One Soviet Leader China Could Emulate…and It’s Not Gorbachev
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One Soviet Leader China Could Emulate…and It’s Not Gorbachev


In the four and half months since his installation as China’s new leader, Mr. Xi Jinping has been talking about reviving the country’s economic reform almost incessantly.  Although his branding campaign is generally considered successful and Mr. Xi appears to be enjoying a honeymoon period with the Chinese public, much remains unknown about what he means by reform.  In particular, whether Mr. Xi’s reform agenda includes much-needed political reform (real democratizing reform, not just administrative window-dressing) is a hotly debated topic.

An astute politician, Mr. Xi himself has said little in public about the substance of his reform.  However, what he reportedly said at a gathering of local officials in Guangdong in January suggests that he was not contemplating a dramatic overall of China’s political system.  According to leaked notes, Mr. Xi reflected on the collapse of the Soviet Union in his remarks to these officials.  The fact that Mr. Xi should dwell on a two-decade old historical subject is illuminating in itself.  A reasonable guess is that he might be thinking about the same challenges that faced the leaders of the late Soviet Union.  But what he said about the causes of the Soviet collapse was even more revealing, if not disconcerting.  The loss of ideological commitment to communism, Mr. Xi allegedly warned his audience, was the root cause of the rapid demise of the Soviet regime.  As a result, there was not “one real man” in the entire Soviet Union, Mr. Xi further pointed out, who would stand up to defend the teetering communist edifice.

Of course, one could read many things into such alleged remarks.  To be fair to Mr. Xi, without knowing the specific context in which such remarks were delivered, there is a real risk of distorting his message.  However, should these remarks be genuine, they should trouble those who expected Mr. Xi to re-balance China’s reform strategy by reintroducing political reform to constrain the power of the ruling party and the bureaucracy.

We don’t have to look very hard for other signs that China’s new leadership will be extremely cautious about, if not averse to, political reform.  Mr. Yu Zhengsheng, ranked number four on the Politburo Standing Committee (the Communist Party’s top decision-making body), declared in his acceptance speech after being appointed the chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Council (a ceremonial advisory body) in mid-March that China “would never copy the Western model,” effectively dispelling any doubts about the political direction of the new leadership team.

It seems that the door to greater political openness has also been closed on the people of Hong Kong in recent days.  Hong Kong is scheduled to elect its chief executive directly and competitively in 2017, but a senior Chinese official, Mr. Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the law committee of the National People’s Congress, dashed such hopes when he said, in an internal seminar, that Beijing has the final say on whether or not to appoint such a leader, even if he is democratically elected.

April 9, 2014 at 01:07

I don’t understand the sentence five: “However, what he reportedly said at a gathering of local officials in Guangdong in January suggests that he was not contemplating a dramatic overall of China’s political system.” Was the word “overhaul” intended rather than “overall”?

March 21, 2014 at 03:21

To Minxin Pei: You should know that ever since Mao took over the Chinese Communist Party, he and his successors didn’t follow Stalin’s order or any Soviet leaders’ model. Deng didn’t follow America’s model either. China just goes on its own way. I hope you understand.

April 13, 2013 at 23:42

The CCP is not really a single gigantic party. There are several factions in the party such as maoist, pro-reform faction…e.g..

April 12, 2013 at 04:00

The cycle is 30 years + not 20 (Japan, Taiwan, SKorea, ASEAN).  And now it's …..your turn, China  (though it's a bit late!) . Economics is a ( social) science not fairy tales or fictions. So,  there's no place for wishful thinking here.

[...] One Soviet Leader China Could Emulate…and It’s Not Gorbachev – The Diplomat [...]

mountain man
April 11, 2013 at 08:14

I think China is self sufficient and need not have to interact with other countries.

John Chan
April 9, 2013 at 10:36


1. US, UK or Germany are Anglo-Saxon while France is not Anglo-Saxon, and French is a lackey of Anglo-Saxon. Please do not claim Anglo-Saxon’s credit as French’s, French stole and copied Anglo-Saxon’s technological advancements so that it could lift itself out of French fishwife era of barbarism and backwards theocratic culture.

2. Only the Westerners lived in the low level of culture, mud huts, theocratic ignorance and superstition, and subsistence agriculture during the dark age of medieval Europe, not other civilizations. Before 1820 China’s GDP was twice bigger than France, Germany, Italy and Britain put together, and China’s GDP has again twice bigger than those 4 nations’ total. Pretty soon France will be back to its historical status as in the medieval Europe due to its arrogance and religious struggle against the Muslims.

