I told you so

Well, not me. Minxin Pei could say that. He predicted China’s return to a totalitarian state a decade+ ago.

David Frum interviews him for ‘The Atlantic’ (ht: Andy Mukherjee):

It could use the growing economic resources to strengthen its repressive capacity to defend its political monopoly. It does not want to reform the economy further because doing so would also risk losing control over the economy and all the benefits it can generate for the party. So there is a hard limit to how far the party would push economic reform.

This is a chilling comment:

It is not your garden-variety dictatorship, but a successor to a totalitarian regime. It is both far more ruthless and determined to protect its power than an average dictatorship and far more capable of doing so.

Economically, China is far less open than it ever was, after the Cultural Revolution:

Economically, the door is much less open, probably the least open since the reform era began nearly four decades ago.  There is a growing consensus that China today is the least open since the end of the Cultural Revolution. That is a very devastating comment on the political conditions there.

This question and the response are very important:

Frum: What if anything would you revise, amend, or enlarge in your 2006 statement from the vantage point of 2018?

Pei: I would revise one of the scenarios for change in the conclusion. Although one of the scenarios—depicting the rise of a hard authoritarian leader vowing to save the regime with more conservative policies—unfortunately turns out to be true, I also constructed a more optimistic scenario in which provinces led the way of reform in a “middle-up” model. The changes in the last five years, during which provinces quickly fell in line with Beijing, show that the potential for generating systemic changes in China provinces is much less than expected.

Why it is all sticks and no carrot now internally (externally too, except disguised, perhaps)

In the short to medium term, the Communist Party’s real strategy is to strengthen the security state, including the building of a powerful surveillance state. The strategic thinking behind it is that, since we can no longer deliver carrots, we will have to rely on sticks more. This explains the rising degree of repression in China, and things could get a lot worse if the economy performs more poorly.


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