Whether China’s economic development will lead to democratization hinges on how Beijing tackles its increasing social instability, a local expert on Chinese affairs said at an international forum yesterday.
Ming Chu-cheng (明居正), a political science professor at National Taiwan University, said the real number of incidents of social unrest outnumbered those recorded in official data, adding that the number of incidents were growing between 18 percent and 25 percent a year.
“I suspect China will see a lot of conflict over the next five years,” Ming said. “They could be as dramatic as those that happened in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. It would be hard to imagine what would happen should large-scale social unrest occur.”
Ming made the remarks during the final day of the International Seminar on China’s 30 Years of Economic Policy Reform. The two-day event was organized by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research and the Mainland Affairs Council.
Taiwan saw social unrest under the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration, Ming said, but the authoritarian regime opted to make concessions and democratize.
“Heavy-handed suppression can maintain social order for a while, but it does not last long,” he said. “Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are two perfect examples.”
It took two years for the Soviet Union to collapse and it took Romania only 10 days, Ming said, adding that public displeasure was the main cause of their downfall.
“The accumulated power of public discontent must not be ignored,” he said. “I firmly believe totalitarianism is doomed to fail. Problems are bound to occur when political rule clashes with human nature, and China is no exception.”
Chen Chih-jou (陳志柔), a sociology researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Academia Sinica, said that his study showed that China’s social disturbances would not lead to its collapse or democratization.
Chen, however, said that the data he relied on for his study were unreliable.
Yuan Zhijia (苑志佳), an economics professor at Rissho University in Tokyo, said that China may follow the development model of Asia’s four economic “tigers”: Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
In other words, China’s economy will continue to grow under authoritarianism, Yuan said. It remains to be seen, however, whether economic development will lead to democratization, he said. He said that China was likely to develop into a country with a complete market economy in the near future.
Yuan said it was hard to predict what kind of capitalism China’s economy would develop into, as countries have different models because of their unique histories.
The US and the UK have “market capitalism” with the government acting as an “invisible hand” in the free and competitive market. France and Germany have “state-led capitalism” where the market economy and the role of government are equally important. Japan and South Korea have so-called “big business-based capitalism,” in which large business conglomerates play the dominating role.
Sweden’s capitalism is “social democratic capitalism” where there are high welfare, strong human rights and high taxes, Yuan said.