“Communist China’s Perilous Phase”

Minxin Pei has a new op-ed in the WSJ claiming that the end of single-party rule could well be nigh based on a few different factors. It’s optimistic, to say the least:

To appreciate the mortal dangers lying ahead for the party, look at three numbers: 6,000, 74 and seven. Statistical analysis of the relationship between economic development and survival of authoritarian regimes shows that few non-oil-producing countries can sustain their rule once per capita GDP reaches $6,000 in purchasing power parity (PPP). Based on estimates by the International Monetary Fund, Chinese GDP per capita is $8,382 in PPP terms ($5,414 in nominal terms).

So the socioeconomic conditions conducive to a democratic breakthrough already exist in China today. Maintaining one-party rule in such a society is getting more costly and soon will be utterly futile.

This brings us to the second number, 74—the longest lifespan enjoyed by a one-party regime in history, that of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1917-1991). One-party rule in Mexico had only a slightly shorter history, 71 years (1929-2000). In Taiwan, the Kuomintang maintained power for 73 years if we count its time as the ruler of the war-torn mainland before it fled to Taiwan in 1949.

The Chinese Communist Party has governed for 62 years. If history offers any guidance, it is about to enter its crisis decade, and probably has at most 10-15 years left on its clock.

One possible reason for the demise of one-party rule is the emergence of a counter-elite, composed of talented and ambitious but frustrated individuals kept out of power by the exclusionary nature of one-party rule. To be sure, the party has worked hard to co-opt China’s best and brightest. But there are limits to how many top people it can absorb.

The odds do not look good for those in Beijing who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely. They must begin thinking about how to exit power gracefully and peacefully. One thing the party should do immediately is end the persecution of potential opposition leaders like Mr. Chen and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner now in Chinese prison. The party will need them as negotiating partners when the transition to democracy eventually begins.

Like I said, optimistic…

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Filed under Communist Party, democracy

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