China’s Unfinished Trade Revolution

Dec. 11 marks the 15th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Measured by its impact on the Chinese economy, which has grown almost tenfold since 2001, accession to the WTO was no less momentous than the epochal changes ushered in by the start of “Reform and Opening” in 1978 or the fiscal and political recentralization that followed the 1989 Tiananmen crisis. In the scale and speed of changes it wrought on Chinese society and politics, WTO accession was hardly less revolutionary than the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1961 or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. And in terms of their import for the structure of the global economy, few events in recent memory equal China’s entry into the organization. By virtually any indicator, Dec. 11, 2001, was an inflection point not only for China’s economy but also for much of the world’s. But the anniversary also highlights how Chinese integration into the global economy remains incomplete.