In our Dalai Lama Warns of Looming Violence thread, Wukailong linked to this essay covering three political scenarios that China might face in the year 2020. The author, Cheng Li is Senior Fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center of the Brookings Institution and William R. Kenan Professor of Government at Hamilton College. His summary is as follows:
Progressing toward the year 2020, China’s political structure is unlikely to develop along a direct, linear trajectory. Just as China’s rapid economic development and global integration shocked the world over the past two decades, so too might the country’s future political course defy projected expectations. Three possible scenarios for 2020 are presented in this essay. Which road China ultimately takes will depend on the interplay of current political trends, key players in decisionmaking roles, and demographic factors that will be important in the future.
• The emergence of a democratic China ~ A wealthier and better-educated middle class, a stronger currency, and a more robust civil society, among other phenomena, lead to greater cultural and political pluralism.
• Prolonged chaos ~ Economic disparities among urban and rural populations, rampant corruption among the elite, health crises, and environmental degradation trigger intense socio-political and economic crises that undermine the stability of the Communist regime.
• A resilient, authoritarian China ~ Problems among the world’s democratic countries make democracy less appealing to the Chinese people, while stable development strategies by the party-state are necessary for growth
and economic stability, further entrenching the ruling power of the CCP.
The author goes into great detail on each scenario. I felt the most interesting section was his analysis of the two current factions, what he calls the “populist coalition” headed by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, and the “elitist coalition” led by ex-President Jiang Zemin and current Vice President Zeng Qinghong. He feels this is a rudimentary form of checks and balances within the framework of the one party system. The author believes that the most likely scenario in 2020 will be the emergence of a constitutional democracy with Chinese characteristics.
At the end of his article, he concludes:
What China’s domestic political landscape will look like in the year 2020 will largely depend on the interplay of current political trends, the new players who have recently emerged, and the demographic factors that will be important in the future. There exists reliable information and basic knowledge about all of these variables. Clear is that China confronts many serious problems, none of which has an easy solution. It is reasonable to expect a high level of contentiousness and conflict to persist in China over the decade to come. At the same time, however, China is on the rise, not in decline. Plagued by isolationism, civil war, and foreign invasions, China had a few bad centuries in its recent history, but the economic catch-up by China in the past quarter-century has been phenomenal. Having achieved an economic miracle, the Chinese people are unlikely to be satisfied with stopping short of the door of political democracy.
Yet like any other country China’s future can have multiple possibilities. China analysts may not agree on what China’s most likely 2020 scenario will be, but any thoughtful and intelligent forecast about China will perhaps come to the same conclusion: the trajectory of this fast-growing economic powerhouse will have profound implications not only for the millions of Chinese people but also for the world community.
Do you agree with the author? Where do you feel China will be 11 years from now? Can she change her political system peacefully while transitioning to a developed country? Is she more likely to maintain her present form of government during this transition? Or will other factors create instability in the nation with subsequent chaos?