Economic and Political Reform

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The Politics of Growth
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It may be that the economic reform has kind of reached the limits it could go...

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<p>Well, I think this question of the connection between the economic reform and political reform is one that&rsquo;s very important and very interesting in the Chinese case. It&rsquo;s often said that China is a historical experiment of retaining an authoritarian, communist political system while introducing an open market economy. And, as that kind of experiment, it has been, actually, remarkably successful. And I try to make this case to the North Koreans all the time. &quot;You could do it too. And it doesn&rsquo;t mean committing political suicide. You can use the economic reform to build support for the regime, and that&rsquo;s what they&rsquo;ve done in China.&quot; So, on the other hand, I do not believe that China is exempt from the forces of world history and is so unique, I mean every country&rsquo;s unique in many ways, but I believe that the urbanization, the size of the college-age population, increasing income, that people become increasingly frustrated with not having the authority to select their own leaders. That they&rsquo;ll be fed up with corruption, with unequal income, and that maybe even, conceivably, this financial crisis, this downturn, could combine with other issues that people have and stimulate widespread unrest. And the thing we&rsquo;ve seen about these kinds of political systems is it doesn&rsquo;t take a well-organized opposition to bring the whole thing down. It can just erupt in a crisis. If large numbers of people are mad and upset about the same issue at the same time [shakes head]...And the leaders know this. This is why they&rsquo;re so nervous. They feel this political insecurity. On the other hand, if the leaders at the top can hang together and maintain their cohesiveness, which is another thing we haven&rsquo;t talked about, but that&rsquo;s very hard to do in an oligarchy like this; we don&rsquo;t have a Deng Xiaoping, we don&rsquo;t have a Mao, we have a bunch of fairly unimpressive people who are trying to govern this big country and hang together, and are in competition with one another, of course. So, how do you manage to prevent public leadership splits? My view is that the regime can survive, even with widespread unrest, if they can avoid public leadership splits. But, if one guy at the top decides to defect when he sees the protests and he&rsquo;s just sees this as his chance to really shake things up and become number one or number two, there&rsquo;s always that temptation. So, I think there&rsquo;s a lot of political uncertainty. I don&rsquo;t think the downturn necessarily dooms the Chinese political system or Communist Party rule, but I think it&rsquo;s a big challenge. Now, as to what happens in terms of economic policy and reform, again, what I would imagine is that maybe somebody at the top tries to make a political challenge; for the system being so corrupt, unequal income, this kind of populist reformer, maybe a nationalist reformer, which is something we should be concerned about, who says, we really have to, at least, strengthen the legal system, or introduce local elections so people can kick out the rascals. So, of course, we had hoped that Hu Jintao would be that kind of person; he&rsquo;s proven, I think, to be fairly timid, [to] not want to take any risks. So, it may be that the economic reform has kind of reached the limits it could go without some more substantial changes in the political institutions.</p>
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Susan Shirk talks about the connection between economic and political reform in China and paints a picture of how political reform could unfold in the future.