Friday, April 24, 2015

China:The Four Futures.....

Youwei writes in the Council on Foreign Relatins internal magazine Foreign Affairs:

Since the start of its post-Mao reforms in the late 1970s, the communist regime in China has repeatedly defied predictions of its impending demise. The key to its success lies in what one might call “authoritarian adaptation”—the use of policy reforms to substitute for fundamental institutional change. Under Deng Xiaoping, this meant reforming agriculture and unleashing entrepreneurship. Under Jiang Zemin, it meant officially enshrining a market economy, reforming state-owned enterprises, and joining the World Trade Organization. Under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, it meant reforming social security. Many expect yet another round of sweeping reforms under Xi Jinping—but they may be disappointed....

One reason for the loss of steam is that most easy reforms have already been launched. Revamping agriculture, encouraging entrepreneurship, promoting trade, tweaking social security—all these have created new benefits and beneficiaries while imposing few costs on established interests. What is left are the harder changes, such as removing state monop­olies in critical sectors of the economy, privatizing land, giving the National People’s Congress power over fiscal issues, and establishing an independent court system. Moving forward with these could begin to threaten the hold of the Chinese Communist Party on power, something that the regime is unwilling to tolerate.

Another reason for the loss of steam is the formation of an increasingly strong antireform bloc. Few want to reverse the reforms that have already taken place, since these have grown the pie dramatically. But many in the bureaucracy and the elite more generally would be happy with the perpetuation of the status quo, because partial reform is the best friend of crony capitalism.

In today’s China, Big Brother is everywhere. The domestic security net is as strong yet as delicate as a spider web, as omnipresent yet as shapeless as water. People smart enough to avoid politics entirely will not even feel it. Should they cross the line, however, the authorities of this shadow world would snap into action quickly. Official overreaction is a virtue, not a vice: “chopping a chicken using the blade for a cow,” as the saying goes, is fully approved, the better to prevent trouble from getting out of hand.

China faces four possible futures. In the first, which the party favors, the country would become a “Singapore on steroids,” as the China expert Elizabeth Economy has written. If the anticorruption campaign is thorough and sustainable, a new party might be born, one that could govern China with efficiency and benevolence. Policy reforms would continue, the country’s economic potential would be unleashed, and the resulting productivity and progress would boost the new party’s legitimacy and power.

The second and most likely future, at least in the short term, is a continuation of the status quo. Whatever problems it has, the regime’s current model of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is not exhausted. From demographics to urbanization to globalization to the revolution in information technology, the structural factors that have facilitated China’s rise are still present and will continue to operate for some years to come, and the regime can continue to benefit from them.

[T]he third possible future: democratization through a crisis. Such an outcome would not be pretty. With the country’s economy damaged and political demands soaring, conflicts could intensify rather than subside, and several time bombs planted by the current regime (a demographic crisis, environmental devastation, ethnic tensions) could eventually explode, making matters worse. The result might be the reemergence of some form of authoritarianism as the country recoiled from democratic disorder.

A fourth scenario—controlled and sequenced democratization... is...unlikely....

As for outsiders, what they can do is limited. External pressure tends to ignite defensive nationalism rather than indigenous liberalism. For a country with China’s size and history, democratization will have to emerge from within. But the fact that the world’s most powerful countries tend to be liberal democracies creates a strong ideological pull—and so the best way for the West to help China’s eventual political evolution is to remain strong, liberal, democratic, and successful itself.


  1. Not that I recommend it, but my favorite instance of "authoritarian adaptation" was Volcker's simulation of natural interest rates (sky high) that killed stagflation.

    On another subject, I hope to God that Nuland doesn't try to foment a color revolution in China.

  2. "External pressure tends to ignite defensive nationalism rather than indigenous liberalism."

    Well put. Should be applied to all countries, states, cities, neighborhoods, etc.