“China is simply not turning out as many had expected and have worked so long and hard to realize — a liberal China,” notes David Shambaugh, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.
“That has been, I would argue, the underlying operative assumption of American policy ever since the 1980s. It sounds simplistic, perhaps naïve, but the United States has been working towards that end for several decades,” he tells The New York Times:
There are many other reasons for the recent disenchantment as well: problems that the foreign business community is experiencing, China’s expanding military power, island-building and militarization in the South China Sea, its diplomatic truculence, crackdown on NGOs and religion, pressure on Hong Kong and other negative trends. Taken together with the illiberal orientation of the regime, this has caused a real disenchantment with China in the U.S…..
I’ve been experiencing China firsthand for 37 consecutive years and have lived there several times as well. Many of these were very good years, particularly during the 1980s. The situation in China today is definitely similar to 1989-92, right after Tiananmen [the 1989 military crackdown on protests in Beijing]. But it’s not as bad as it was then. I lived in Beijing then. The city was under martial law, and the repression was far greater than now. But it is trending in that direction today.
Xi Jinping’s often-stated goal of the “great rejuvenation” is taking his country in radical and risky new directions, argues FT analyst Gideon Rachman:
The Communist party still resolutely rejects any move towards democratic elections as unsuitable for China. Instead, the country’s leaders have relied on rapid economic growth to give the political system a “performance legitimacy”, which party theorists have argued is far deeper than the mandate endowed by a democratic election. But a faltering economy — or, worse, a financial crisis — could well undermine the party’s legitimacy.
When it comes to politics, in the post-Mao era the Communist party has sought a middle path between dictatorship and democracy. The idea was to embrace a collective style of government, with smooth transitions of leadership managed by the party itself. …. Xi has broken with this model. He is now widely said to be the most powerful leader of China since Mao.
Authoritarian resilience has always been an illusion, analyst Mo Zhixu argued in a recent issue of China Change:
Before Shambaugh, Andrew Nathan wrote in 2009 in “Authoritarian Impermanence”: “The most likely form of transition for China remains the model of Tiananmen.” I’ve noticed that more and more political scientists have been expressing similar views. For example, in “The Twilight of Communist Party Rule in China,” published in the November 2015 issue of The American Interest, the Chinese-American political scientist Minxin Pei wrote: “The Communist Party’s post-Tiananmen survival strategy is exhausted, and its new strategy is likely accelerating the party’s demise.” Mainstream western scholars have indeed changed their views on the future prospects for Chinese Communist rule.
The massive reform package unveiled at the Third Plenum in 2013 is largely stillborn. There are various reasons for this. Unlike 1992, the regime cannot just flick a switch and unleash a new wave of economic reforms. That is going to require political reform — significant and sustained political reform and liberalization. Unless the Communist Party does this — and I see near-zero possibility as long as Xi Jinping is in power — the qualitative economic reforms outlined at the Third Plenum will never be achieved.
“The key variable in China’s future is political. The Communist Party must learn how to share power in order to maintain its power,” Shambaugh tells The Times. “Political hegemony is a certain recipe for relative economic stagnation, increasingly acute social stresses and accelerated political decline of the regime and system.”
At The New York Times, Emily Feng and Edward Wong talk to the Australian National University’s Ben Hillman and Columbia University’s Gray Tuttle, editors of “Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Xinjiang and Tibet: Unrest in China’s West.” They discuss restrictions on researchers’ access to the two regions, geographical and demographic patterns of unrest, the influence of news coverage and social media, the government’s conflation of legitimate protest with terrorism or separatism, and their pessimism regarding the fulfillment of official promises that might alleviate tensions.
Recent repressive laws demonstrate an unwillingness to embrace the lessons of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, says the Uyghur Human Rights Project:
Instead of listening to the legitimate grievances of the Chinese people, Xi Jinping’s government has adopted a number of laws curbing a wide range of freedoms. UHRP believes such restrictions only escalate tensions and do not generate stability.
“Xi Jinping is acting in the same repressive manner as his predecessors in 1989,” said UHRP Director Alim Seytoff. “He believes enacting authoritarian laws that curb fundamental human rights will stem the calls from across China for genuine and meaningful participation in the political system. His motivation is to keep the party, himself and his associates in power and not to serve the interests of Chinese citizens.”