Monday, August 22, 2005
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Does China contradict the liberal paradigm, part deux
Following up on my post a few months ago on whether China's economic liberalization will lead to democratization, the Economist asks similar questions about the trajectory of Hu Jintao's government -- and comes up with the same muddled answer:
posted by Dan on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM
Hasn't this same argument - that engaging China via capitalism will bring democracy - been used for the better part of 20-25 years now?
Has it? So they haven't had a Tiananmen-style massacre recently. Congratulations,but that hardly makes it a democracy.posted by: Dan on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
Just a couple of questions...to what degree is the Chinese government's preference for stability, etc. also a preference among the population? And, despite the occasional protests in Chinese rural areas, there also seems to be a fair amount of nationalism among Chinese citizens...I wonder to what degree that sentiment undermines pressure for political change?posted by: Chris Rugaber on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
I think the most honest answer to this is that we don't know. How much can we rely on the stats coming from the CCP? Yes, China is growing. Yes, China is more properous than it was. How much? What's really going on?
The economic development in Stalin's Russia was the wonder of the West once upon a time, too. But eventually we (and the Russian people) learned that the books had been cooked.
We don't know how much capitalism there is in China, or how much growth there has been, or how much reform there has been, or much of anything else with any real confidence.posted by: Dave Schuler on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
What is the democratization timeframe we're talking about here?
If "...growth is essential to social stability and thus the party's survival" are we not still faced with the party's survival as the paramount objective, to which others may be sacrificed?
What are the "wayward tendencies" at which Hu Jintao has not struck? Has he not struck at them because he is different (because of priorities different from earlier Chinese leaders or for other reasons; because the "wayward tendencies" are of lesser magnitude than Falun Gong or the pre-Tian An Men democracy movement; or because the "wayward tendencies" are directed more at local authorities than at the central Communist authority in Beijing, and are hence seen as answerable by means other than straightforward repression?
How, if at all, is the liberal paradigm different in a country many times larger than almost any other?posted by: Zathras on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
1) How liberal is the liberal paradigm in China? A lot of this is state sponsored capitalism using authoritarian tools to enhance economic development. Is what is going on in China really 'liberal' in the sense we conventionally apply or only in the relatively weak sense that it isn't overtly a strong command economy?
Having been to China a number of times there is clearly economic progress occuring. The coastal cities no longer have crews of black shirted workman coming out with shovels and hoes to tend to potholes or fix sidewalks. prada gucci and western cars are common sights and the amount of building is quite literally astounding.
all that said there has been a marked increase in protests, it's not just a few occuring in the countryside either. More and more are actually being reported now in the west. the reasons aren't lack of democracy either, rather the massive indemic corruption at all layers of the communist party, especially the lower tiers in the countryside is the driving impetus for the unrest. if anything will unseat the communists its the corruption. corruption brought all the other dynasties low, I see no reason why this one would be any different after 3000years of repetition.
market capitalism and democracy are not intimately tied together either, still not sure how this idea started. One is certainly capable of existing without the other...India still isn't what i'd call an open economy, and singapore clearly isn't a democracy.
I'd posit the hype about china is somewhat akin to that of the 80s concerning japan, definitely a country on the rise but not quite to the extent that it's going to take over the world. and like japan i'm far more interested to see how china deals with it's demographic time bomb as the population ages rapidly in the next 3 decades...
excellent article on india and china
Finally, I get the feeling that there's a bit of the fear of the masses and worry that if there isn't a strong central government, there will be mass chaos.posted by: Klug on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
2) A lot of paradoxes can be thought of as conflicts between different "branches" of the government. The State Council is only intervening occasionally; day-to-day, the ministries are in charge. Some, like MOFCOM, are very pro-Western. Some, like Security, are not so. It is very common to find conflicting "Regulations", as the legally enforceable proclamations of the ministries are called.posted by: Kevin on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
It seems to me that the closest recent historical parallel to China's rise may be the rise of Bismark's Germany.
This gives rise to some concerns, because during Bismark's latter years the economic and political landscape started shifting to Germany's detriment. These problems were exacerbated by the fumblings of Bismark's less-competent successors and culminated in the pressures which led to two World Wars in this century.
Right now China is not an adventurous state. It's foreign policy is less expansionist than it was 30 years ago. China is focussed on getting rich and doing so very successfully. What worries me are factors which could change that.
China's current economic niche is in low-cost manufactures. Some of China's industries are going upmarket into higher-value products but the base remains the low end. Three things could threaten China's current happy equilibrium:
Demands from China's low-cost labor for a bigger share of the pie (akin to the rise of the Socialists in Germany in the 1880's). This is almost certain to happen sooner or later, I think.
A persistent rise in world prices for raw materials. Oil is the most prominent example but far from the only one. This will tend to hurt low-end manufactures more than any other sector, and may prompt China's capitalists to 'sweat' their labor force in response. Which in turn could help spark (or pour kerosene onto) a 'socialst labor' movement described above.
Widespread western protectionism could hurt although I think this would be a marginal factor exacerbating China's other (hypothetical) troubles rather than a primary cause in itself, although this assumes that something like the Great Depression doesn't happen in the interim.posted by: Don on 08.22.05 at 08:30 AM [permalink]
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