An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by David Shambaugh on March 7 claims the Communist Party is falling apart. Economist Arthur Kroeber explains in ChinaFile why he is wrong. The next episode in a longstanding “China-is-collapsing” tradition.
Arthur Kroeber´s closing remarks:
Finally, there is no evidence that the biggest and most important political constituency in China—the rising urban bourgeoisie—has much interest in changing the system. In my conversations with members of this class, I hear many complaints, but more generally a satisfaction with the material progress China has made in the last two decades. Except for a tiny group of brave dissidents, this group in general displays little interest in political reform and none in democracy. One reason may be that they find uninspiring the record of democratic governance in other big Asian countries, such as India. More important is probably the fear that in a representative system, the interests of the urban bourgeoisie (at most 25% of the population) would lose out to those of the rural masses. The Party may well be somewhat insecure, but the only force that might plausibly unseat it is more insecure still.
Predictions of Chinese political collapse have a long and futile history. Their persistent failure stems from a basic conceptual fault. Instead of facing the Chinese system on its own terms and understanding why it works—which could create insights into why it might stop working—critics judge the system against what they would like it to be, and find it wanting. This embeds an assumption of fragility that makes every societal problem look like an existential crisis. As a long-term resident of China, I would love the government to become more open, pluralistic and tolerant of creativity. The fact that it refuses to do so is disappointing to me and many others, but offers no grounds for a judgment of its weakness.
Seven years ago, in his excellent book China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation, Shambaugh described the Party as “a reasonably strong and resilient institution….To be sure, it has its problems and challenges, but none present the real possibility of systemic collapse.” That was a good judgment then, and it remains a good judgment now.
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