The right blend of technological innovation and structural reform should allow China to maintain an economic growth rate of about eight percent a year for the next twenty years, the World Bank said today.
“If China wants to keep its high growth rate, it must graduate to making Chinese-designed high-tech and high-value-added products,” writes Minxin Pei:
It will need more innovation, which demands less government control and more intellectual freedom. Most critically, the investment-driven and state-led economic model responsible for China’s rapid growth must give way to a more efficient, consumption-driven, market-oriented model. Such a shift will not be possible without downsizing the state and making the party accountable to the Chinese people.
The notion that the regime can enjoy uninterrupted economic growth is one of five myths about China’s power that dominate Western commentary, he writes. Other misconceptions include the claim that the Communist authorities have bought off the middle class and control the Internet:
There is a world of difference between political apathy and enduring loyalty. At most, the Chinese middle class tolerates the status quo because it is a vast improvement over the totalitarian rule of the past — and because there is no practical or immediate alternative. But as the Arab Spring shows, a single event or a misstep by authoritarian rulers can transform apathetic middle-class citizens into radical revolutionaries. ….The party knows it cannot bank on middle-class support. Such insecurity lies behind its continuing harshness toward political dissent…..
While China’s Internet-filtering technology is more sophisticated and its regulations more onerous than those of other authoritarian regimes, the growth of the nation’s online population (now surpassing 500 million) and technological advances (such as Twitter-style microblogs) have made censorship largely ineffective. The government constantly plays catch-up; its latest effort is to force microbloggers to register with real names. Such regulations often prove too costly to enforce, even for a one-party regime.
The recent popular revolt in Wukan highlighted tensions within the ruling Communist party between reformists and neo-Maoist conservatives, personified in the clash of the populist, leader of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, with Wang Yang, the governor of Guangdong province.
The dispute has led to an interesting, if precarious experiment in local democracy:
“The good thing is Wukan people know exactly what they want. They haven’t been lured by people buying votes. They are focusing on the long term,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian.
There is, nevertheless, plenty of scope for things to go wrong as the new representatives will have to deal with difficult issues such as returning land to villagers and an investigation into the death in police custody in December of a popular village leader. This would likely require punishment of party officials. “Nothing has changed. We have to see if the election process will be able to resolve our complaints,” says one of the more impatient leaders of the December protests.
Meanwhile, one well-connected member of the CPPCC advisory body summed up Mr Wang’s risky endeavour in harsh terms: “If the results are not great, his political career could be over.”