The Decline of the “Singapore Model” and the Fate of Authoritarian Reformism in China



Mark Thompson, Head and Professor of Politics, Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong

Date and Time

January 22, 2020 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM



Open to the public.

RSVP required by 5PM January 21.


Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

In the eyes of China’s neo-authoritarian reformers, Singapore, despite being a tiny city-state, long exemplified a state of affairs for which the PRC should strive: resilient authoritarianism alongside but unweakened by liberalizing steps conducive to economic growth.  On behalf of Beijing’s effort to learn from Singapore, tens of thousands of officials visited the city-state and thousands of articles and books were written about it. Today, however, Xi Jiinping has derided foreign templates and relegated adopting the “Singapore model” to a path not taken by China’s current hard-line leadership and unavailable for authoritarian reformers to pursue. Although the demotion was triggered by Xi’s anti-reformism and China’s rise, Singapore’s loss of “model” character was also path-dependent. Chinese academics studying Singapore had long misunderstood fundamental institutional differences between the two countries that went back to the city-state’s colonial past and China’s Stalinist-Maoist revolution. Efforts to model reforms on the Singaporean “state-party” ran into the prerogatives of the Chinese party-state. Proposals to strengthen market forces, impose limited legal constraints on the party, and introduce semi-competitive elections were seen as threatening the institutional foundations of the CPC. Moreover, despite a (partial) revival of Confucianism in China that imitated the city-state’s attraction to “Asian values,” Singapore’s neo-liberal “pragmatism” and multi-racialism contradicted the CPC’s self-portrayal as an engine of Marxist socialism embodying the Han-Chinese nation.

Mark R. Thompson heads the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong. He is president of the Hong Kong Political Science Association (HKPSA) and a former president of the Asian Political and International Studies Association (2013-14). A comparativist specializing in Southeast Asian politics, his publications include China’s “Singapore Model” and Authoritarian Learning, ed. with Stephan Ortmann (forthcoming 2020); Authoritarian Modernism in East Asia (2019); The Routledge Handbook of the Contemporary Philippines, ed. with Eric Batalla (2018); Dynasties and Female Political Leaders in Asia, ed. with Claudia Derichs (2014); Democratic Revolutions: Asia and Eastern Europe (2004); and The Anti-Marcos Struggle (1995).

Share this Event