Boom Cannot Go On Without Political Loosening

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The Politics of Growth
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I sometimes think that a China expert is an oxymoron--or just a plain moron.

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<p>I sometimes think that a China expert is an oxymoron--or just a plain moron; particularly predicting the future, which is the hardest part to predict. So, &quot;I&rsquo;m not sure&quot; is the honest answer of what&rsquo;s going to happen. I think, on balance, their economic performance will continue to be really quite good. I think they have a kind of momentum now and, on economic questions, they have shown a pretty savvy way to go about it. I do think the biggest factor of uncertainty, which I&rsquo;ve already mentioned, is their political system. I don't know how long you can go trying to control the Internet in the Age of Information and experts disagree how well they can do this, but I suspect that with growing numbers of people and sophistication of eluding the censorship that, even with 50,000 censorship police and a crackdown, there are ways of getting around this. And issues, as we speak, like the families of the earthquake victims, where they have one child, that was destroyed in schools that were badly constructed and they're trying to clamp down on the bloggers and the Internet complaining about this. And you wonder how long they can continue to do this. We're seeing this in the Olympics, where they've broken every conceivable pledge of openness with respect to the Olympics. I was over optimistic about political progress after Tiananmen, so I'm very cautious about predicting early progress, but in terms of the basic question, how long the economic boom can go on, I think, for the near term, it certainly will go on. But, over time, and by time, I mean 1 or 2 decades, I think they're going to have to loosen up their political system because, otherwise, they're going to run out of contradictions. When you have such revolutionary changes, many of which are to be applauded, there are bound to be some people hurt versus others and we talked about income disparities. These people cannot express their dissatisfaction through the rule of law and they can&rsquo;t because the party controls the courts. They can&rsquo;t express it through the press and they can&rsquo;t because the party controls the press, or even the internet, in many ways, despite best efforts to elude the censors. And if they can&rsquo;t really hold officials accountable for performance because there aren&rsquo;t free elections, and even at the village level they&rsquo;re mostly rigged, what avenues do they have but to take to the streets? And that is what they&rsquo;re doing. And with the increasing use of the Internet to link up causes, this is going to create more and more of a challenge for political stability. So, both in terms of political stability, but the performance the economy, I think they&rsquo;re going to have to loosen up. Does that mean they need multi-party elections over night? No! People sometimes confuse that as the only definition of democracy. But it does mean a freer press, it does mean the rule of law, not the rule by law, and it does mean civil society being built up, freer reign given to non-governmental organizations like those that rushed in the earthquake in Sichuan, despite the government. And if they don't do those adjustments, and I see no evidence under Hu Jintao that they're planning to do so, then they're going to run into contradictions and both political stability and economic growth will be threatened. But they may well move in that direction, particularly after Hu Jintao. I don't think they'll do that for the next five years. He's been a big disappointment and I just talked to a Chinese academic, who, of course, will remain anonymous, who said that Hu was worse on political reform than Jiang Zemin. And he is going backwards. But, perhaps those coming after him will see the need. They pay lip service, even now. Even Hu Jintao, he mentioned democracy 70 times in his Party Congress speech last fall, but it's a ludicrous use of the word and it's particularly acute now as you see the Olympics. So, that's a long-winded way of evading your question. I think, given the skills of the Chinese people and the economic skills of the leadership and the need for the rest of the world to continue to trade and invest in China, that I would put my bets on their continuing a very good performance, although continuing to be hampered by corruption and pollution in general. But, I don&rsquo;t think this can go on more than a decade or two without a loosening of the political system.</p>
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Winston Lord talks about political loosening with respect to continued, sustainable economic growth.