5 Ways China Could Become a Democracy  (Page 3 of 3)

Should such a scenario occur in China, it would be the most ironic.  For the last twenty years, the Communist Party has tried everything to avert a Soviet-style collapse.  If the “Gorby  scenario” is the one that brings democracy to China, it means the party has obviously learned the wrong lesson from the Soviet collapse.

“Tiananmen redux” is a third possibility.  Such a scenario can unfold when the party continues to resist reform even amid signs of political radicalization and polarization in society.  The same factors that contribute to the “Gorby scenario” will be at play here, except that the trigger of the collapse is not a belated move toward liberalization by reformers inside the regime, but by an unanticipated mass revolt that mobilizes a wide range of social groups nationwide, as happened during Tiananmen in 1989.  The manifestations of such a political revolution will be identical with those seen in the heady days of the pro-democracy Tiananmen protest and the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Middle East.  In the Chinese case, “Tiananmen redux” produces a different political outcome mainly because the China military refuses to intervene again to save the party (in most cases of crisis-induced transitions since the 1970s, the military abandoned the autocratic rulers at the most critical moment).

“Financial meltdown” – our fourth scenario – can initiate a democratic transition in China in the same way the East Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 led to the collapse of Suharto in Indonesia.   The Chinese bank-based financial system shares many characteristics with the Suharto-era Indonesian banking system: politicization, cronyism, corruption, poor regulation, and weak risk management.   It is a well-known fact today that the Chinese financial system has accumulated huge non-performing loans and may be technically insolvent if these loans are recognized.  In addition, off-balance sheet activities through the shadow-banking system have mushroomed in recent years, adding more risks to financial stability.  As China’s capacity to maintain capital control erodes because of the proliferation of methods to move money in and out of China, the probability of a financial meltdown increases further.  To make matters worse, premature capital account liberalization by China could facilitate capital flight in times of a systemic financial crisis.   Should China’s financial sector suffer a meltdown, the economy would grind to a halt and social unrest could become uncontrollable.  If the security forces fail to restore order and the military refuse to bail out the party, the party could lose power amid chaos.  The probability of a collapse induced by a financial meltdown alone is relatively low.  But even if the party should survive the immediate aftermath of a financial meltdown, the economic toll exacted on China will most likely damage its economic performance to such an extent as to generate knock-on effects that eventually delegitimize the party’s authority.

“Environmental collapse” is our last regime change scenario.  Given the salience of environmental decay in China these days, the probability of a regime change induced by environmental collapse is not trivial.  The feed-back loop linking environmental collapse to regime change is complicated but not impossible to conceive.  Obviously, the economic costs of environmental collapse will be substantial, in terms of healthcare, lost productivity, water shortage, and physical damages.Growth could stall, undermining the CCP’s legitimacy and control. Environmental collapse in China has already started to alienate the urban middle-class from the regime and triggered growing social protest.  Environmental activism can become a political force linking different social groups together in a common cause against a one-party regime seen as insensitive, unresponsive, and incompetent on environmental issues. The severe degradation of the environment in China also means that the probability of a catastrophic environmental disaster – a massive toxic spill, record drought, or extended period of poisonous smog– could trigger a mass protest incident that opens the door for the rapid political mobilization of the opposition.

The take-away from this intellectual exercise should be sobering, both for the CCP and the international community.  To date, few have seriously thought about the probability and the various plausible scenarios of a regime transition in China.  As we go through the likely causes and scenarios of such a transition, it should become blindingly clear that we need to start thinking about both the unthinkable and the inevitable.

Emelio Lizardo
January 7, 2014 at 11:00

[6] Falkland Isalands scenario. China invades Taiwan or absorbs Hong Kong by force. Pacific rim countries stand up and successfully blockade China. China elites go the way of Argentina.

Augustus Deleon Malagapi
January 6, 2014 at 16:41

“the record longevity of a one-party regime is 74 years”

Interesting. So the BN and the PAP are nearing their expiration date.

September 1, 2013 at 15:25

You obviously have no knowledge of history. Communism collapsed in the late 20th century because it is an unsustainable system. Biggest examples are the USSR and China, obviously. This means the capitalist US won the Cold War. Learn history.

June 29, 2013 at 18:57

US will become communist. capitalism is killing the world, democracy was never at odds with communism but capitalism.

May 18, 2013 at 19:37

As a native Chinese of age 21. I personally vote for “Financial meltdown”. It's a bad scenario, though. In late 1980, many young people believed in democracy but nowadays youth only cocern thier materialist life. pp in china don't have full understanding of the value of "western values". the new leadership seems no intent to run a real reform. I worry about my home country's prospect. “Financial meltdown” may be the final situation.

April 29, 2013 at 01:29

It is better off for experts like Mr. Pei and Mr. Chong to stick to one camp rather than try to be more neutral. The reality is probably a bit towards the middle, but it is up to the "been there done that" audience to decide.

