Chinese debate potential collapse of Communist Party

Beijing (dpa) – A debate over the potential collapse of the Chinese Communist Party, sparked by a US academic, has hit a nerve in China as the country’s top legislators meet in Beijing.

President Xi Jinping is indeed “facing a big crisis as he tries to consolidate power and continue his anti-corruption campaign,” Beijing-based independent commentator Zhang Lifan told dpa.

“If he fails, the regime will not be able to handle the consequences.”

Zhang Ming, a political scientist at People’s University in Beijing, disagreed, saying the leadership clarified their aims during the congress and will be able to implement their goals.

Both men were responding to a controversial essay published Saturday by US scholar David Shambaugh, professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

“China’s strongman leader … is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party’s rule. [Xi] is determined to avoid becoming the Mikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party’s collapse,” Shambaugh wrote in an essay titled The Coming Chinese Crackup.

“But instead of being the antithesis of Mr Gorbachev, Mr Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society – and bringing it closer to a breaking point,” Shambaugh said.

Shambaugh argues Xi’s aggressive anti-corruption campaign has “deeply aggravated” key constituencies, including in big business and the military, and he “wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’etat.”

Political problems have also blocked progress for China’s badly needed economic reforms, which could lead to further instability, he said.

The essay drew swift responses from state media, but few Chinese scholars have so far stepped into the debate.

A commentary from the state-run Global Times newspaper on Monday accused Shambaugh of “divining” on China to attract attention from Western audiences.

“His pessimistic opinion about China may easily get resonance from people who surround him, but it goes against common sense,” the editorial said.

“Foreign commenters speculate that China has a serious economic problem which could cause political collapse, but at least now, our society hasn’t been shaken up,” said Chen Donglin, researcher at the government-affiliated Institute of Contemporary China Studies.

“Ordinary people may not be happy, but each still performs their functions,” he told dpa.

Xi and other party leaders are among some 3,000 National People’s Congress delegates gathered for the 11-day meeting in Beijing.

On the sidelines of the meetings, which close Sunday, various government bodies have announced tighter regulations.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce Monday promised stricter regulations and to propose new regulations to supervise e-commerce platforms.

On Tuesday state media said China’s top legislature is mulling the country’s first press law, which is expected to introduce new regulations for the country’s already heavily controlled media.

The new measures would accord with Xi’s newly unveiled political theory, the “Four Comprehensives”, where he vowed to “comprehensively apply strictness in governing the party.”

The other “comprehensives” are to comprehensively “build a moderately prosperous society,” “deepen reform,” and “govern the country according to the law.”

Previous leaders before Xi promoted similar theories to guide government policies and make their mark on party ideology.

China has for decades been on a course toward pursuing economic reforms without giving citizens wider political rights, reflected in a concept former leader Deng Xiaoping memorably branded, “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics.”

But experts say that since taking power in 2012, Xi has gone further than any of his predecessors since Chairman Mao Zedong to police and purge party members.

Xi’s “Four Comprehensives” theory “hints at an effort to consolidate presidential position and personal power while also taking on powerful vested interests in the party and within the state itself,” said Richard Giragosian, director of the Armenia-based independent think-tank Regional Studies Center.

Thirty-nine senior lawmakers and advisors have been detained in corruption investigations in the past year, according to state media.

Some political observers in China agree that Xi’s heavy-handed tactics created an “atmosphere of fear” that reflect his ambitions to quash resistance among the political elite.

Other experts interviewed by dpa argue China’s slowing economy – slated to grow by about 7 per cent this year, compared to 7.4 per cent last year – poses a greater threat to the party’s longevity.

“A lower economic growth rate would cause serious unemployment problem and further political problems,” Chen said.

“If the government doesn’t make real reforms such as to break up monopolies in state enterprises or to provide decent affordable housing, the economy – even if stays relatively stable for the short term – in the long term it won’t be stable,” said Tao Ran, a professor at the School of Economics at People’s University.

Tao said the main problem is that there is no independent mechanism or research team to propose economic reforms to the central government.

“Reform proposals are mainly put forward by different government ministries each with their own interests, but if they should be the objects of reforms, how can they [effectively] reform themselves?” Tao asked.

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