China’s Future: Crushing the domestic discord

Abhishek Ranjan

May 30, 2020


China’s Future: Crushing the domestic discord
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Contemporary academic arena dealing with international politics is flooded with research predicting China’s future, discussing whether China will be the next superpower or has it started declining or will it collapse like Eastern Europe and USSR.

This book ‘China’s Future’ by David Shambaugh, a Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the George Washington University in US, is relatively small in size but unlike others it not only looks at economic aspects but also the social and political aspect while predicting China’s future.

Shambaugh did acknowledge the reforms of China but he focuses more on the problems of China that may further lead to fall of China.

This book is divided into 5 chapters. In the first chapter of the book, the author discusses China’s current status and proposes four possible outcomes that may decide China’s fate in future – Neo-Totalitarianism, Hard Authoritarianism, Soft Authoritarianism and Semi-Democracy.

He further explains the possible consequences of each paths a) Neo-Totalitarianism – Regression, Atrophy, and Collapse, b) Hard Authoritarianism – Limited Reform, Stagnation and Decline, c) Soft Authoritarianism – Moderate Reform and Partial Transition and d) Semi-Democracy – Successful Reform and Full Transition.

The author briefly explains China’s current problems and defines China’s current political structure as hard authoritarianism.

Subsequently, he argues that China had already reached a point where it will have to adapt any of the above-mentioned pathways and predicts how all of these will determine China’s future.

In Chapter 3, the author deliberates China’s economic, social and political problems and how these may lead to the decline of China.

Shambaugh starts off by discussing the economic problems like banking repression and the middle income trap and then explains how these problems has resulted in the widening of class differential leading to an increase in social inequality.

He then goes on to explain certain other prominent problems faced by China like increasing numbers of protests (200,000 approximately) every year, the aging population, spending more on internal security and then on the military.

Although many of the predictions had already come true yet like others, this book too, has some of its drawbacks. In his argument of Semi-Democracy, the author has cited the example of Singapore, however even a minimal political scientist would agree that ruling a city-state and a continent size state is different.

Looking into the problem of education, he argues that China’s education system lacks originality and is not open to independent and critical thinking which may lead to complete decline of educational output.

Consecutively, discussing environmental problem, he gives the data that says nearly 70 percent of China’s lakes and rivers are contaminated, air qualities of many cities are deteriorating every day.

Finally he explains the problems within the political structure of the China and how it is posing a threat to China’s stability.

Besides, he also discusses the existence of a great firewall and contentious issues like Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan issues.

In following chapters, the author has tried to identify the downward trajectory of China. In addition to making a proper use of the sound arguments and personal experience to support his points, Shambaugh also provides the readers with easily available statistics and references.

Finally, in Chapter 5, the author analyses how domestic issues will manifest China’s international position. Besides, he also sees China’s strengthening international posture from the ‘China threat’ perspective arguing it to be one of the major issues that may lead to the downfall of China.

He claims that China-Japan rivalry will lead to unstable Asia. Moreover, China’s growth has led to an overdependence of Asian countries on China that will further make the dependent countries look for other alternatives in order to escape China’s hegemony.

Shambaugh correspondingly argues that China’s military modernization and maritime spreading out will lead to escalating tension in Indo-Pacific region.

Some of the author’s prediction already seems to be coming true. His belief that Xi Jinping may maneuver China’s political structure to expand his power has turned into reality during 13th National People’s Congress of 2018, when he removed the limit on presidency terms.

Shambaugh had also predicted that 45th president of the USA will have a firm stand against China, and Donald Trump have left no stone unturned to prove Shambaugh right.

He argues that government approach to crush public discord and intrusion to prevent economic collapse will only exacerbate the problems; the recent Hong Kong crisis also seems to resemble the author’s above-mentioned belief and argument for limitations of one country, two systems.

Therefore, the author himself has recommended the fourth pathway i.e. Semi Democracy in domestic affairs and competitive coexistence in external affairs will be most suitable if China wants to escape the collapse and thus justify his theme mentioned in Chapter 1.

It says, “Without a return to a path of political reform, with a substantial liberalization and loosening of many aspects of the relationship between the party-state and society, there will be very marginal economic reform and social progress,” which is the main argument of the book.

Although many of the predictions had already come true yet like others, this book too, has some of its drawbacks. In his argument of Semi-Democracy, the author has cited the example of Singapore, however even a minimal political scientist would agree that ruling a city-state and a continent size state is different.

Besides, the author has vividly argued from western perspective and has completely ignored the Chinese version of the argument.

Shambaugh also has looked at US-China relation from Democrat’s perspective, which may be contested after a republican is back to power.

Besides at some point the author seems to contradicting his own ideas and claims.

For instance, he has accused China’s education system of plagiarism and at the same time he gives an account of China’s innovation in all filed of education, especially, energy and space.

Moreover, in practicality, it seems that China has taken the first exit on to neo-totalitarianism path. Xi Jinping has placed himself as the President of China and has removed term limits.

China has continued to crush the domestic discord. In addition, China’s retaliation to Trump’s policy leading to the trade war is challenging the author’s recommended proposal of competitive coexistence.

(Abhishek Ranjan is pursuing Master’s in East Asian Studies at Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, India)

(Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE), Nepal’s independent think tank, and Khabarhub — Nepal’s popular news portal — have joined hands to disseminate NIICE research articles from Nepal)

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