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Prepare for a More Authoritarian China

August 3, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

With the onset of China’s economic reforms in the late
1970s, a widespread belief took hold in the United States and
throughout the Western world that establishing robust economic
relations with the “new China” would lead to gradual
political liberalization. That belief persisted even after the
communist government’s June 1989 bloody crackdown on
pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Most proponents of
increased diplomatic, political, and economic engagement with
Beijing (including this author) concluded that the massacre,
however tragic, was merely a regrettable interruption in the
long-term liberalization process. Robert B. Zoellick, Deputy
Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, memorably
expressed the prevailing expectation that a
more open China would become a “responsible
stakeholder” in the international system.

Developments in recent years should create doubts about that
assumption. Under President Xi Jinping, China has become noticeably
more authoritarian, not less, at home. His presidency has been
characterized by an insistence that all individuals in positions of
responsibility devote more serious study of and adherence to
Marxist-Leninist doctrine. He has conducted a systematic purge of
the Party’s ranks in the name of combating corruption.
Although that appeared to be a reasonable justification in some
cases, given the level of corruption that had developed along with
China’s meteoric economic growth, in other cases Xi seemingly
used it as a pretext to get rid of personal and ideological
rivals.

There was no question that he was determined to enhance and
perpetuate his dominant role. Although China remained a one-party
state even after the demise of Mao Zedong’s totalitarian
rule, implicit political reforms became an impediment to rule by a
single individual. An especially crucial measure was the
establishment of term limits on the powerful post of president. Xi
and his followers eliminated that restriction in 2018, enabling
him to hold the office indefinitely.

As its military power has
expanded, China’s behavior has become noticeably less
accommodating, if not outright aggressive.

An array of autocratic policies has accompanied the growth and
perpetuation of Xi’s personal authority. The
government’s Orwellian “social-credit” system is
used to restrict the travel and other rights of actual
or potential critics. Prominent liberal economists, who once
enjoyed Beijing’s favor or at least toleration, are now
targets of growing campaigns of harassment. Only incurable
optimists or the willfully blind would argue that today’s
China is more tolerant and open than it was a decade ago. The trend
is toward greater repression and regimentation, not greater
liberalization.

Beijing’s foreign policy is exhibiting a similar worrisome
pattern. As its military power has expanded, China’s behavior
has become noticeably less accommodating, if not outright
aggressive, in such locales as …read more

Source: OP-EDS