April 19, 2013 at 15:28


April 11, 2013 at 15:09

I am chinese.I think i can meet that day but not now.You know chinese is a huge population country,i cant imagine what will happen if we become a whole democracy …

what do u think?

April 5, 2013 at 06:01

This Mr. Pei sound like Gordon Chong who wrote a book 20 years ago about the imminent implosion of China.   Events proved him totally at sea.  Gordon Chong is still around every year coming up with another statement why China is "now" really, really in trouble.  This Mr. Pei is creating job-security for himself seeing how Gordon Chong still finds CNN calling him an "authority". There is a lemmings rush of Jingo-controlled news organizations eager to amplify anything China does into cardinal sins, heinous massacres or aggression.  The last I checked of 10 Western giant news organizations’ Beijing Bureau Chiefs, only 3 had qualified facility in Chinese.  [1] Evolution of expression is what has happened in China.  During Deng's times it was always speculated by western "experts" that every transition in China would involve fratricides as in Soviet expression of Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin-Malenkov-Krushchev-Brezhnev-Gorbachev.  In fact the TianAnMen incident had the mixing of opportunists taking the student movement against corruption into a regime change.  The little appreciated fact is the soft power of Deng's personal wisdom, example and nurturing of a next generation leadership who, even now, are always asking "What would Comrade Xiaoping have liked us to do?"  Especially now, Xi Jinping represents a third generation after Deng and he is trying to revive that fantastic release of energy that Deng set in motion.  Pei is correct in saying that the people will seek greater and greater say and they are saying it more and more and the CPC is negotiating this new reform drive changing their formula and trying different models.  No one has mentioned a CPC relatively new custom called "Getting Scriptures".  What it is that the CPC has multiple levels of internal news bulletins that all leaders at each level are send every week.  So a particular city which has done something new and gets good results would be disseminated immediately all over China, and weaker cities' mayors or new mayors would plan on leading a team to go and visit that particular "poster child city" to learn their practices and try to bring their Scriptures back a templates for use in their home cities.  Thus the whole nation has a system of mechanisms to shifting directions at multiple levels.  Can you think of any Developed "Democratic" nation that has this system of mutual learning?  Imagine the new Mayor of Milwaukee taking 30 top city officials running off to New Orleans to embed for a week into their various department to note their every aspects, and then running off again to New Jersey again after a hurricane to learn disaster.

[2] Pei is warning that the citizenry will revolt.  All through the last 34 years there have been various local issues.  The CPC method was to make changes in numerous little ways without being doctrinaire about it.  They actually record all the protests track them nationally to current 100,000 incidents big and small so that they are mostly small.  The recent Wukan incident of the whole town rising up against unfair expropriation of land by large enterprises where the local chief called in 10,000 police and armed police to surround 10,000 active citizens.  Wang Yang the secretary of the Province sent in his duty and they defused the issue as the local chief being in the wrong.  This was judged as a "people's rights" local revolution in the traditional of peasants' revolt and that they were right to rise up.  Wang Yang was touted by western press as deserving of becoming one of the top 7.  He was not, but he is Vice Premier now and his replacement has also addressed another dispute in the press with the same open approach. That reflects the increasingly responsive measures of the CPC.  There is a line-up of young people competing to take exams to join the CPC and they pick the best and the brightest.  Xi has ratcheted up the call for anti-corruption and the netizens, in the majority in the general population have responded by posting their own investigation of official who are corrupt.  The Politburo and Cabinet have set an example of discipline from the top and it has shaken all levels of CPC.  Expensive seafood suppliers are seeing a dip in restaurant consumption as all official are responding to the new "clean government" drive.  The anti-corruption group is overwhelmed by applications for joining their "mission", or transfers to.  The have moved Wang Qishan, an economic problem solver to this powerful position to deal with corruption.

[3] Taking the TianAnMen incident of 22 years ago, Pei is biting it as a one-issue event and using it to describe a China that is the same as the times of 1989. The only issue from most of the critics of the CPC on this event is that it was sheer brutality of the evil CPC to destroy a Democracy Movement.  Without delving into the many shades of grey in that, the fact is China has evolved so much more in the last 22 years.  It was a very painful event for the leaders of China because the diddling and inaction let the situation changed from students raising anti-corruption issue, at first accepted by the elders, turning more and more aggressive into asking for the resignations of the Premier and cabinet.  Many of these kids were children of the party leaders.  That was how painful it became.  Therefore the CPC is still very sensitive to this event.  Because there were clear evidence of external agents in the square escalating, they are especially chagrined by the preachy West.  No way anyone can go back 22 years and create a new upheaval from it.

[4] Economic Collapse will cause the collapse of the CPC.  Yes agreed.  The big "IF" is Pei seems quite ignorant of the various gigantic restructuring programmes of China already started three years ago and already showing results. As Gordon Chong intimates, China's energy consumption was not in step with the 7.8% growth in 2012 and therefore the CPC must be lying.  For them to be lying, China must be suffering worse, rather than recovery from the rest of the world's financial problems.  For a deeper analysis, this lack of dramatic increase in energy usage is a dramatically positive sign that their massive focus on Energy Savings and New Renewable Energies is taking hold and accelerating. 