3. Culture uplifting must be started in France, the awkward French must be replaced by English, so that French can be assimilated by Anglo-Saxon, and an EU unified under the leadership of Anglo-Saxon could become a worthy opponent of China. France is just too tiny to show China’s prowess.

April 7, 2013 at 22:50

@ John Chan


Allow me to correct a few misconceptions in your posts, as you seem to still be living in the age of cold war communism (similar to your mentor, Mao Zedong).

1. The west does care about China's well being actually, if we didn't care then we wouldn't have opened up our markets for you to export your goods for the past 30 years. Where would you be getting all this economic growth if you did not have the two largest consumer markets in the world (EU & US) to export to? We have also been giving you many of the technological advancements that the west has made in manufacturing, and R&D over the past few centuries. Overall, you need to thank the great western nations for helping China rise from its barbaric and backwards culture. The Chinese are beginning to accept the western culture superiority by buying western cars and electronics, immigrating to western countries, and studying in western universities.

2. Of course the west must maintain the current world order, because this is the only world order that will lead to peace and prosperity in the future. For the past few centuries, mankind has gone from living in mud huts and stone houses to living in comfortable, well designed houses with air conditioning, electricity, hot water etc…..this prosperity is unprecedented in all of human history. The world order must be continued for at least a few more centuries, the rest of the world still has not developed yet, and only through more cultural uplifting will the world become a better place. (this is known as the westerners burden)

3. The world must be lead by the following peace loving nations: US, France, UK and Germany as well as a host of secondary ally nations like Canada, Australia, Japan etc…..the cultural uplifting is starting to take place in countries like libya, mali, iraq, and afghanistan due to western aid in those places. It will only continue into the future as well and China will have no say in this matter at all.

March 21, 2014 at 03:11

1. You have a wrong perspective in trade. If you buy an item you like for your need from a seller, you don’t tell them he should appreciate and thank you very much for your benevolent purchase and how your purchase contributes to his livelihood. Do you ever do that. I don’t think so. Understand!
2,3 Your world order has also done crime-against-humanity devastations throughout the world and, after hundreds of years and through those devastations, the rest of the world are still dependent on their previous colonial master for hundreds of years to come because that world order is controlled by the West and cannot be challenged as we all know. Libya, Mali, Iraq, and Afghanistan were once free, flourishing and independent country. Now they are socially destroyed by West’s instigated wars and depend on the West for handouts to lift themselves up. Essentially they are just West clients. That is, the West’s prosperity sits on their client countries through the so-called world order. So Sad.

April 7, 2013 at 11:45

There are so many people around the world who despise and envy the rise of China and wish to see China collapse and disintegrate, see China fail, see China crash and burn, so there will always be a market for those "China collapse" books. For example, I myself enjoy reading books and reports on U.S. decline.

April 7, 2013 at 01:51

Sounds just like a whiny 'cry-baby-sore-loser' here, comrade Bankotsu! What did your China have to share the world with Uncle Sam, commie? Political & economic reforms are a must for  China for  its very own survival. You got it?

April 7, 2013 at 00:48

[...] [...]

leo prades
April 6, 2013 at 19:09

Haha, you're absolutely right. Of course, I can predict the collaps of any country, because every country may experience an economic crisis, just like the US right now. Some commentators seem to wish China might collapse, and should it experience future economic woes, they will say that they were right, even though with more than 20 years delay. This is an ideological and – if I may say so – intellectually dishonest approach to political and economic analysis. On the other hand, there is hope for the many unemployed people worldwide, because they might start a career based on predicting that some country the West doesn't like will eventually collapse.

leo prades @my-new-life-in-asia.blogspot

April 6, 2013 at 00:05

"For example, one party may be more Maoist while the other may be more Dengist.  Or one party may be more pro-domestic development while the other might be more pro-globalization."

They don't have to be parties of different political tendencies. They can be parties of completely similar policies. The function of the parties is to rotate political leaders, let people have a vote and check each other for corruption, complacency and waste and encourage openess and debate. And since both are CCP parties(A&B), they won't attack the heritage of the CCP.

John Chan
April 5, 2013 at 22:24

@Alex Z,

The author belongs to a group called Zombie China Naysayer, its group members include Gordon Chang,  Peter Navarro, James Chanos, etc.  For example they predicted “The Coming Collapse of China” twenty years ago, and they still insist they are right, but just off the timing a bit, they adjust the timing yearly.


