Four Shocks That Could Change China
In the past four months, the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) has experienced four shocks that could materially affect, if not eventually end, its “leading role” in Chinese society.
First, on December 13 of last year, a mob of villagers forced out local party leaders and the police and took control of the town of Wukan. Enraged by illegal land grabs and police brutality, the villagers installed their own representatives after gaining concessions from national authorities. The Wukan uprising is symbolic of the two hundred thousand mass protests reported for 2010.
Second, on February 27, a key government think tank issued its China 2030 report in conjunction with the World Bank. Rapid growth could only be sustained, the report argued, by giving free rein to the private sector and ending the preferential treatment of the state economy: The role of the government “needs to change fundamentally” from running the state sector to creating a rule of law and the other accoutrements of a market economy. A month later (on March 28), the state council approved a financial reform pilot experiment to legalize private financial institutions and allow private citizens to invest abroad.
China 2030 is an open warning that China’s vaunted state capitalism model cannot sustain growth and usher China to the next level. A faltering economy would pose an imminent threat to the CPC’s claim to its leading role.
Third, on April 10, charismatic regional party leader, Bo Xilai, was fired as party boss of Chongqing and expelled from the Politburo. Bo Xilai embodied the party faction favoring state-led economic development and Maoist ideology. Bo’s status as the son of one of China’s “Eight Immortals” did not save him from charges of political deviation and corruption. Bo’s influential wife was arrested under suspicion of murder of an English business associate.
Fourth, on April 27, blind dissident and noted civil rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, evaded the security guards guarding his house in his home village and made it to Beijing, where he gained refuge in the U.S. embassy. Guangcheng’s escape shows the sophistication, dedication, and coordination abilities of the dissident community and is an embarrassment to the CPC and its security forces.
From the relative safety of the U.S. Embassy, Guangcheng can inform the Chinese people of their constitutional rights and the world community of the beatings and torture he and his family suffered on orders from the CPC. The U.S. Embassy can express its concerns over his charges of human rights abuse without directly involving itself in internal Chinese politics.
These four shocks took place against the backdrop of the looming Eighteenth Party Congress. The Congress of 2270 delegates will elect the Central Committee and appoint the coveted standing committee of the Politburo and the party General Secretary, who also holds the title of President.
Party Congresses do not take place until their orchestration is complete. There is no exact date set for the Congress, other than late 2012. In the USSR, Stalin waited to hold party congresses until all his ducks were lined up in a row. The CPC apparently has some more finishing touches to complete.
USSR power struggles occurred when an aged leader died. Deng Xiaoping insisted on mandatory term limits to spare China geriatric and unstable leaders, bereft of new ideas and prone to irrationalities (such as Mao and his Cultural Revolution). Two of the four shocks show that regular turnover breeds regular power struggles. China 2030 and the Bo Xilai case are manifestations of the ongoing power struggle that is taking place amidst a background of civil unrest.