There is not shortage of experts who predict China cannot survive as a Leninist state, but David Shambaugh is certainly one of the more prominent ones. Journalist Ian Johnson sits down with him for the New York Times and discusses the future of current China.
Q. Since Napoleon, the world has been awash with predictions about China. Do we need another?
A. Nobody has a crystal ball, but China specialists should at least try to unpack and understand these dynamics. It is particularly important at this juncture in China’s development, as there are so many uncertainties and unprecedented challenges.
Q. Would it be fair to say that you believe that Leninist parties are incapable of maintaining power in the long run? It seems that either they hold power through repression, as in the Soviet Union, and thus settle into terminal decline, or they open up and end up reforming themselves out of existence, as in Taiwan.
A. I believe that the record shows that Leninist regimes possess fewer sources of legitimacy, power and longevity than liberal states. Moreover, as you note, the only Leninist-type regime that reached the status of a newly industrialized economy that China has today was Taiwan in the 1980s. Taiwan politically liberalized and democratized — as did South Korea and other Asian authoritarian states — and it powered the island’s economy to a fully developed level. That is precisely China’s challenge today: politically liberalize and become a developed economy or remain stuck in “hard authoritarianism” and stagnate economically.
Q. Does this mean foreign countries needn’t worry too much about China’s rise? Perhaps all they need is a bit of military and foreign policy vigilance to prevent adventurism and the Chinese Communist Party system will do itself in in the long run?
A. That’s correct. I argued in my last book [“China Goes Global”] that China is a “partial power” — lacking in many categories of national power. That book looked at China externally, whereas this new book looks at China primarily internally. When one carefully examines China’s sources of power, I find multiple weaknesses instead of strengths. As a result, I have been uncomfortable for some time with the “China rise” narrative, because I think it falsely exaggerates China’s strengths and underplays its weaknesses.
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Earlier we discussed with Ian Johnson the emergence of a new metropolis, combining Beijing and Tianjin