John Chan
April 5, 2013 at 22:08


Are you sure you understand democracy? Gee, no wonder USA is closet police state, because its citizens have no clue how democracy works. Besides Obama has not honoured his campaign promise yet, change to the better; he has been walking the same bellicose path left behind by the moron Bush, it seems the guys in control of USA are not the one sits in the Oval Office.

April 5, 2013 at 18:05

"One thing that bothers me is the author’s conclusion that China’s political choice would be “the road to nowhere”."

It's time for BRICS to open a new road for the rest of the world. If the world sticks to the U.S neoliberal agenda, that would really be the road to nowhere.

The South also rises

The Brics are building a challenge to western economic supremacy

U.S. take Hawaii east, China take Hawaii west, let's all open a new road together. You know that it is inevitable.

April 5, 2013 at 16:29

Bankotsu wrote:

April 4, 2013 at 11:31 pm

My own views on political reform in China is that the CCP must split into two parties, CCP A and CCP B. They can hold elections once every five years and rotate political leaders. That way, China can peacefully evolve into a two party dictatorship like the U.S.


This may not as silly an idea as it might appear on the surface.  In fact, I myself had thought of this.  For example, one party may be more Maoist while the other may be more Dengist.  Or one party may be more pro-domestic development while the other might be more pro-globalization.  And the Chinese people can choose which one they like best.  One party might call itself the Self-Reliant Party while the other can call itself the Opening Up Party.

Vid Beldavs
April 5, 2013 at 16:00

The Soviet Union was dependent on the West for technology, but China now has the capability to develop leading technology in most fields, including consumer goods.   In contrast to the Soviet Union examination of policy choices is encouraged with a range of think tanks that would rival the spectrum of think tanks in the US.  If one purpose of the political process is to achieve effective policy that meets the needs of the country and its people, it is not at all clear that a system that encourages policy debate before decisions are reached, and dampens debate during implementation, is more likely to fail than a Congress paralyzed through ideological discord.   Andropov faced a Soviet Union that could not deliver toilet paper and other basic consumer goods that was over invested in the military – an Upper Volta with missiles.   This is not the problem of China.  Thinking about this problem it would be useful to read some books on China's think tanks as well as John Naisbitt's China's Megatrends.

Alex Z
April 5, 2013 at 14:38

One thing that bothers me is the author’s conclusion that China’s political choice would be “the road to nowhere”. How would he know that? How does he know the future? Is he a god? How did he figure out that he is smarter than the millions of Chinese? I grew up in the Soviet Union where I heard a lot about decaying capitalism and I feel very sceptical about these kinds of statements. I don’t want to give more credit to the Chinese than they deserve but It would be wrong to underestimate them either. They are obviously looking for a safe medium between a radical communism and a vicious ruthless capitalism because they had a plentiful opportunity to observe the pros and cons of both ends of the stick over the past few decades. So, who said there is no way out of this situation? What is obvious to me is that the whole world is in desperate search of the third choice. So, who knows, maybe Chinese are on the right track and will be the first to stumble upon it? Let’s be honest here: China hardly looks like a loser at this point of history.

February 15, 2014 at 21:34

Fair minded readers and independent thinkers, like Alex Z, Vid Beldavs and Bankotsu, please don’t be surprised with the negativisms of this article. The Diplomat is world famous and notoriously known to most as the “China Bashings” site. Their story-lines will unavoidably be filled with negative vibes about China. For The Diplomat, there can be nothing good coming out of China. In fact, I could see that the two-parties system is gradually taking shape already within the CCP itself. Whether this would ultimately expand into a more inclusive system is anybody’s guess. At the end of it, what everybody wants is a good government that improves quality of life of the people. All systems are capable of producing “good” or “bad” governments. A good benign authoritarian government beats a corrupted “democratically elected” government anytime. China could be the proof of that once she gets her act right. The new set of leadership in China is promising. The “ten years rotation system” is healthy and offers stability. Andropovism may have found the fertile soil it needs for resurrection in China. Let us just wait and see.

April 5, 2013 at 11:47

KMT was defeated in civil war, so it cannot be part of the rotating parties. There will be no new parties in China. There will only be a division of the CCP into two blocs as rotating parties where the policies are more or less the same. This will be like the U.S. democratic/republican two party dictatorship system where they rotate leaders every 4 years with no significant changes in policies.

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