Will China Really Keep Rising?

Looking for a respite from the “China’s Rise” trope? You could start with this post by Chris Devonshire-Ellis at 2point6billion.com comparing China’s statism to India’s chaotic democracy:

Elsewhere, China’s issues appear to stem from the difficulties thecountry now faces in managing itself as a one-party state. Make nomistake, this is not an easy thing to do . . . [T]o remain benign [and]committed to development, economic progress and integration with theglobal community while utilizing such a system has never been attemptedbefore. People forget; while China may appear to have been stable overthe past three decades, the Chinese social experiment still remainsunproven.

. . . The stress levels on the Chinese government under such a system arehuge, and not entirely understood. The fact remains, that as anexperiment in managing over a billion people, without permitting themthe right to vote or rule of law to challenge the system, China istaking a huge risk. It’s never been done before.

Thequestion China skeptics like Devonshire-Ellis have been posing for awhile now with regard to Beijing’s hybrid model of state-controlledcapitalism is whether there’s a point where the genie (capitalism)either transforms or destroys the lamp (state control). In general,they’re referring to whether the party can withstand pressures from thewinners and losers created by the ebbs and flows of the market outside theparty. Devonshire-Ellis refers to private entrepreneurs — who,compared to China’s state enterprises, are still limited in theirability to invest abroad — as well as to the oft-invoked “out ofcontrol” masses.

But the market also complicates internal partyfunctioning by expanding the range of policy options, as well as theparameters necessary for judging them. That, in turn, increases thelikelihood for factionalism by creating more winners and losers withinthe party as well. Not that communist parties have been historicallylacking in factional infighting. But the technical challenges of aglobalized market will only exacerbate that tendency, increasing thepossibility of the CCP losing its internal cohesiveness, which so farhas been the only thing standing between China’s orderly rise of thelast few decades and the great unknown that would replace it.

There’sanother aspect to both China and India’s rise, though, that hasn’tgotten a lot of attention. Namely, that both countries are based on amassive scale that is in direct opposition to the trend towards smallerunits of government visible around the world today. Robert Kaplan bases this thought-provoking essay on that trend, referring back to geographical determinism as an explanation. Others have used ethno-nationalism to explain it.

Ofglobal actors, only the U.S. and Brazil have resisted the trend, andthe EU has actuallyreversed it (albeit with major limitations as well as further obstaclesremaining). But they are all dwarfed by the magnitude of the taskfacing China andIndia in what amount to their respective processes of regionalintegration. India seems to have found a manageable chaos thatde-emphasizes centralization. But China’s one-party system accentuateswhat I’ve called its “deferred maintenance” in terms ofethno-nationalist integration (i.e. Tibet, Xinjiang, and even Taiwan,for that matter), compared to the United States. There’s no guaranteethat the roof will hold until that essential work is completed.

Forthe time being, Beijing’s hole card is its cash reserves. But China’srise was based on the same unsustainable foundations as the U.S.’srecent prosperity. So look for the China equivalent of the “Americandeclinism” argument to be springing up more often in the days ahead.

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