James Mann: Behold China

In the New Republic, James Mann, author of The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, among other books, writes an article with the subtitle, “Repressive at home. Aggressive abroad. Driving Obama nuts”:

Over the years, a variety of short-term explanations have been offered for why the Chinese leadership’s supposed plans for political change have been deferred. The Chinese leadership is too new on the job to launch reforms. Or, perhaps, it’s been around too long. No, it can’t loosen up right before a Communist Party Congress, the big gathering held every five years. Nor can it do anything in a year that ends in a nine (too many sensitive anniversaries fall during these years, including the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989). It couldn’t risk reform before the Beijing Olympics. And certainly not in a period of recession or sluggish growth–nor, for that matter, during high growth or inflation.

If you took seriously all of these past justifications for short-term delay, the perfect time for the Chinese regime to proceed with opening up its political system might be right about now. The touchy year that ends with a nine is over, the Beijing Olympics long gone. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have been in their jobs together for seven years already, and the next Party Congress is still two years off. There may be a few financial jitters, like a real-estate bubble, but, generally speaking, the Chinese economy is doing fine–neither in recession nor frighteningly overheated.

Yet there is no sign of political liberalization. In fact, over the past year or so, President Hu Jintao and his aides have seemed to be, if anything, moving in the opposite direction–tightening control of organized political opposition and even the lawyers who represent dissenters.

Read a CDT interview with James Mann about his book The China Fantasy.

March 17, 2010 1:21 PM
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