[5] Pollution is a major problem for China's environment.  In putting growth and industrialization as the first wave of priorities, they knew it was a sacrifice and trade-off versus staying in poor backwards status.  Those in the West in the environment industries will laugh at Pei's article because they are swamped by company executives, government environmental officials from China with massive amounts of money to spend on technology and solutions.  For example, on Coal-fire Power Plants, China mandated nearly a decade ago that catalytic converters must be installed on these plants to denitrify and desulferize their flue-gas.  It created a massive bonanza for engineering firms in China during two years.  GE, Alstom, ASEA, B&V made a killing without telling the world press. The giant ones have been retrofitted.  The smaller ones and older ones are now being fitted because Chinese factories have restructured and created their own units.  2012, China surpassed US as the world's #1 spender in green projects.  There are many issues of pollution, so has the world.


[...] vừa qua, đã có trên 80 quốc gia từ toàn trị tiến dần đến dân chủ, hoặc hoàn toàn dân chủ hoặc chỉ một phần dân chủ. Lý do cũng rất dễ [...]

[...] vừa qua, đã có trên 80 quốc gia từ toàn trị tiến dần đến dân chủ, hoặc hoàn toàn dân chủ hoặc chỉ một phần dân chủ. Lý do cũng rất dễ [...]

[...] vừa qua, đã có trên 80 quốc gia từ toàn trị tiến dần đến dân chủ, hoặc hoàn toàn dân chủ hoặc chỉ một phần dân chủ. Lý do cũng rất dễ [...]

petal rain
March 2, 2013 at 19:20

ROC has some merits for PRC to learn from in terms of political reforms, traditional culture maintenance and environmental policies. However one easily know two vital differences. In respect to breadth of actuall jurisdiction area and population (remind, PRC&ROC all claim sovereignty over the taditional China), they differ hugely. Blunt comparison of affluence level is of little use, let alone the different developmental scratches they began at (remember KMT brought gold and research elites to TW while tens of millions of poor unaducated peasants there in mainland). 

Secondly, international relationships for the newly-established red PRC were much perplexer and harder for it to deal with. In the context of cold war, PRC was sandwiched between two super powers and was made uneasy to relaxingly develop itself in this vicious atmosphere. In contrast, ROC definitely standed at US's side and played a simpler role as a strategic piece of the US by its design. ROC received plenty of funds and military aid from the US. Its geographically-decided status, i.e. island, isolated it from plagues of war. 

Another thing I want to advert is, TW's economic progress was mainly achieved during KMT's autocracy and nowadays development, in large scale, hinges on trades and communications with the mainland which are yet attacked by DPP of TW without rational reasons. Ironically, after its democratic transition, TW politics has been plunged into mud of blue-green polarization, which has stimulated ethnicity resentment and rejection (typically people from TW province with "foreign provinces", Taiwanese with Chinese, which is in principle inclusive). Populism, party's demagogic propagenda and irrational response make policy-making process difficult and its result partisan and near-sighted often. 

Although I' m not in favor of the current regime in PRC, I must clarify some facts about its governance. Ancient Chinese dynasties gained their legitimacy from Mandate of Heaven under which they also must take up responsabilities lest losing the Mandate, and people regarded their authorities as fathers and gave deference to them. It's in some degree alike today. What I want to say is the legitimacy of a non-democracy in China is more natural than in the West given its unique history and culture (yes, I'm against cultural-absolutism). What's more, people in PRC now have many freedoms  apart from some political ones. As for speech freedom, the boom of netizens has in some degree increased it. It's unfair to classify PRC as a unfree state.

I understand It's common for a westerner to think of PRC as a bad nation and a threat to world peace and liberty. I don't want to explain the inside psychology and preconceptions added, nor do I bother to suggest it's from someone's jealousy or some interest groups' conspiracy. My hope is that everyone can stop fancying and demonizing China and start receiving facts however revolting they are to you and deliberating conscientiously issues on China.

January 5, 2014 at 19:36

My man,
How old are you ?What do you know about China ancient history ? One can not help laughing to read this paragraph:
Ancient Chinese dynasties gained their legitimacy from Mandate of Heaven under which they also must take up responsabilities lest losing the Mandate, and people regarded their authorities as fathers and gave deference to them. It’s in some degree

petal rain
March 2, 2013 at 17:43

I agree with you. 

[...] 原文:5 Ways China Could Become a Democracy 作者:裴敏欣日期:2013/02/13由”譯者“志願者翻譯並校對,同時參考同源譯文。 [...]

February 22, 2013 at 16:21

chances are it will all work out that way

for world peace 's sake!

February 21, 2013 at 20:16

China if becomes a democracy, will succumb to pressure from its ultra nationalistic citizens. Beware of what you wish for.

February 21, 2013 at 11:36

If Taiwan and Japan are not one party state, neither is China.  You can also say that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are trying to help USA too!

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