[C-POL] 150331 (Matthews Asia/Rothman) The Coming Chinese Crackup? (in response to Shambaugh’s WSJ op-ed)
Andy Rothman, a U.S. diplomat focused on China through the 1990s, worked after 2000 as a China macroeconomic analyst/investment analyst for CLSA and now Matthews Asia. The following piece, published at the Matthews Asia site, is his response to David Shambaugh. Don K
The Coming Chinese Crackup?
March 31, 2015
As head of the China Policy Program at The George Washington University, Shambaugh is a respected analyst of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affairs, so his WSJ op-ed, “The Coming Chinese Crackup,” has received much attention. This op-ed is also a big departure from Shambaugh’s earlier view of China’s prospects.
In his 2008 book, “China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation,” Shambaugh was fairly sanguine about the country’s prospects:
“The central conclusion of this study, however, is that the CCP is adapting fairly (but not entirely) effectively to meet many of these challenges, has learned the negative lessons of other failed communist party-states, and is proactively attempting to reform and rebuild itself institutionally—thereby sustaining its political legitimacy and power. Whether the CCP can continue to make the necessary reforms is, of course, an open question. So far, so good—but this is no guarantee of continued success.”
In the WSJ commentary, Shambaugh wrote “times change in China, and so must our analyses. . . We cannot predict when Chinese communism will collapse, but it is hard not to conclude that we are witnessing its final phase.”
Continued Strong Economic Growth
But Shambaugh’s argument is flawed, especially when he looks at the health of the Chinese economy, which he describes as “stuck in a series of systemic traps from which there is no easy exit.” He doesn’t elaborate, but it’s important to note that real (inflation-adjusted) income rose about 8% last year (compared to about 2% in the U.S.), while wages for migrant workers, who move from China’s countryside to staff the nation’s urban factories and construction sites, rose by almost 10%. As a result, consumer spending remained very healthy, with real retail sales up almost 11% (vs. 2% in the U.S.).
China’s GDP growth has been slowing. But because the base on which last year’s 7.4% calculation was made was more than 300% bigger than the base from a decade ago (when growth was 10.1%), the incremental increase in the size of China’s GDP last year was 100% bigger than the increase at the faster speed 10 years ago.
Shambaugh notes that economic reforms proposed by Party Chief Xi Jinping “are sputtering on the launchpad.” And he adds, “Yes, consumer spending has been rising, red tape has been reduced, and some fiscal reforms have been introduced, but overall, Mr. Xi’s ambitious goals have been stillborn.” By my reckoning, however, there appears to be more of the steady, gradual structural change that impressed Shambaugh in the past.
China continued to rebalance and restructure its economy last year. Consumption contributed more to GDP growth than did investment, as was the case in 2011 and 2012. The tertiary sector (services, retail and wholesale trade in addition to finance and real estate) was larger than the secondary sector (manufacturing and construction), as was the case in 2013.
The most important “rebalancing” is the shift toward an economy that is driven by private sector entrepreneurs, and away from the model of an economy led by state-owned enterprises. Last year, state firms accounted for 32% of total fixed asset investment, down from a 58% share in 2004. Investment by private companies has grown faster than that by state firms in 59 of the past 60 months, which should lead to far better investment decisions.
I expect this reform process to continue, in part because China’s leaders have no choice. They must continue to improve the operating environment for private firms, which account for about 80% of all urban employment and almost all new job creation. I have modest expectations, however, for further progress on the reform of state firms, as the government remains concerned about job losses.
Elite Fleeing, or Trying to Get Their Children into UC Berkeley?
Additional evidence cited by Shambaugh in support of his view is that “China’s economic elites have one foot out the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble.” He references a Hurun Report survey that found that 64% of 393 “millionaires” polled said they were either leaving China or planned to do so. But is this evidence of an impending crisis in China?
According to the Hurun Report, those rich Chinese said, “education is their main reason for considering migrating. Fees are one factor: in many countries, tuition fees for foreign and domestic students are different; thus over a number of years, the cost of emigration evens itself out. Another factor is the rapid fall in the average age at which children go abroad to study: many parents have realized that if children leave home too early, this can have a negative impact on their development. Therefore they want the whole family, or at least the mother, to accompany their children when they go abroad.”
While this reflects significant problems with China’s education system, it does not signal that the political system is crumbling. Moreover, while I don’t have hard data, my anecdotal experience is that rich Chinese who establish a second home in the U.S. to facilitate their kids’ education have not abandoned China; they have continued to run their businesses in China while pursuing their dream of their children graduating from a prestigious American university.
