governance

More than one way of how China will fail

Economically. Socially. Politically. Culturally. China doomsayers never run out of the ways of predicting how China will fail miserably. For example, Gordon G. Chang (章家敦) had predicted that China would collapse in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2017. But his predictions have never materialized. To him, however, China is still “on the brink of collapse” and just “one step away from revolution.” But, according to a Quora thread, Chang’s works belong in the “comic fantasy” or “science fiction” section of the shelf.

In a sense, it is despite what others say about it or even do to it that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is just going its way. That’s also the case with the People’s Republic founded in 1949. At the beginning, the world even worried about how the new Republic could manage to feed its huge population, numbering more than 500 million people then.

Mao Zedong proclaims the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
Mao Zedong proclaims the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
Chengdu-Chongqing Rail, the People's Republic's first rail way, opened in 1952.
Chengdu-Chongqing Rail, the People’s Republic’s first rail way, opened in 1952.

However, within just less than 70 years, China has grown to be the only non-Western and the only new member of the World Great Powers in centuries. It is now the world’s second largest economy (to be the largest well within the next decade), the world’s largest manufacturer, and the world’s largest retail market.

  • In 2017, China’s GDP rose to 82.7 trillion yuan (US$ 13.0 trillion), second only to that of the United States (US$ 19.3 trillion, 2017, estimated).
  • China also manufactures more than what the United States, Japan and Germany manufacture together.
  • Of the world’s eight largest Internet companies by revenue, four are Chinese, JD.com (my favorite shopping site for books, electronics, food, clothes, beer, toilet paper, furniture, medicine, home appliances, etc.), Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu. The other four are all American. In this sector of the global economy, other countries, including Japan, Germany, and the entire Europe, are featherweight players.
  • In 2017, China seemed to have overtaken the United States as the world’s largest retail market, with the total retail sales being more than US$ 5.7 trillion, as compared to US$ 5.5 trillion (estimated) in 2017 in the United States.
China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet trains.
China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet trains.
One of the fastest trains in India.
One of the fastest trains in India.

All these are contrary to the expectations of foreign observers, for generations, particularly those who work in the press and in NGOs and comment on China issues. They thought that China should have been like India. Or worse, India should be a better performer. After all, India is a “democracy” and has “free” “elections”. Those blessings China doesn’t have. India also had a bigger GDP and better infrastructure when it begged independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 than China did then and two years later (1949). But the bad news for them is that India now has a GDP of only US$ 2.4 trillion in 2017, less than one fifth of China’s US$ 13.0 trillion. But, a closer look reveals a still starker reality. India has a manufacturing industry that is only 8.6% of China’s. Or, China’s manufacturing industry is 1,154% as large as that of India. Even worse news is that India’s GDP might be faked. India now has about the same level of GDP as China did in 2005 (around USD 2.28 trillion), but its people enjoy far worse living standards than their Chinese counterparts did in 2005.

China’s hugely impressive performance since 1949 has started to erode the confidence the Western leaders have in their systems. China’s achievements, great by any standards, have forced the West to accept the fact that China is better at least in some ways. The country now is often “held up as a successful model of authoritarian government, non-democratic but nonetheless meritocratic and effective.” This has actually become the default setting for any topics about China. China also inspires the political leaders in the West in their thinking about likely alternatives to development, with this blog post comment saying that “our [the West’s] ‘elites’ are charmed by China’s alleged ‘meritocracy’ model”.

A CCP member badge, with the national flag in the background.
A CCP member badge, with the national flag in the background.

This successfulness even makes some Western commenters, Salvatore Babones, a contributor to Forbes.com, for example, to speak up in defense of the current system of Chinese Presidency, admonishing that “… personal rule ultimately weakens a political system, no matter how effective the personal ruler. Xi may realize his Chinese Dream of a prosperous and powerful country, but at the cost of hollowing out its political system.” He was referring to the recent proposal by the CCP to remove the term limit on the Chinese Presidency.

However, as rightly observed in a comment, China has always been “totalitarian.” The removal of the term limit does not make China more so. Actually, the Chinese system that seems to “charm” some Western leaders is arguably the world’s best governance system, a key contributor to China’s remarkable progress in each and every human development field.

The CCP provides organized political leadership and a vision for the future of the country. It implements its policies through the administrative (the State Council and local governments at various levels), legislative (national and local congress), judicial (courts), and military (the PLA and the Armed Policy Force) branches. That’s why the Chinese congress appears to be a “rubber-stamp” organization to the Western observers. Its only function seems to endorse the policies that have been already decided by the CCP. It is a rubber stamp in the sense that it is just a vehicle for policy implementation and decision making does not happen in it.

