China’s Future a Dictator’s Dilemma: Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival


China’s Communist authorities fretting about potentially “subversive” civil society groups — such as rights lawyers and labor activists — have a new red flag: the upcoming birthday of former president Jiang Zemin, The Financial Times reports:

Although frail as he turns 90 on Wednesday, the former president is regarded as a political threat by incumbent Xi Jinping who, ahead of a second term in office, is preparing for a large turnover of senior officials late next year. That, together with a desire to quash nostalgia for the more liberal 1990s, has prompted the crackdown.

“Xi wants to promote his own people,” says Willy Lam at Hong Kong’s Chinese University. “He has pulled out all the stops to prevent Jiang and members of his clique from interfering.”

A reader of two “convincing” books on China can only conclude that the Chinese regime is like Schrödinger’s cat, alive and dead at the same time, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. The one truth both authors accept is that China’s quest for a workable political system is ongoing, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

Based on urban surveys and focus groups, Dickson’s book finds strong levels of trust in and support for the Chinese government. Dickson teases out how these attitudes are affected by the regime’s nimble use of various tools: repression, propaganda, economic performance, controlled channels for complaints, limited toleration of civil society groups, and the co-optation of ambitious young people by the Communist Party. To be sure, the regime may be digging its own grave by promoting economic growth, since modernization tends to make citizens less deferential. But the process of attitudinal change is slow and counterbalanced by patriotic sentiments and a cultural commitment to order and harmony. Dickson doubts the regime will be forced to democratize anytime soon.

Shambaugh argues that China made a wrong turn a few years ago toward hard authoritarianism. Instead of responding to its many economic, social, and ecological challenges with the rule of law, accountability, and reform, the party has doubled down on vacuous propaganda and repression. It is beset by corruption, slack discipline, and a loss of self-confidence. He acknowledges that the decline may be slow and could be reversed, and that the outcome will not necessarily be democracy, since the regime has stamped out democratic alternatives. But the party will eventually lose its grip on power if it does not undertake fundamental political reform.


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