And, according to the data, many of those Chinese students will eventually return home, in large part because of the job opportunities in China. In 2013, 414,000 Chinese students went abroad to study, while 354,000 returned to China. The Ministry of Education estimates that since 1978, about three-quarters of Chinese students and scholars who went abroad returned to China.
Political Repression and Corruption are Real Problems . . .
Greater political repression by President Xi Jinping is another reason Shambaugh cites for his new pessimism, noting that “a more secure and confident government would not institute such a severe crackdown.” I agree that during his first two years as Party chief, Xi has further reduced the already very limited space for even modest political dissent, and it probably does reflect “deep anxiety and insecurity,” as Shambaugh notes. This is very troubling and, over time, must be improved, but is this a sign that China is closer to a “breaking point?”
. . . But Chinese are Fairly Content with Their Lives
Shambaugh accurately cites corruption as a major problem, which he says not only “riddles the party-state and the military” but “also pervades Chinese society as a whole.” Data from interviews of more than 3,000 Chinese in 2014 by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, however, found people pretty content, despite strong concerns about corruption. Fifty-nine percent of respondents described themselves as highly satisfied with their lives, compared to an emerging markets median of 50%, and 65% in the U.S., 47% in South Korea and 43% in Japan. Sixty-four percent of high-income Chinese said they are happy (72% in the U.S.), while 50% of low-income Chinese agreed (56% in the U.S.).
More interesting, especially in the context of Shambaugh’s recent pessimism, the share of Chinese reporting that they are highly satisfied with their lives has risen from 23% in a 2002 Pew survey to 33% in 2007, and 59% last year. And 68% of Chinese told Pew that they are optimistic that their standards of living will improve in the coming five years.
Rule of Law is a Significant Long-term Challenge
Shambaugh accurately calls out the absence of the rule of law as a serious shortcoming. Again, the questions we should ask are, how likely is this to trigger regime collapse, and what are the prospects for change?
In a November 2014 issue of Sinology titled “A Missed Opportunity,” I explained that:
I am optimistic about China’s medium-term economic prospects, within the context of expecting gradually slower year-on-year growth rates. This optimism is based in large part on the continuing evolution of government policy designed to embrace private enterprise and markets. My biggest concern, however, is that there has been little parallel evolution in China’s governance and institutions.
China’s economy and society are increasingly based on property rights: private companies employ 80% of the workforce, create almost all new jobs and are responsible for most investment and industrial sales; entrepreneurs and artists are creating new intellectual property daily; 85% of urban families own their home; and farmers have land-use rights. Yet the country lacks the rule of law, which is needed to effectively protect these property rights and ensure a fair, rules-based commercial environment.
This is already the source of many of problems. Corruption, weakness in industries dependent on intellectual property rights and the widespread theft of land from farmers—the main cause of protests across the country—are all consequences of the lack of rule of law.
My conclusion was that:
In the near term, China can continue to thrive, as people find ways to navigate corruption and the opaque system, and as the Party works to reduce interference in the legal system by local officials. But as the pace of economic growth inevitably slows over the coming decades, China’s unique form of authoritarian capitalism is unlikely to provide the necessary institutional support for a modern, market-based society.
There are, at this moment, no signs that the Party is preparing to establish the rule of law. The Party appears to want to continue to use the legal system to exercise its political control over the population, rather than to move toward a system that is designed primarily to protect the rights of individuals by limiting the government’s power.
We do need to acknowledge, however, that back in the mid-1980s, when I first worked in China, it was not apparent that the Party was prepared to significantly relax its control over people’s daily lives. But, a decade later, the Party stopped telling its citizens where to live and what to farm. In the mid-1990s, we did not expect the Party to dramatically shrink the state sector and pave the way for private firms to become the engine of growth. Private home ownership was not on the horizon. Today, most urban Chinese work for private companies and own their homes.
During the past two decades, the Party has surprised in many ways. It has taken a path that is unique among authoritarian regimes: relaxing day-to-day control over people’s lives and commercial activities while strengthening the Party’s control over the political and legal systems. This is a key reason why the Chinese Communist Party has outlived other authoritarian regimes. Constant, pragmatic reform of economic policy is also why GDP growth averaged 10% for two decades before cooling to an average of 8% over the last four years.
