Europe (where they developed in Modern times). The methodology adopted here is clearly multidisciplinary and comparative between European and Chinese political philosophy & political economy, philosophy of economics.

A first part deals with the concepts of liberal civil society and the various types of market-enhanced economy. For instance, it brings concerns such as those put forth recently by the World Trade Organization when rebuking China’s application to be reckoned as a “market economy”. It relates to the new partnerships built by China in the globalized World and the difficulties to understand some concepts, although all are utilized using the (apparently) common English language. In fact, in the aftermath of the sovereign debt crisis, a new focus on relationships between China and the Western world where most of the internationally-used concepts emerged is necessary to accommodate Chinese viewpoints.


A second issue (part II) involves present enforcement and future potential implementation and/or revision of political and legal notions with regard to economic aspects of the concept of Liberalism. The latter may be regarded as made of several traditions, from social liberalism to liberal theories of economics. Disclosing cultural and political differences in terms of interpretation and of enforcement of “Liberalism” in China makes sense with an essential tension between political and economic development. This tension in turn requires attention to Western origins of concepts now used internationally, possibly confronting Chinese values.

The viewpoints of China’s neighbors, that have modernized early on should also be taken into account as the questions whether the above correlation is stable (in particular in the case of non-Western economies?) are raised not only by Europeans, but also by Eastern Asians. Japan has been the first example, in the Meiji times, to face this dilemma. South Korea and Taiwan followed. The paper is comparative as it focuses on relationships between Western views and China in particular, but accommodates viewpoints from China’s neighbors. If China is the most significant example in our times, her relationships with her neighbors with respect to Liberalism is now more than ever at stake. This is part III of the paper for this conference.


At the level of expected economic welfare for the people and of political rights that it endows people with it, shall we then expect to observe the same correlation in China as there existed elsewhere? Eastern Asians who share in some of China’s peculiar cultural background (notably the Confucian heritage). Part III of the paper will debate upon China while bringing in their perspectives as well, wondering whether the above mentioned potential correlation between economic and social liberty purported by Liberalism holds indeed, or whether it is merely a matter of beliefs – and whose belief is it then? This should shed light on the paper as a whole.

The paper is thus meant to cope with epistemological/historical method to approach the debate and we intend to discuss more the way to tackle such issues than I intend to offer any final answer. This inquisitory approach leaves more doors open (like discussing views in East-Asian countries on China) than any final statement, that is clearly impossible in the present changing times.

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