Reform and Opening with Soviet characteristics: Russian perspectives on China’s rise


This week on ChinaEconTalk, Jordan interviews Chris Miller, associate professor of international history at Tufts University and a specialist on Russian politics, economics, and foreign policy. Drawing on some of his recent publications, Miller discusses topics ranging from Sino-Soviet collaboration and competition to their respective economic and political reform programs in the 1970s and 80s. Miller concludes by exploring the significance of the collapse of the USSR in terms of the impression it made on Chinese officials, including Xi Jinping, and what this may suggest about the future of Chinese politics and the ongoing Sino-Russian relationship. As Xi himself is reported to have said during a closed-door meeting in 2012: “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? … Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone. In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist.”

What to listen for on this week’s ChinaEconTalk: 

31:25: On the Soviet origins of Deng’s Reform and Opening strategy: “There was a period of learning [by China] from the Soviet Union in the 1950s right after the revolution…Deng picked that back up to a certain extent in the late 1970s…the goal was to give space to private enterprises in the countryside and to give space to farmers to operate without central Party control…Deng saw this and said, ‘I wonder if we can try something like this at home in China, and we can use Lenin to justify it.’”

52:55: “The CCP interpretation, which is also the interpretation of many in Russia today, is that it’s plausible to have had a strong man reform the economy but keep the party and the state as they were, and in my research that just seems extraordinarily implausible…in some ways the Xi Jinping view is the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ version, and the reality is the history doesn’t support that counterfactual.”

This podcast was edited and produced by Jason MacRonald.