The recent Foreign Affairs edition (May/June 2015) features a set of articles on China. One, entitled, “The End of Reform in China,” and authored by China-based scholar under the pseudonym Youwei, features a set of four possible political futures for China. I’ve included them below, adding titles derived from the author’s descriptions (they didn’t give the scenarios formal titles).
- “Singapore on Steroids”: Anti-corruption and policy reforms continue and are effective, the party is reborn, and China’s economy – and the party’s power – grow. This is the scenario the current leadership would favor.
- “Status Quo”: All of the structural factors that have contributed to China’s recent rise continue to power its growth, with any inherent weaknesses or instabilities submerged for the time being. The author sees this as the most likely future, at least for the short term.
- “Democratization Through Crisis”: The structural weaknesses or time bombs of the second possible future, above, could lead to a damaged economy and “soaring” political demands, resulting in an end to the party’s rule. Such a turbulent future, the author points out, could lead to the emergence of a new authoritarian leadership.
- “Controlled Democratization”: A future in which an “enlightened leadership” takes sequenced and deliberate steps to gradually liberalize political life and introduce step-by-step reforms to the political economy. The author sees this as the best yet least likely political future for China.
As always, it’s interesting to think about what groups would be drawn to any particular scenario. The first would of course appeal to current party leadership and no doubt forms a preferred future for them as the author asserts. In contrast, a lot of “western” observers probably find themselves drawn to either the second or third scenarios, either because they find them most likely or most desirable.
It will be interesting to find comparable forecasts from American academic sources and to unpack and compare/contrast the underlying assumptions and change dynamics.