Establishing the rule of law would require the Party to take another unique and dramatic step: to cede to its citizens some of the Party’s control over the political and legal systems. Failure to take this step is not a short-term risk for investors, but I believe it will be key to China’s economic prospects over the next 10 to 20 years.
In his 2008 book, Shambaugh wrote that as China becomes richer, one of the principal lessons it should learn from the USSR and Eastern Europe is that “the task of government increasingly is to provide a range of core public goods—health care, safety, education, environmental protection, social welfare, and so on—to the population.” Party leaders appear to understand this, and while public services remain very weak relative to the developed world, Beijing has directed serious money into those tasks. Over the last five years, for example, government spending on health care and education rose by more than 100%. An even faster pace of investment in hard infrastructure such as power, roads and subways is well documented.
I’m Sticking with the 2008 Version
Back in 2008, Shambaugh wrote: “One-party states can indeed remain in power for long periods of time, and they possess a variety of tools and tactics to do so. The ‘end of history’ is not inevitable.” However, in his more recent op-ed, he changed tack with: “We cannot predict when Chinese communism will collapse, but it is hard not to conclude that we are witnessing its final phase. The CCP is the world’s second-longest ruling regime (behind only North Korea), and no party can rule forever.” For me, his original arguments remain more aligned with the continued progress I see underway in China.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I sincrely hope that the days of Mao style personalty cult is over forever!
Xi Jinping’s Sayings Now Available in ‘Little Red App’
By AUSTIN RAMZY APRIL 3, 2015 2:48 AM April 3, 2015 2:48 am 2 Comments
President Xi Jinping of China is the model of a modern multimedia leader. He has appeared in cartoons, been praised in song, had his travels tracked by a very dedicated Weibo account, and had his book on governance translated into at least nine languages.
So an app was obviously next.
Created by a website run by the Central Party School of the Communist Party, the new, free app offers intensive lessons on Mr. Xi. It has 12 features including texts of his speeches and books, news reports, analyses from experts and a map that traces his travels.
“Everyone who uses this app can find their own interests,” Chen Jiancai, an editor with the app, told The Beijing News.
Anyone expecting Fruit Ninja-style fun, like a game where players blast corrupt officials, for instance, will be disappointed. The app is dutifully serious, combining the excitement of watching state television news with the pleasures of reading commentaries on deepening reform.
The app is called 学习中国 (Xuexi Zhongguo), which translates directly as “Study China,” but it is also a play on Mr. Xi’s surname, and can mean “Study Xi’s China.”
Some have already dubbed it the “Little Red App,” a reference to the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao’s sayings. While the enthusiasm for Mr. Xi is a far cry from Mao’s cult of personality, the app is another reflection of how the Communist Party is promoting China’s leader with an intensity that hasn’t been seen in decades.
my friend Peter Hessler’s piece in the New Yorker. Enjoyable and insightful as always.
I’ve just returned from US where I attened the annual Asian Studies Conference in Chicago. It’s an annual gathering of acedemics engaged in Asian Studies. This year, since they had some extra funds, they decided to invite a couple of journalists. Chris Buckey, a big shot New York Times correspondent and myself – one of the few Chinese writing in English for international publication, were invited. I took it as an honour.
Although I give speeches frequently, I was nervous about this one because I don’t have the acedemic langague and I faced an audience with finest minds, some of who have conducted Chinese studies for years. in the end, all went well and poeple came to congratulate me for doing a good job.
see attached my presentaiton.
Dark Days for Women in China – my thoughts on the detention of the five feminists, published in ChinaFilePosted: March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized
Friday, March 20, 2015 – 4:18pm
Although China’s revolution significantly improved women’s position in society, it ultimately failed to balance the power between men and women. The social transformation, no matter how seemingly dramatic, hasn’t wiped out the male chauvinism so deeply rooted in our culture that it leads to gender asymmetry.
Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up policy also caused setbacks for women as the government surrendered some of its responsibilities to the market.
In the past three decades, the income gap between men and women has widened. The latest official statistics suggest that urban women make income that is only 67.3% of what urban men make. Women in the countryside make only 56% of what men make.
Female graduates have a much harder time finding employment—especially now that jobs are no longer assigned by the government. Maoist style equality has been replaced in the workplace by open sexism. On China’s many employment websites, one often can spot job advertisements that exclude women for no good reason or specifically request good-looking women. One salesperson’s position demands “a pretty woman with height no less than 1.7 meters.” Such blatant discrimination occurs because people think it is perfectly alright to assign work on the basis of gender.
