Is China done? Is the 66-year-old dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) about to end?
“Predicting the demise of authoritarian regimes is a risky business,” writes old China hand Dr. David Shambaugh in a not-to-be-missed essay (subscription required, or use your library card) in the Wall Street Journal March 7.
Shambaugh nonetheless posits that the “endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun … and it has progressed further than many think.”
The professor at George Washington University cites five factors in what the Journal’s headline writer characterized as “The Coming Chinese Crackup.”
The first of these is something that I have written (and spoken) about for years: Rich Chinese are getting the hell out. They are spiriting themselves, their children and their money out of China, seeking things that are not on offer there, among them clean air, clean water, safe food, the rule of law, superior education.
Almost anyone dealing in high-end real estate on the West Coast knows this. Here’s a Seattle Times piece that touches on the phenomenon.
Other factors cited by Shambaugh:
• Intensified political repression under Xi Jinping targeting “the press, social media, film, arts and literature, religious groups, the Internet, intellectuals, Tibetans and Uighurs, dissidents, lawyers, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], university students and textbooks.” Shambaugh writes that the crackdown is a symptom of the party’s “deep anxiety and insecurity.”
• Even the most loyal party members are just going through the motions. Shambaugh writes that he was the only American to attend a 2014 conference on the “China Dream,” Xi’s signature concept, at a CCP-affiliated think tank in Beijing. His take:
We sat through two days of mind-numbing, nonstop presentations by two dozen party scholars—but their faces were frozen, their body language was wooden, and their boredom was palpable. They feigned compliance with the party and their leader’s latest mantra. But it was evident that the propaganda had lost its power, and the emperor had no clothes.
• “[T]he corruption that riddles the party-state and the military also pervades Chinese society as a whole” and “[N]o campaign can eliminate the problem. It is stubbornly rooted in the single-party system, patron-client networks, an economy utterly lacking in transparency, a state-controlled media and the absence of the rule of law.”
• Finally, China’s vaunted economy is “stuck in a series of systemic traps from which there is no easy exit.”
Shambaugh argues that the demise of party rule in China is “likely to be protracted, messy and violent.” Xi’s anti-corruption campaign amounts to “overplaying a weak hand,” and is “deeply aggravating key party, state, military and commercial constituencies.”
China’s economy — 10% real annual growth for 20 years through 2011 — has lifted more people out of poverty at a faster rate than at any time in human history. The Chinese people seem to have accepted material progress in exchange for the freedoms that we in the West take for granted. Shambaugh in essence argue that this tradeoff has reached a breaking point. Stay tuned.