Thu, Apr 09, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Beijing’s implosion enters endgame

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

In January, Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute reported on a private dinner in Washington, where some of the US’ most experienced China hands agreed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “has entered its endgame.”

China is blanketed in fear due to increased surveillance and increased arrests, thanks to President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) repression and anti-corruption campaign. Because Xi’s reform program threatens vested interest groups such as state-owned enterprises and local party cadres, it is possible that Xi might be deposed in an internecine insurrection.

The West needs to engage with various segments of Chinese society in order to avoid being surprised by regime-threatening political upheaval, according a story in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Jan. 29.

In March, George Washington University professor David Shambaugh published an essay, “The Coming Chinese Crackup,” in the WSJ. This two-part article attracted widespread attention because Shambaugh is known for his extensive access to Chinese officials in the government, CCP and military, and for his China-friendly writings.

Shambaugh wrote that Xi’s despotism is bringing Chinese society closer to a breaking point and he cited five phenomena to support his thesis:

China’s wealthy elites are moving their assets overseas. Many are fleeing China or planning to do so.

Xi’s intensified and pervasive political repression is symptomatic of the party leadership’s insecurity.

Party cadres are cynical and merely pretend to follow the official party line.

Corruption permeates the party-state, the military and the whole Chinese society. Xi’s anti-graft purge is selective.

Efforts at economic reform are “sputtering on the launchpad.”

CENTRIFUGAL FORCES

Shambaugh also discussed China’s weakness in a paper in The National Interest last summer, “The Illusion of Chinese Power,” where he examined additional factors that buttress the idea that the party may implode before Xi’s dream of China’s rejuvenation is realized.

China’s economic takeoff has been accompanied by growing income inequality between cities and rural areas and between the coastal provinces and the hinterland. China’s polluted air and contaminated water and soil harm the health of its citizens. Due to official corruption, environmental degradation and confiscation of land with token compensation, there is widespread social unrest. The number of mass protests each year is now 180,000.

So is the CCP’s rule on the brink of collapse? All observers hedge on this question, since forecast of future events is always risky.

However, Jamestown Foundation fellow Peter Mattis offers some thought-provoking ideas in his article, “Doomsday: Preparing for China’s Collapse,” in The National Interest last month. He suggests that even if the CCP collapse does not occur for years, US policymakers should adopt certain measures now so as to be “on the right side of history.”

The first step is to “identity the cohesive and centrifugal forces inside China.”

The second step is to develop dossiers on China’s leaders, including overseas assets which could be frozen and contact information.

Third, monitor the capabilities and loyalty of China’s internal security forces.

Fourth, maintain communication with the Chinese people, e.g., via radio broadcast into China in an emergency.

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