Some private companies try to avoid employing women of child-bearing age and sometimes sack them once they become pregnant. It is feared that the relaxed family planning policy which allows only children to have a second child may make some companies even less willing to hire young women.
Women’s representation in all social activities has decreased in the reform era as state support and intervention has dwindled.
In the face of growing problems Chinese women have started to take the matter into their own hands and are putting up a fight.
Before The Forth Women’s Conference was held in Beijing in 1995, there were no autonomous NGOs in China. There was only All-China Women’s Federation, an umbrella organization with a nationwide network. It is supposedly responsible for promoting the government policies for women and protecting women’s interests and rights.
Inspired by the conference, self-organized women’s NGOs started to emerge, providing legal aid, helping sex workers, or dealing with issues such as domestic violence.
I first met Li Maizi, one of the five detained women, on a bitterly cold day in February 2013, outside the Chaoyang District Court where we both waited anxiously for the verdict of American Kim Lee, who had filed for a divorce against her abusive Chinese husband. Shortly after arrival, Li put on a blood-stained wedding gown. I realized Li was one of the three young activists who had gone out in the Beijing street to protest against domestic violence one year earlier on Valentine’s Day.
In recent years, I’ve noticed increased activism. In 2012, a dozen women in Guangzhou queued in front of a toilet to protest against the lack of public toilets for women. In November 2013, ten university students, wearing giant paper pants over their winter coats, staged a demonstration in front of a local government building in Wuhan, to protest against an invasive gynecological exams imposed on women applying for civil service jobs. Earlier in that year, 20 women across the country shaved their heads, silently expressing their anger against the discrimination in admissions standards at universities. Some universities set higher standards for entrance examination scores for female students. In 2014, I marched for a week in central China with a young feminist friend. She walked all the way from Beijing to Guangzhou, in protest against child sex abuse.
I do believe that such activism has made a difference. Child sex abuse has gained plenty of attention in the media; Guangzhou authorities have promised to build toilets for women and a new comprehensive law against domestic violence will be enacted in August this year, partly thanks to the push by activists such as Li Maizi.
Activism is a sensitive word in China, like any activity that is not sanctioned by the government. More than once, due to her daring acts, Li has been “invited for tea” by authorities. Such intimidation hads’t stopped her.
The latest detention of five activists probably was the reaction of some officials lower in the hierarchy responding to the general political tightening up and lessening tolerance towards dissent in any form. But will these women’s fate put off activism by others? No. Never! More and more young savvy Chinese women have realized that rights will not be bestowed upon them. They’ll have to fight to get them instead.
for the full conversation, please click the link below
Q. and A.: David Shambaugh on the Risks to Chinese Communist Rule
By CHRIS BUCKLEY MARCH 15, 2015 9:00 PM March 15, 2015 9:00 pm 2 Comments
Chinese paramilitary officers marching on Tiananmen Square before the opening session of the National People’s Congress on March 5.Credit How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency
David Shambaugh, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, is one of the United States’ most prominent experts on contemporary China. He has also been prominent in China. His books have been translated and published there, and his views cited in the state media. He was profiled by the overseas edition of People’s Daily, and in January researchers at the China Foreign Affairs University, which comes under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, named him the second-most influential China expert in the United States, behind David M. Lampton at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
David ShambaughCredit Courtesy of David Shambaugh
Hence the intense debate ignited by Prof. Shambaugh’s recent essay in The Wall Street Journal, where he argued that the “endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun” and the Communist Party’s possible “demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent.” Some experts have endorsed his view that China’s outward order and prosperity mask profound risks for the ruling party. Others have argued that the party is more robust, politically and economically, than Prof. Shambaugh asserts. In an interview, he answered some questions raised by his essay:
Several years ago you published a book titled “China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation,” which highlighted the party’s potential to overcome or contain its problems, such as corruption and eroded authority, through learning and adaptation. Your latest assessment of the party’s long-term prospects of surviving in power seems much bleaker. What prompted you to shift your views?
My book on the Communist Party was completed in 2007 and published in 2008. The publication date is important because, as you note, I emphasized in that analysis that the party was taking a number of “adaptive” steps to legitimize, reinstitutionalize and save itself. The book analyzed in detail the reasons for the adaptation — largely the results of the party’s study of the causes of collapse of the Soviet Union and other Leninist states, but also because the party had persons in the top leadership during the period I studied, notably the president and party leader, Jiang Zemin, and his ally Zeng Qinghong, the vice president, who derived the main lesson from the Soviet post-mortem that the party had to be proactive and dynamic in its leadership.
