May 6, 2007


In China a call for democracy stirs secretive storm (Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim, 5/06/07, Reuters)

A veteran Chinese Communist's call for democracy has stirred a secretive campaign of condemnation from the party, wary of fanning disputes over political reform before a congress to cement President Hu Jintao's grip on power.

Xie Tao, 85, made his plea for "democratic socialism" in the magazine China Across the Ages (Yanhuang Chunqiu), a monthly backed by reformist party elders.

"Political system reform can no longer be delayed," Xie wrote in his essay published in February. "Only constitutional democracy can fundamentally solve the ruling party's problems of corruption and graft, only democratic socialism can save China!"

MORE (via jim hamlen):
David's Bookshelf 24 (David Frum, NRO)

In the 1980s, China's leaders commenced a gradual transition from a command economy to a market economy. This transition has yielded dramatic results, as all the world knows. But [Minxin Pei's China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy] warns that the transition is faltering - victim of the regime's determined refusal to share political power.

* The Chinese economy remains dominated by government monopolies. State-owned enterprises control all or virtually all the telecom and banking industries, as well as tobacco, grain distribution, power generation, among other industries. State-owned enterprises employ nearly half the industrial workforce.

* The Chinese state is growing rapidly. By the government's own (and probably understated) numbers, government expenditure grew 318% per year between 1978 and 2002, unadjusted for inflation. Over the same period, government revenues grew 65% per year.

NB a query from reader Matthew Rieff sends me back to Pei's text to double check this stat. And indeed I did misread it. The 318% PA increase refers to administrative expenses only. While Chinese state employment is rising rapidly, China's revenues are actually declining relative to GDP. This is especially true of the central government - see the following point:

* The Chinese state may be disintegrating. The fastest growth of both expenditures and revenues is at the district and local level. Local cadres seem increasingly effective at diverting revenues to themselves to build up their own local patronage machines.

* The state is overwhelmed by corruption. Pei cites a range of estimates on the pervasiveness of corruption and ends by guessing that corruption consumes somewhere between 4% and 17% of China's gross domestic product. Corruption is prosecuted rarely and ineffectively, a few spectacular exceptions notwithstanding.

* The Chinese Communist party's grip on power is tightening, not loosening. While 60% of entrepreneurs who launched businesses in the 1980s were workers, peasants, or other ordinary people, by 2002, two-thirds of China's business owners were former government officials, party cadres, or executives of state-owned enterprises. This is not a case of successful businessmen opportunistically joining the ruling party. Rather, it seems that the ruling party is oppportunistically seizing successful businesses.

* Social and class tensions are intensifying. China's tax collections fall most heavily on peasants and the countryside. Pei documents mounting tax resistance - and survey data showing that even relatively privileged city dwellers express growing concerns about corruption.

Pei argues that these disturbing trends represent something more than growing pains. He argues that they inhere in the path the Chinese Communist Party chose for the country it rules.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 6, 2007 9:43 PM

That's it, Comrades. All you need is a little restructuring and a little openness to go along with it. Can't miss.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 7, 2007 5:01 AM

Just think, with a little restructuring they can become the France of Asia.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 7, 2007 7:09 AM

How do you say Perestroika in Chinese?

Posted by: erp at May 7, 2007 4:33 PM