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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Law, Justice, Society at the Margins of Asian States
2: China and Transnational Labor Law under State Capitalism 4.0
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, United States
Since the 2007 global financial crisis, many have questioned the predominant form of neoliberal capitalism that has underpinned a US-led global economic order since the 1980s. Meanwhile, China’s state capitalism, led by the Chinese Communist Party has been ascendant. This paper seeks to develop the concept of “State Capitalism 4.0”, which is premised on China party-state’s control over state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private firms in a transnational political economy, mediated through regulatory and institutional arrangements and the strategic exploitation of technology. I apply this concept to analyse China’s approach to transnational labor issues as Chinese enterprises expand their activities abroad and mobilize a growing number of Chinese workers transnationally, especially under the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Some are wary of China’s ambitions to expand its global influence through the BRI, including a more prominent role in shaping the rules of international institutions. China’s growing presence in transnational labor markets raises an important question about its approach to interpreting, implementing, and enforcing labor standards abroad. I argue that under State Capitalism 4.0, the party-state can strategically exercise regulatory powers to improve labor standards, but China’s approach to regulating domestic and transnational labor leaves little room for the autonomy of social actors with respect to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Such rights, which are axiomatic international labor standards, are emphasized in the tradition of liberal capitalist economies (though not always implemented in practice) but essentially antithetical to State Capitalism 4.0.