So, the book was mainly about the “adaptation” the party was undertaking. But remember the other word in the subtitle: “atrophy.” The reason that is important is that I argued then, and argue now, that atrophy of late-stage, single-party Leninist, and other authoritarian, states is a normal, natural and ever-present condition. The question is: What do Leninist parties do to cope with the atrophy and stave off inevitable decline? Essentially, they can be reactive and defensive — ruling by repression, in effect — or they can be proactive and dynamic, ruling through opening and trying to guide and manage change. From roughly 2000 through 2008, under Zeng Qinghong’s aegis, the party chose the latter. But in the middle of 2009, after Zeng had retired, it abruptly shifted, in my view.
One can date it very precisely — Sept. 17, 2009 — the day after the Fourth Plenum of the party’s 17th Central Committee closed. That plenum meeting, which was on “party building,” put out a very progressive “decision” basically codifying everything Zeng and the party had been undertaking the previous eight years. I was living in Beijing that year, and when I read it I thought, “Great!”
But it was not to be. The party had, in fact, already grown very nervous during the previous spring and summer with riots in Tibet and Xinjiang. So, my guess is that the Plenum document was a kind of summary of previous years’ reforms, but had to be released because it had been in preparation for nearly a year and it was difficult to publicly announce that the party was going to reverse course, turn towards harsh repression and abandon the proactive political reforms. But that is what happened.
I have my theories about why they reversed course, essentially having to do with the coming together of strong bureaucracies that have a vested interest in control — propaganda, internal security, the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police, state-owned enterprises — what I call the “Iron Quadrangle” — being able to persuade the party general secretary, Hu Jintao, who no longer had to deal with Zeng Qinghong, that the party was losing control if it did not crack down and get better control over a variety of spheres. There were other factors as well, but in Chinese politics bureaucratic explanations are usually important. There is also big money in repression. Those bureaucracies’ budgets all ballooned as a result.
So, there has been a shift in my views of China and of the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy and tactics of rule — simply because China and the party changed! No China watcher can remain wed to arguments that have lost their empirical basis. I have, in fact, been speaking publicly, teaching and publishing along these lines for the past five years. I am the first one who would applaud a return to Zeng Qinghong-like political reform. The party has choices. Repression may be its “default mode,” but it is not its only option. Opening and proactively managing political change is an alternative.
True, if they tried that — again — there is no guarantee that they could keep control of the process and, as in the Soviet Union, the reforms could cascade out of control, and they would fall from power anyway. So, they have a kind of Hobson’s choice or Catch-22. They can repress and bring about their own demise or they can open up and still possibly bring about their own demise.
But it is not quite so simple. That is, even if they lightened up on the repression, the other elements affecting the party, economy and society are already hemorrhaging to the point that they may not be able to reverse or halt the slide. This is where the exodus of the elite and the systemic traps in the economy come in. I would add other factors that are contributing to public discontent with the regime: high levels of social inequality, inadequate provision of public goods, pervasive pollution and stagnating wages along with a slowing economy. For these reasons, this is why I see the “endgame” of the Communist Party as being underway. That said, my views about the protracted process of atrophy and decline of the party are more nuanced than the catchy headline used by The Wall Street Journal.
What has most surprised you about Xi Jinping since he became Communist Party leader in 2012? At the time, you judged that he was likely to be shackled by the influence of rival leaders and party elders. That doesn’t seem to be the case, so far at least.
In most ways I am actually not surprised by Xi Jinping. I was one of the few observers to write at the time of the 18th Party Congress that we should not expect reform from Xi and were likely to get much more of what we had been witnessing since 2009.
I think that judgment has been proven largely correct. The one area where Xi has surprised me, though, is the rapidity with which he has consolidated his own personal power as China’s leader. I expected, like most China watchers at the time, a two-to-three-year protracted process of power consolidation, which clearly has not occurred. But, as I argued in the Wall Street Journal piece, we should not mistake Xi’s personal consolidation of power either with the overall strength of the party or even his own grip on power. I see both as very fragile.
You say that he’s determined not to follow Gorbachev’s fate, and yet he may end up having the same effect as Gorbachev. Could you explain how? We think of Gorbachev as a liberalizing leader who, for better or worse, opened the way to political relaxation in a way that Mr. Xi appears set against. So where do the two leaders’ fates possibly converge?
