China’s ruling Communist Party ended its 18th Congress today in a celebratory mood. But observers noted clear signs of dynastic decay among the comrades and clear signs of fragility in an ostensibly robust regime.
“The most important sign that one-party rule is becoming more shaky is the return of the democracy debate. The intellectual recognition that the status quo is unsustainable is always the first and vital step towards changing it,” writes analyst Minxin Pei:
In the Chinese case, this intellectual awakening is driven by powerful trends in the Chinese economy and society. Take, for example, China’s economic performance, which underpins the party’s rule. With its recent slowdown, many people are struggling to identify the causes. One argument that has gained the most influence is that a pernicious form of statist crony-capitalism has metastasised and is killing China’s economy.
Expectations that the party’s sclerotic leadership would embrace democratic reforms proved to be illusory.
“It’s silly to expect China’s new leaders to come up with a reformist blueprint that will be anything other than a reactive attempt to stay on top of demands from below,” says Perry Link, emeritus professor of East Asia studies at Princeton University. “There is no reason at all to think that Xi is going to be the Gorbachev of China.”
The new leadership is also likely to maintain the regime’s increasingly belligerent approach to foreign affairs, says a leading analyst.
“Chinese leaders tend to think of the US as a paper tiger and believe if they show they’re tough on their neighbors and on Washington then that will force everyone to back down,” says Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, co-author of “China’s New Rulers” and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“On foreign policy I expect Xi to continue a policy of promoting a more assertive China on the world stage,” he adds.
Democracy is emerging as “a new Communist Party buzzword. But don’t be fooled,” writes Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations who blogs for Asia Unbound:
Topping Hu’s political wishlist for the next leadership is a desire to root out corruption, a goal of every Chinese leader since 1950. In his speech, Hu warned, “If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the Party and even lead to the collapse of the Party and the fall of the State.” ….Political scholar and activist Li Fan described to me what Hu and his successor Xi Jinping have in mind: intra-party democracy, which means more candidates than positions but only for the Party faithful; and deliberative democracy, which means developing institutions to channel public opinion into the political process through consultation, but not granting any real decision making-power to the people. This is not “democracy” but democracy with Chinese characteristics, all in service of strengthening the Communist Party.
“Based on international experience, the party is likely entering a period of crisis before its ultimate exit from power,” writes Pei:
Since Portugal began its transition to democracy in 1974, roughly 80 countries have made similar transitions from autocracy to varying forms of democracy. To be sure, not all of the transitions have produced high-quality democracies. But the striking fact today is that only a quarter of the countries (48 out of 195) in the world are governed by autocracies. Many factors were responsible for this political revolution. For China, the most relevant are two: failure of one-party rule and the political consequences of economic development.
A one-party regime may be the most sophisticated form of autocracy. But even such regimes cannot avert demise. Because of the rule of “adverse selection” (autocracies attract opportunists and produce progressively weaker leaders due to over-bureaucratisation and risk-aversion), one-party regimes degenerate through organisational decay. While democracies can renew themselves through political “creative destruction”, one-party regimes cannot. That is why the world’s oldest democracies are more than 200 years old while the longest-ruling one-party regime – the Soviet Union – lasted only 74 years. Now at 63 years in power, the CCP will soon be testing that limit.
“One thing we have learnt from transitions to democracy since 1974 is that regimes that initiate change before they totally lose credibility fare far better than those that resist democratisation until the bitter end,” writes Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.
China Digital Times notes that: reporters poured into the Great Hall of the People to hear the long-awaited announcement of who had been named to the Standing Committee, the elite group of men who run the country. While waiting for the press conference to begin, foreign reporters in the room (and those who hadn’t been invited) kept themselves busy on Twitter. First, speculation began over whether seven or nine members would be named to the Standing Committee:Elizabeth Economy@LizEconomy
No reform dream team “@HornbyLucy: No Wang Yang, No Liu Yandong, No Li Yuanchao.
14 Nov 12Nicholas Bequelin ??@Bequelin No signs of policy change on ethnic minority issues: Central Committee has lowest % of ethnic minority ever, + 2 mbrs with career in Tibet.