Chinese Intellectuals

Video discussion on ForeignExchange with Mark Leonard, author of the new book What Does China Think?

Leonard has opened up the Western press to the previously unknown world of Chinese intellectual debate–political, economic, and social. Absolutely mind blowing.

You can read a summary of his book in this article for Prospect.

Some highlights:

–Arguments between a Chinese “New Right” (think Grover Norquist and economic libertarians) calling for the weakening of the already de-centralized Chinese government and a Chinese new left (social contract/progressive wing not like an old statist Left).

–China as the World’s Globalizer (and pusher of vision for globalization contra the US?):

As it creates these zones, Beijing is embarking on a building spree, criss-crossing the African continent with new roads and railways—investing far more than the old colonial powers ever did. Moreover, China’s presence is changing the rules of economic development. The IMF and the World Bank used to drive the fear of God into government officials and elected leaders, but today they struggle to be listened to even by the poorest countries of Africa. The IMF spent years negotiating a transparency agreement with the Angolan government only to be told hours before the deal was due to be signed, in March 2004, that the authorities in Luanda were no longer interested in the money: they had secured a $2bn soft loan from China. This tale has been repeated across the continent—from Chad to Nigeria, Sudan to Algeria, Ethiopia and Uganda to Zimbabwe.

–In foreign policy, battles between liberal internationalists (the Chinese versions of Fareed Zakaria in a sense) and their own neo-conservatism (what Leonard calls neo-commies)

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Young Chinese Nationalism

Fascinating piece in the LATimes:

The explosion of nationalist sentiment, especially among young people, might seem shocking, but it’s been simmering for a long time. In fact, Beijing’s leadership, for all its problems, may be less hard-line than China’s youth, the country’s future. If China ever were to become a truly free political system, it might actually become more, not less, aggressive.

Published in: on May 6, 2008 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Meanwhile in Lhasa

Prayers for peace.

Chinese security forces were reportedly surrounding three monasteries outside Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, on Thursday after hundreds of monks took to the streets this week in what are believed to be the largest Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in two decades.

The turmoil in Lhasa occurred at a politically delicate time for China, which is facing increasing criticism over its human rights record as it prepares to play host to the Olympic Games in August and is seeking to appear harmonious to the outside world.

Update I:  Violence is spreading.

Published in: on March 13, 2008 at 6:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Political Future of China

Interesting article by John L. Thorton on the future of politics in China (see note bottom for his bio). 

He writes in Foreign Affairs.

JLT on possible liberalization of the Chinese order:

As with earlier leaders, what the present generation has in mind differs from the definition used in the West. Top officials stress that the CCP’s leadership must be preserved. Although they see a role for elections, particularly at the local level, they assert that a “deliberative” form of politics that allows individual citizens and groups to add their views to the decision-making process is more appropriate for China than open, multiparty competition for national power. They often mention meritocracy, including the use of examinations to test candidates’ competence for office, reflecting an age-old Chinese belief that the government should be made up of the country’s most talented. Chinese leaders do not welcome the latitude of freedom of speech, press, or assembly taken for granted in the West. They say they support the orderly expansion of these rights but focus more on the group and social harmony — what they consider the common good.

The notion of meritocracy strikes me as profoundly Confuncian.

The article focuses primarily on three realms (named by Wen Jiabao):  elections (in villages and townships as well as intra-party CCP), judicial independence/integrity, and supervision (of corruption within the Party appartus and the Party over the system).  Thorton highlights the positive steps in those regards and overall the piece is sunny, but he does not totally minimize the rife corruption, nepotism, brutality and stupidity of the legal system, and so forth. 

Tentative conclusions:

Clearly, some people at the center of the Chinese system are thinking actively about these fundamental questions. The issue is whether and how these ideas will be translated into practice. China must now complete the transition begun in recent years, from a system that relies on the authority and judgment of one or a few dominating figures to a government run by commonly accepted and binding rules. The institutionalization of power is shared by all countries that have successfully made the transition to democracy. China’s ongoing experiments with local elections, reform of the judicial system, and the strengthening of oversight are all part of the shift to a more rule-based system. So are the ways in which Chinese society continues to open and diversify, incrementally creating a civil society.

 And intriguingly, the primary mechanism/context for institutionalization?  Leadership transfer.  The current roster (Hu and Wen) are the first to gain a normalized peaceful transfer.  The next generation will be the first with extensive education and life experience (China’s Obamas) in the West and will be the ones to really accede in a 21st century China.   

(Thorton is Professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management and its School of Public Policy and Management, in Beijing, and Director of the university’s Global Leadership Program. He is also Chair of the Board of the Brookings Institution)

Published in: on February 12, 2008 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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