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  • Increasing Instability in China Bodes Ill for 2012

    For the last three months, the village of Wukan in Guangzhou, China, has been the scene of unrest. Locals were outraged that, for years, their lands were often being sold from under them by village officials. When petitions to provincial-level authorities brought no relief, they began to stage public protests, which in turn were met by baton-wielding police, causing villagers to surround the local police station and burn several vehicles.

    To placate the situation, the local authorities agreed to meet with a delegation of residents—but then several of the delegates were seized while they were eating at a local restaurant. One of those detained, Xue Jinbo, died in custody. The public, not accepting officials’ claims of a heart attack, protested and demonstrated, leading both Party and government officials to flee the town. Since then, police have cordoned off the village of 20,000, and there is growing concern that Beijing may choose to use force to resolve the standoff.

    For Beijing, the issue is likely to be coming to a head, for a number of reasons. In the first place, Wukan is now effectively no longer governed by the Chinese Communist Party—an enormous blow to the Party’s prestige and authority. This highlights the growing number of “mass incidents (qunti shijian)” underway in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The growing number of such mass incidents, as one Chinese study observed, is threatening social stability. Wukan would seem to bear out this gloomy assessment.

    Even more disturbing: This incident is likely to have ripple effects in China’s impending power transition next year. Such a massive protest in Guangdong province raises real questions about the future of its Party secretary, Wang Yang. Wang has been tagged as a possible member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the nine people who actually run the PRC. Wang has been seen as a possible rival to Bo Xilai, Party Secretary of Chongqing, who is himself campaigning for a seat on the PSC (which is itself a break with tradition).

    Ironically, among other roles in the multiple overlapping dimensions of Chinese factional politics, Wang is thought to be an economic reformer. If he is discredited to some extent at this crucial time in the political transition, it could leave the economic reform camp without a major voice at a time when the U.S. is likely to be pushing harder for reform. While it is the expanding state, and attendant opportunities for corruption and abuse of power, that is causing the problem in Wukan, reformers are often accused of under-emphasizing political and social stability when making their proposals. Wang and, by extension, his allies and supporters have now been made more vulnerable to that charge.

    Indeed, the incident at Wukan underscores the brittleness of the Chinese leadership transition process. For the first time since 1949, there is no revolutionary-era hand at the helm to guide Chinese political succession—and lend legitimacy. It is arguably no accident that, with less than a year until the 18th Party Congress, outside observers cannot be certain which personalities will assume which key leadership positions. Domestic incidents such as Wukan are likely to exacerbate the struggles among the various leadership factions and elements.

    Posted in Featured, Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Increasing Instability in China Bodes Ill for 2012

    1. TimAZ says:

      The Chinese spring has begun.

    2. Behemot says:

      Huge, modern countries (US, China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia) have sth in common. The sheer size makes them difficult to be efficiently governed, so a lot of power is ceded to provincial/state, local level. Very powerful interests fight and are counterbalanced. There is a need for very strong central executive power: like US or Russian President. China is the most vivid example of this phenomenon because it has the largest population 1.35 billion people out of 7 billion that live on our planet.

