Thursday, March 12, 2015

China’s Leaders: Still “Riding the Tiger”

"He who rides the tiger finds it difficult to dismount" (騎虎難下).

--Chinese Proverb

While China’s economy expands, its authoritarian political system remains the country’s chief weakness. China’s leaders continue to “ride the tiger,” the human resource-based economy burdened by the master on its back. As this blog and many others have wondered, “for how long?”

David Shambaugh is a China expert at George Washington University and the Brookings Institution. He recently wrote:
The Chinese have a proverb, "waiying, neiruan" (外英內軟) — hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Xi [Jinping] is a genuinely tough ruler. He exudes conviction and personal confidence. But this hard personality belies a party and political system that is extremely fragile on the inside.
Shambaugh offered five signs of weakness confronting China’s leaders:
  • China’s economic elites have one foot out the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble. 
  • The Party’s “Document No. 9” has ordered all units to ferret out Western “universal values”—constitutional democracy, civil society, a free press and neoliberal economics. 
  • Party loyalists are going through the motions. It is hard to miss the theater of false pretense that permeates the Chinese body politic. 
  • Corruption is rooted in the single-party system, patron-client networks, an economy lacking transparency, state-controlled media, and the absence of “rule of law.” Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is a selective purge that takes out his enemies (as suggested here). 
  • Xi’s economic reform package is challenging powerful, entrenched interests—state-owned enterprises and local party cadres—and they are blocking implementation. 
 One party rule isn’t working in China, damaging the economy and threatening to devour its leaders.

Shambaugh concludes,
political controls [prevent China from becoming] an innovative society and a “knowledge economy.”. .The political system has become the primary impediment to China’s needed social and economic reforms. If Xi and party leaders don’t relax their grip, they may be summoning precisely the fate they hope to avoid. . . The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is the world’s second-longest ruling regime (behind only North Korea), and no party can rule forever.
We all, outsiders and the Chinese people who give China its prosperity, root for the tiger.

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