Ugly Truth: Long live the Party!

Excerpt from Stone’s Paper ” From Peaceful Evolution to Harmonious Cooperation”

Despite the growing rhetoric that the Chinese Communist Party may not survive the suddenly slowed economy,  disruptive regime change in the short term is unlikely for the following reasons:

  • Chinese government’s tightened control of media and speech

The Great Firewall of China has been upgrading itself and many VPNs went down recently, making it more difficult to access blocked websites from China. Cracking down on famous public opinion leaders, or “big verified” Weibo (China’s twitter-like website) users, and requiring Weibo users to be registered with ID verification, censoring tweets and comments, are all signs of tightened control on the internet, with the aim of controlling new media and public opinions.[1]

       In addition, the new Draft of Internet Security Law proposes to “authorize restricting internet access by provincial governments,” invoking the need for “national security and social order, disposing major breaking security events.”[2] Such regulation is in place to stop people from rallying up through the Internet and therefore cutting down significant possibility for people to organize any large-scale demonstration.

 

  • More centralized power by President Xi and he’s definitely not Gorbachev.

Since sworn into office, President Xi has been consolidating powers through anti-corruption campaigns among other measures. Record high number and level of government officials have been charged with corruption and incarcerated.

 

With most political rivals are gone, some optimistic analysts predict that Xi will probably restart political forms. I believe, however, he is a firm believer in ruling with “communism faith,” and has no intention to implement anything remotely resembling western democracy. Xi warned that the collapse of Soviet Union is due to “political corruption, heresy of ideas and unfaithful military.”[3] There has also been report that he called former Soviet Union officials, “none are a man.” Apparently, when faced with similar situation with Soviet Union, he will definitely “man up.” Any fantasy that Xi will be China’s Gorbachev is just wishful thinking.

 

  • Slowed down yet still robust economic growth, aimed for better economy quality and structure

Many analysts believe CCP’s legitimacy lies in China’s fast growing economy, so if economy is not as strong as before, it’s a good sign that the ruling party’s legitimacy is at question. Such simplistic reasoning fails to recognize the economy is not the only thing that holds China together and it fails to see the bigger picture, China’s strategic goal of economic reform.

 

Long-term economic growth is a science and Premier Li Keqiang, a doctor in economics, surely understands the drivers behind it. With the diminishing rate of return of capital, China cannot sustain its decades long fast economic growth with high investment, overdependence on export, and over-expenditure by government. He and his expert team understand that in the new economy, the ultimate drivers for long-term growth are human capital, technological advances, innovations, as well as better governance and institution. So his reforms are not investment driven, rather, his focus is on restructuring of economy. The size of economy is not so important as the quality of it, and to grow economy is not so important as HOW you grow it. The restructuring process, as many economists would agree that, in the short-run one would expect slower growth in terms of GDP, as the policy goal is to make actual growth rate close to “potential output.” You have to cut down government expenditure, and you have to use less investment stimulus. Only that could China transform its economy achieve sustainable long-term economic growth, which will be driven by innovation and technologies, better governance and more educated workforce.

 

His government reform toward “big society and small government” is also inline with his strategic goals to build better institutions for stronger long-term economic growth.

By only reading short-term GDP as an indicator of Chinese economy, one may misjudge the healthiness of Chinese economy, and hence reach doubtful conclusions.

 

  • People’s inertia for change and psychological dependence on authoritarian regime and idols

     Throughout history, China was ruled under one emperor after another. Unlike the West, which has its democratic root dating back to ancient Greece, China today is still struggling with the rule of law. Often conquered and ruled by powerful ethnic groups such as Mongolians and Manchurians in the past, many Chinese believe in power and authority. Ruling since 1949, to a large extent, has depended on “personality cult” and nationalism. People are used to having a strong leader, telling them what to do. Many subconsciously cannot even distinguish “state, government, and the party.” The fact that Putin has so many fans in China shows many Chinese people’s longings for such a strong national leader. It has been reported in a recent poll that in consecutive six years, Chinese favorability of Putin has been consistently high at about 90%.[4]      

In addition, the scare tactics of the ruling party, as mentioned earlier, also play an important role in people’s reluctance to change.

 

  • Last but not least, more people support from fighting corruption

Xi is arguably the most powerful and supported leader in China since Mao.[5] Many Chinese hail his strong crackdown on corruption. He has the highest approval rating among world leaders both internationally and domestically. In a Harvard survey, Xi ranks highest at 94.8% and 93.8% respectively in confidence that citizens have in their leader’s handling of domestic and international affairs.[6]

 

Research also suggests that Chinese are still much more concerned about corruption and inequality than democracy. Therefore, even though there has been little political reform, people become quite contented if they see the government is seriously fighting corruption.[7] CCP’s support rating should therefore also be at record high. The research finding is consistent with many watchers’ observations and intuitive experience living in China. In fact, no one that I personally know has ever publicly or privately questioned Xi’s effectiveness in fighting corruption, including many government officials. While some may question Xi’s political motivation, no one can deny that average Chinese people applaud Xi as a strongman. Democracy, for many Chinese, is nice to have, but not an imperative demand on their list, certainly not something many would die for yet.

 

[1] CHRIS BUCKLEY, “Crackdown On Bloggers Is Mounted By China”, New York Times, September 11, 2013, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20130911/c11weibo/en-us/

[2] 全国人大,”网络安全法(草案)全文”,第五十条 因维护国家安全和社会公共秩序,处置重大突发社会安全事件的需要,国务院或者省、自治区、直辖市人民政府经国务院批准,可以在部分地区对网络通信采取限制等临时措施。

http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/xinwen/lfgz/flca/2015-07/06/content_1940614.htm

[3] “中共忧苏联解体重演”, South China Morning Post, November 21, 2013, “在今年初的一次内部讲话中,习近平告诫党内官员,称中国必须从苏联解体吸取「深刻教训」,并指苏共倒台的根源在于政治腐败、异端思想和军队不忠”

http://www.nanzao.com/sc/national/14c3151606a90d1/zhong-gong-you-su-lian-jie-ti-chong-yan

[4] “北京太软了 普京在中国人气经久不衰” Boxun News, May 27, 2014, http://www.boxun.com/news/gb/intl/2014/05/201405271205.shtml#.Vcg9chOqqko

[5] MICHAEL FORSYTHE, “Q. and A.: Roderick MacFarquhar on Xi Jinping’s High-Risk Campaign to Save the Communist Party”, New York Times, JANUARY 30, 2015 7:16 AM

[6] Tony Saich, “Reflections on a Survey of Global Perceptions of International Leaders and World Powers”, Harvard Kennedy School, December 2014

http://ash.harvard.edu/files/survey-global-perceptions-international-leaders-world-powers.pdf

[7] Cheng Dingding, “Sorry, America: China Is NOT Going to Collapse”, The National Interest, March 10, 2015. The author mentioned his survey data that suggest Chinese demand for democracy weakens quickly when government does its job fighting corruption. Actual data analysis was not presented in the article.

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