Sinister. Undemocratic. Authoritarian. Totalitarian. Dictatorial. Corrupt.

The People’s Republic of China has always been like this, but only in the sense that China is a People’s republic, not one by, of and/or for the richest 1%.

According to Article 1 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (key words highlighted in red):

The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.

The CCP’s proposal also includes an addition of the leadership of the CCP to the next paragraph, which is as below, with the proposed addition highlighted in red:

The socialist system is the basic system of the People’s Republic of China and the leadership of the CCP is the most fundamental characteristic of Chinese socialism. Disruption of the socialist system by any organization or individual is prohibited.

This seems to be absent in most discussions of China topics. But it is actually the starting point or the default setting for any such discussions. It is the first step to understand China.

The Constitution is at least frank about what it wants and does not shy away from its political position, unlike its Western counterparts, which sound like national constitutions, but in fact, work only for the rich, or in Marxist language, the bourgeoisie, the class of people who owns production means and make others work for them.

A copy of the Chinese Constitution for allegiance pledge.
A copy of the Chinese Constitution for allegiance pledge.

China has the world’s best governance system in the sense that the organized political leadership of the CCP is effective and efficient. Generally, this is not the case in the West. Because of varying vested interests of the bourgeoisie members, their political leadership is disorganized and feature division and competition for power and wealth. If a vested interest is strong enough, it can hijack the entire nation and work at the expense of national interests. For example, the National Rifle Association in the United States, with its wealth and influence, and lawmakers backed by firearms manufacturers, make it impossible for the country to ban and even control guns. The most obvious solution to gun violence, a wholesale ban of guns, is not available to the Americans. In China and, to be fair, in some other Western countries, Australia and Japan, for example, a gun ban can be easily implemented. It is only that in China national interests or public interests always come before those of a few or those for a short term. For example, the vision of the CCP ensures that in most cases the right decisions are made.

What if the CCP is wrong? One might ask.

The answer is that,

  • politically, the CCP truly works in the best interests of the most Chinese citizens; otherwise, it can very conveniently transitions to a Western-style system of sharing the booty, a system desperately wanted by neo-liberal scholars, corrupt officials, and perhaps wealthy private business owners who think they are powerful enough to take over political power from the CCP; and
  • technically, the likelihood of making a mistake by the CCP is no more than that of the political leadership, in whatever form or name, official or unofficial, in the West. And as it has turned, the CCP makes much fewer mistakes than its Western counterparts. For example, the arms manufacturers hijack the United States and through it start one war after another, squandering away all the national wealth that could have been spent domestically to help Americans live better lives, instead of having to endure income stagnation for decades. In China, this does not happen, because every force is largely kept under effective control of the CCP’s political leadership. In China, the bourgeoisie makes money and does whatever it wants as in a typical bourgeoisie-controlled country provided that they have no designs for political power and influence with their wealth and that they do not work against the national interests of China. Otherwise, no one is immune to the people’s democratic dictatorship.

The secret to the CCP’s success lies in its organization. It is a political party like no other. It is a mature, giant political organization, with more than 80 million members, recruited from the best Chinese population. If in the West the governance of a country is entrusted, legally and constitutionally, to the few richest people, that of China is entrusted to the world’s largest elite group of people, the Chinese Communist Party, who make decisions in a democratic way about issues of national significance and then implement them through the state apparatus. Western countries are at least no more democratic than China in this regard because their national leaders are nominated and selected by the few who work for themselves.

Reform and opening up are the themes of China. This spirit of advancement should inspire the West, which, to cope with its short-term and long-term crises, also desperately needs reform in its systems, governments, and governance, and opening up, for example, to Chinese ideas of how a country can be better governed. This is why some Western political leaders have started to value the meritocracy that makes China a huge success.

China perhaps needs to learn from the West about how a government is managed. But, the West definitely needs to learn from China how political leadership can be better organized so that the best interests of an entire country can be maintained.

China's curve of growth.
China’s curve of growth.

The West’s dogmatic dichotomy of democracy and non-democracy is an oversimplification of what is happening, which blurs the focus on the things that really matter – the best interest of most people (99%), instead of the best interest of the few (1%).

The technical issue of removing the term limit for Chinese Presidency is no big deal. After all, even in some major democracies in the West, a limit on the number of terms is not the standard practice. But, the people there don’t seem to worry about the possibility of “a ruler for life.”

And, speaking of “free” “elections”. No worries. China in most cases (s)elects the best people from the pool of more than 80 million CCP elite members to fill the offices at various levels.

China's way of national rejuvenation.
China’s way of national rejuvenation.

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