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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lessons of the China Model

DALIAN, China — One evening in this former Russian port once known as Port Arthur, I wanted to find a street lined with popular restaurants. I had dismissed my translator, and experience suggested that waving maps in the faces of cab drivers would only baffle them.

Suddenly I recalled that there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise on the street. In my notebook I sketched the face of the chain's goateed founder, Colonel Sanders. For good measure, I drew a plucked hen steaming on a platter. Then I hailed a cab and showed the driver my artwork. "Take me here," I demanded in English.

Giggling the whole way, the driver raced down alleyways crowded with fishmongers' stalls. We stopped by a restaurant where a life-sized plastic Colonel Sanders stood by the door, beaming in approval. It was the wrong street, but never mind. I had established an essential point.

The market economy has caught hold in communist China. You see the evidence of the boom in Starbucks coffeehouses, in purple buses labeled "Yahoo.com," in the department stores with entire floors dedicated to foreign perfumes, in the Internet cafe where a red-lighted household god glows in the corner. The Chinese leadership's forecast last Monday — that economic growth for the next five years would fall from 8.3 percent to a mere 7 percent — only underscores the point. There are nations that would sell their souls for 7-percent growth.

Yet Dalian sparks uncomfortable questions for visitors from China's neighbor to the north. Why isn't Russia seeing the same boom? Must the Russian Far East forever satisfy itself with membership, along with North Korea, in a club known as the hoboes of Northeast Asia? Why have Russia's economic reforms failed?

The Chinese answer would be disturbing for those who love liberty: Moscow got it right by launching the economic restructuring of perestroika, but blew it by permitting glasnost, which undermined Party discipline and therefore unleashed anarchy and gangsterism. Stated differently, the 1989 shooting of students in Tiananmen Square saved China from a future of blackouts and unpaid wages.

But if authoritarianism were the missing ingredient, then the Russian Far East should be booming. Yevgeny Nazdratenko, the former governor of the Primorye region, seized control of the media and harassed non-Orthodox religious sects in a matter that would make Beijing proud. Yet the Primorye region became synonymous with administrative incompetence, and Nazdratenko became the most despised man in the region (do not believe the central media when they suggest that Vladivostok's yahoos revere Nazdratenko. Reporters who write such things should be sentenced to interviewing 1,000 random Primorye citizens about their ex-governor, noting whether anyone fails to use the word "mafia" in the first sentence).

Russia's and China's divergent paths have been analyzed by experts far more knowledgeable than I, and answers will include references to China's Confucian work ethic and Russia's suffocating bureaucracy that dates back through centuries of tsarism. But one lesson is obvious: Russia tolerates corruption. China does not.

In Russia, as I have noted before, Nazdratenko, accused of looting his region's budget and crippling its industry, was promoted to head the State Fisheries Committee. In China, a governor charged with such crimes would be shot. I am not arguing for the instigation of firing squads to settle accounts (Russia has seen enough of that). But the different responses are instructive.

So are the differences in how business is done. In Dalian, hundreds of businesspeople from throughout China showed up at a recent banquet for New York businessmen, thrusting cards and brochures into the hands of the Americans. An hour later, the hall was empty.

Vladivostok would have been more gracious. Such visitors would have been treated to hours of bliny and caviar, of vodka toasts, of long soaks in the sauna. Awakening with blazing heads, the foreigners would think, "Ah, at last I have experienced the soul of Russia." But when it came time to do business, they would be invited to hand over suitcases full of cash that would vanish into bank accounts in the Bahamas.

And imagine drawing Colonel Sanders for a cabbie in Vladivostok. Most likely, he would respond with a blank stare. Or perhaps he would giggle, speed you through the streets, and deposit you at a monument to another goateed innovator: Vladimir Lenin.