Monday, May 25, 2009

Not News: China & Governance - It's all about Staying in Power

This shouldn't be a shocker to anyone. The Communist Party's grip on power is potentially one bad recession away from slipping away (WSJ):

The China model, although a definite threat to democratic values, is no juggernaut. Its appeal abroad will depend in large part on how the Chinese economy weathers the global downturn, and how any stumbles it might encounter are perceived in the developing world. Back at home, the Party is more frightened of its own citizenry than most outside observers realize. Chinese citizens are increasingly aware of their constitutional rights; a phenomenon that does not fit well with authoritarianism. The Party may win the affection of foreign elites, but still faces dissent at home from local nongovernmental organizations, civil society and elements of the media.

Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, China's leadership has modernized the country's economy but also its authoritarianism. And because the system's flaws are as glaring as its resilience, its challenge to democracy is a crisis in the original sense of the word -- the course of events could turn either way.
What I don't get is how my colleagues suggest that they would rather have "order" than "chaos" (roughly translated) and while they may not like the current state of politics they prefer it to the alternative. The oddity is that nearly all seem to value country/patriotism as well over appeasement/order which gives rise to a frightening scenario that the government could manufacture a conflict to maintain power. There are many who forget that China didn't liberalize its economy because of the benevolence of its leaders, but instead because it had to. Those like Thomas Barnett recognize that China fears its people more than anything else:
The bad news: China's government is very adept at this approach. It fears social anger most of all, so it takes it very seriously.

The good news: As these situations multiply, the people get more adept and self-confident in pressing their demands.
It's above my pay grade to make any serious guesses as to whether or not China will ultimately attack Taiwan and "give it all up" to paraphrase Barnett, but if China's Communist government truly believes there is a serious threat to its own power anyway (e.g. one of the reasons why erecting significant trade barriers to China by Western governments could be highly foolish to global stability), what would it have to lose?

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