The architect of China’s authoritarian power structure realized that it had “one glaring weak point” that is now raising fundamental questions about the system’s stability and direction, says a leading analyst.
Deng Xiaoping knew that the problem of how to ‘institutionalize succession” was the Achilles Heel of Communist rule, writes Perry Link – “Who appoints the person at the very top — where by definition there is no superior to do the appointing?”
Now, the current leadership transition is raising “deeper questions about luxian, the ‘general direction’ in which China should be headed,” he argues in Foreign Policy:
The distinguished Chinese novelist and blogger Wang Lixiong, noting that Hu’s apparent successor Xi Jinping is allied with the Jiang camp, has written a shrewd analysis of Deng’s long-term plan: Two elite groups, one originating with Jiang and the other with Hu, will exchange 10-year periods of center stage while the other waits in the wings. Each group — knowing that the other will get a turn later — will have an incentive to be civil. With luck, long-term stability will result.
The normally smooth succession process has been rocked by the elite’s removal of rising neo-Maoist Bo Xilai, a dispute that brings the ruling party to a fork in the road or at least “two main possibilities” for China’s political trajectory, writes Link, professor emeritus of East Asian studies at Princeton University, who teaches at the University of California, Riverside:
One is the emergence of a new core of authoritarian power. Many who have this possibility in mind look to China’s military, but the question is deeper than that, and the pattern could emerge from a number of sources. There is a centuries-old tradition in Chinese political culture of the following combination as a formula for gaining and holding political power: a charismatic leader, a millenarian (and often egalitarian) ideology, and an authoritarian bureaucratic hierarchy that guards secrets. …..
The other “general direction” would be a move toward modern democratic rule, including elections of officials, civil rights for citizens, and rule of law. The greatest challenge for China’s democratization is how to bring together two levels: an elite of pro-democracy intellectuals, people like the writers and supporters of Charter 08 (a group that includes imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo), and hundreds of millions of ordinary people who have been angered by corruption, inequality, injustice, and environmental destruction. China’s rulers’ huge expenditure on “stability maintenance,” which includes hired thugs and Internet monitors in addition to conventional police and prisons, have brought them considerable success in keeping these two levels separate.
The Chinese are trying to transform their economy from one reliant on exports and massive internal investment into one supported by consumer spending. They’re trying to do this amid rampant signs the economy is slowing down, and at the same time as they complete a once-a-decade transfer of leadership within the Communist Party. The last thing they want is focus on something like Tiananmen.
It’s proving impossible. The Chinese are buzzing over todays’ 64.89 point drop in the Shanghai Composite Index. In China, 64 is like 9/11 in the U.S., because June 4, 1989, is the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It also happens to be today’s date.
The Chinese responded predictably, banning any online searches or references to the Shanghai, or to Tiananmen or the massacre. No matter. The people found ways around the ban, quoting a 9th Century poet, for example, or arranging candles in a 6 and 4. Or just writing “say nothing,” as one person did. “Everyone understands.”
The issues of human rights, freedom, and crashing economies aren’t new, but they aren’t usually all found within the world’s second-largest economy, and how China deals with them will have quite an effect on the rest of the world.
China Digital Times is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.