China is stagnating in its ‘trapped transition’ – Minxin Pei

From the Financial Times, via A Glimpse of the World blog (link):

Anomalies abound when we think about China’s economic transition. How, for example, has it achieved record-beating growth while lagging badly on institutional reforms? Although an initial pioneer in embracing market reforms, China today has fallen behind most former Soviet bloc countries, its large developing country peers (Mexico, Brazil and India) and most of its east Asian neighbours in terms of privatisation, regulation and the rule of law.

China’s movement towards is even more disheartening. Since its transition began in 1979, per capita income has increased 10 times and foreign trade has exploded from $20bn in 1978 to $1,000bn in 2005; but growth and globalisation have not brought democracy. Instead of liberalising the political system, the ruling Communist party has vowed never to adopt “western-style” democracy. Even as China enters the information age, Beijing is busy closing outspoken newspapers, jailing dissidents and coercing Google and Yahoo to help police the internet.

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…… China has fallen into this transition trap largely because the political momentum that launched its economic reform has dissipated. Nearly 30 years ago, awakened by the Cultural Revolution nightmare, both the elites and the public rallied behind Deng Xiaoping’s “second revolution”. Today, those horrific memories have faded. The party, no longer imperilled, is smug and complacent. The broad political coalition that propelled the transition in the 1980s has crumbled. With rising inequality, endemic corruption and unrelenting authoritarian rule, segments of society have become disenchanted with the regime and its policies. Without a national reformist ethos or visionary reformers, China seems to be on a Long March to nowhere. China’s continuing economic growth merely vindicates the current policies and disproves the need for change, perpetuating the trap. Riding this momentum, the party may muddle along for some time but it is hard to imagine that China can evolve into a market! democracy without a cataclysmic mid-course correction.


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