    3. Behemot says:

      I checked the date of the article, middle December 2011. The 18th Congress is only 10 months away so i don't think there are any questions concerning such important topics as membership of Politburo. I'm 100% with the author of the article, I would also like some tensions to evolve within higher echelons of CCP that would give hope for some democratic changes in PRC. I agree it is first time CCP lack the authority of Deng Xiaoping. Deng in early 80's has chosen Jiang Zemin as paramount leader of PRC and later also Hu Jintao as his succesor. Although Deng the Great is dead for 15 years, onlyh at the end of 2012 his influence on Chinese leadership will end. But i don't think any widespread political unrest is possible in the near future. What we observe are thousands of massive incidents in China every year. But the protesters are not against status quo: CCP leadership, being authoritarian country, they are not against Chinese Emperor (Hu Jintao) but his subordinates, against low level corruption.
      China is the only huge country in the world that has homogenous society. The next one in size is 11 times smaller Japan. One language, one 4000 years common culture, one set of values.
      BTW the governance of PRC is brilliant at the Politbiuro (nice Russian term, better sounds in Russian) level. The next paramount leader (President) and his economic deputy (Prime Minister) are prepared for their posts for at least 5 years, like now Xi Jinping and Li Kequiang. The power transition will took 2 years.
      The paramount leader has enormous power (BTW bigger than Emperor in Imperial China): Chief of army , Chief of country (President), first secretary of CCP (Political power). Remember that in 1989 Deng Xiaoping with only one of these powers (Army) was able to not only thwart Tiananmen protests, but also jail then first CCP secretary. For Xi Jinping being Vice Chairman of Central Military Commission means he will be Hu Jintao successsor. Li Kequiang is for 5 years learning how to take Prime Minister post after Wen Jiabao. It is marvelous and smooth system (i'm assessing this from business consultant, former external auditor fo multinationals point of view, also leaded a few projects concerning internal audit and corporate governance)
      Imagine for a while how the United States would look like if Barack Obama would first be obliged to govern the province for a few years (50 milion people, for training) and than would be George Bush Jr. closest advisor, present at all decision making processes for 5 years. What advantage over US leaders such system gives the Chinese President and Prime Minister ! huge one.
      So i do not think any riots will make power change difficult.
      China economic growth is 10% for 30 years. But this is not enough to understand Chinese mindset. They are nationalists, they are brave, tough and they remember very harsh times (of Japan invasion, internal wars, instability).
      Chinese know the world leadership, ending US hegemony is only 15-20 years away. Chinese economy would be first around 2017-2019 in nominal terms, in PPP terms it will be in 2014. US military will be predominant for at least next 20 years. What Chinese did: they insured they have second strike nuclear capability (2005-2008, mobile nuclear warheads, nuclear submarines) and then concentrated on Navy and Air Force.
      Personally as a citizen of NATO country i'm happy that in the next 30 years US military if not predominant would be invincible.
      It is expected till 2020 China would have 5-8 aircraft carriers and 5th generation 500+ combat stealth aircraft.
      With population 4,5 times US and authoritarian government China poses threat to US as USSR times factor 3 in 1950-1980. China can simply allocate 1 milion scientists (economies of scale RULE) for military development…
      BTW my nick name derives from my favourite novel Master and Margarita by Bulhakov (It sound best in Russian, definitely better than in my mother tongue, and better than in English).

      • neftimiades says:

        Your statistics on military projections are far off. Also, a country must have more than a strong economy to be a world leader. While China has a growing economy it still has a average income one tenth of a US person. It produces substandard products and is wholly dependent (at this point) on foreign trade to survive. In fact, it is starting to loose out to cheap labor in South East Asia.

        Your assumptions are also weak. For example, China can not simply allocate 1 million scientists to anything. In fact, their military complains that scientists and engineers prefer to make money in the private sector. Also, for a great power to be great it must export ideas; not just cheap products. So far, the only thing China is capable of exporting is massive corruption and a highly politicized legal system (Courts still under the CCP). As China expands on to the global stage it will be met with a wall of accountants and lawyers compelling it to change its ways to function as a world player.

        Finally, Harvard University has a longstanding study that shows no matter the culture, people start to demand political pluralism when average income hits 13k. That is almost true in China's cities (average 12k). It will be interesting to see how China copes if its population starts to demand everything from health care to political freedoms. You can't hold people down forever.

    4. Behemot says:

      I checked the date of the article, middle December 2011. The 18th Congress is only 10 months away so i don't think there are any questions concerning such important topics as membership of Politburo. I'm 100% with the author of the article, I would also like some tensions to evolve within higher echelons of CCP that would give hope for some democratic changes in PRC. I agree it is first time CCP lack the authority of Deng Xiaoping. Deng in early 80's has chosen Jiang Zemin as paramount leader of PRC and later also Hu Jintao as his succesor. Although Deng the Great is dead for 15 years, onlyh at the end of 2012 his influence on Chinese leadership will end. But i don't think any widespread political unrest is possible in the near future. What we observe are thousands of massive incidents in China every year. But the protesters are not against status quo: CCP leadership, being authoritarian country, they are not against Chinese Emperor (Hu Jintao) but his subordinates, against low level corruption.

    5. Behemot says:

      Well, i cannot just type the Chinese spring just began because i know it didn't.
      The internal cohesion of society makes this imposible.

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