My argument on this point in the article is very simple: Xi has deep animosity about what Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union with his reforms and has zero interest in pursuing similar reforms, because he thinks that they would lead to the collapse of the party and state. My argument is that he will likely have the same effect by resisting political reforms and by embracing harsh repression. I believe that repression is seriously stressing an already broken system and could well accelerate its collapse. That is why I compared Xi to Gorbachev. Different tactics, same likely result.
In your assessment of the party’s faltering political hold on the population and its own apparatchiks, you describe your experience at a mind-numbingly dull conference where party scholars appeared as bored as you were. But surely they were no less robotic under Hu Jintao? Don’t the broader messages spread by the party, especially under Xi, have some holding power over many people — such as the party’s claim to be the means of national unity and rejuvenation that will bring China prosperity and strength?
What I argued at the end of the article is that: “Looking ahead, China-watchers should keep their eyes on the regime’s instruments of control and on those assigned to use those instruments. … We should watch for the day when the regime’s propaganda agents and its internal security apparatus start becoming lax in enforcing the party’s writ — or when they begin to identify with dissidents. …”
That is future tense — the potential for the regime’s enforcing agents to become lax in their enforcement. I was not arguing that it has already occurred for the propaganda authorities, media, Internet and social media monitors and the Public and State Security apparatchiks. Thus far, these enforcers are showing no such signs of lax enforcement or civil disobedience.
What you seem to refer to are my observations of “intellectuals” in the system and whether their “robotic” behavior — your term but I agree with it — is more pronounced than under Hu Jintao. Yes, I think it is and that there has been a qualitative shift in the more routinized direction since Xi came to power and launched his Mass Line campaign in the summer of 2013.
I participate in several such conferences per year — five in 2014, including three sponsored by Central Committee party organs — and have been doing so for a number of years, so I am in a pretty good position to monitor change over time in the behavior of party “intellectuals” and cadres. I lived there from 2009 to 2010 as well. With the exception of the “national rejuvenation” narrative, I do not find that Xi’s slogans and “broader messages,” as you put it, are resonating with the population. Everyone I talk with in China is not at all “inspired” by the unrelenting tsunami of slogans pouring out of the propaganda system, many attributed to Xi himself.
The national rejuvenation narrative seems to have had greater traction. But I would remind you that virtually every leader of China since the Qing dynasty — Li Hongzhang, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao, Deng and every leader up to Xi – has asserted this meme. So, Xi is hardly unique. To be strong again, and thereby respected in the world, has long been the primary craving of Chinese.
People also seem very put off by the mounting personality cult around Xi and his breaking of the collective and consensual decision-making norm that the Chinese leadership has worked so hard to build and maintain since the days of Mao.
Under Mr. Xi, the party has waged an intense offensive against dissent, independent civic groups and maverick news media, which you note. Why do you expect that will ultimately come back to haunt the party? For the time being, the government appears to have extinguished many sources of potential criticism or opposition with little backlash. Do you expect that to change?
Please see my previous reply about repression stressing the system and the need to carefully watch the enforcer-agents of repression of these sectors. If — and that is if — they begin to get lax in their enforcement, then the party system could all unravel rather quickly. But, for the time being, like you, I see what I describe as the “coercive apparatus” as being quite strong and doing their jobs effectively. It is unfortunate for China, but it is the reality.
What is likely to happen if the party opts for a path of political liberalization? You say that it’s Mr. Xi’s best hope for escaping a crackup, and he could resume the tentative embrace of greater engagement and openness that you say China saw under Jiang Zemin and even Hu Jintao. But party leaders appear convinced that liberalization would stir social demands and pressures that could seal their demise. So, are they damned if they do liberalize, and equally damned if they don’t?
Again, go back to examine what the party was doing circa 2000-2008. A return to that politically reformist path could conceivably be managed by the party, implementing step-by-step, incremental political opening and change without losing control and falling from power. It is not certain, but given what I know about Chinese political culture and society, I think it is a far better option for the party than the default repression option they are currently exercising. So, I am hopeful this might occur.
But, actually, I’m very doubtful it will, because of the way that Xi Jinping, Liu Yunshan — the party leader responsible for ideology and propaganda work — and other senior leaders think about political reform. Still, I would note that Chinese politics since Mao has undergone a series of opening-closing cycles (known in Chinese as fang and shou). Normally the open phases last about five to six years and the closing cycles two to three years. We are currently in year seven of “closing.” An optimist would say that we are well overdue for an opening period! I would like to be optimistic, but my analytical judgment, unfortunately, tells me otherwise.