EVENT TRANSCRIPT: End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining its Rise
DATE: 6-7pm 31st July 2018
VENUE: Henry Jackson Society
SPEAKER: Professor Carl Minzner, author of End of an Era and Professor of Chinese Law and Governance at Fordham School of Law
EVENT CHAIR: Dr John Hemmings, Director of Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society
FULL NAME OF FIRST SPEAKER: Dr John Hemmings
Dr John Hemmings: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming tonight on what is a very sunny and pleasant evening. And you’ve chosen to be inside and be with us, and for that we’re grateful.
I’m John Hemmings, Dr John Hemmings, the Director of the Asia Studies Centre here. I think we have a real treat for you today. We have someone who has done what very few people managed to do, in either a career or a lifetime, and that’s to write a book that exactly hits the zeitgeist at that very moment. When Carl Minzner came up with this book, the End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining its Rise, I think about fifty people around the world went ‘dang it!’, because he got to them first before them. It’s incredibly impressive, I’m ploughing through it at the moment. So Carl comes to us as a professor in Chinese law and governance, so he’s of expert not only in China’s culture and civilisation, but also in its governance. He’s written extensively, you can find him published in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times. He has an extremely strong and reputable career. It essentially looking at the evolution of the Chinese law. Now, for everyone who’s, you know, interested in Communism or in authoritarian states, you know, law is an excellent entry point. We tend to think very much of rights, and human rights being one of the major entry points. But actually, law provides such a contrast with the politicisation of institutions, with the warping of those institutions, by political masters and political impulses. So, I think this is a book that comes to us not only in a timely manner, but also, from a very high level of authority and understanding. I think with that, what we’ll do is we’ll give Carl the floor, and I think you’ve got what, 10 or 15 minutes,
Professor Carl Minzner: I can probably go 20, 25. (inaudiable)
Dr John Hemmings: Or we could even go to a little bit longer than that. As long as you like. I know that Henry Jackson crowds like a little bit of a discussion, but it’s up to you. You’re our guest. And so with that, Professor Minzner, I welcome you, please.
Professor Carl Minzner: Thank you very much. Thanks to all of you for coming out on a wonderful evening to hear my talk. As John mentioned, this is one of my first professional events in England, in the UK. Actually in UK, or anywhere outside of the United States, so it’s my honour and thank you very much. And thanks also for the staff for organising the event today. It’s an honour to be here.
What I’m going to do is, give a short summary of the book upfront, and that’s the China’s decades-long reforms era, post-1978 reform era is ending. What I’m going to do, ideologically, economically, and politically, it’s moving in a very different direction from what we’ve known over the last several decades. What I’m going to do today, is first explain what’s taking place, and then second, explain why I’m particularly worried about it. And I’m going to focus, in particular, on the political element of the evolution. I know, some of you folks are more interested in the ideological or the economic, but precisely because some of the political shifts are what’s showing up in the news today I’m going to focus a little bit more on that. The book is more comprehensive. I’m happy to take questions on any element of what’s going on China today. Let me start first with a brief overview.
For the first three decades of the People’s Republic of China, so 1949 to the late 1970s, the Maoist era, China looked like this. Economically, it was stagnant. Pervasive rural poverty and a failed state-run economic model had left the country, by 1978, with a per capita GDP that was lower than India and lower than that of Zaire. Ideologically, it was relatively closed to the outside world. Not only were Western capitalist and Soviet revisionist practices decried, but Chinese tradition itself was ruthlessly suppressed in the name of socialist modernisation. In fact, all religion as well as Chinese tradition itself, were suppressed in the name of socialist modernisation.
And politically, it was unstable. Power was highly concentrated in the hands of a single leader, namely Mao Zedong. And on the level of elite politics, Mao had the regular tendency to purge his designated successors— so one of whom perished in a mysterious plane crash, well, apparently fleeing to the Soviet Union after engineering a failed coup. The other died in a prison cell during the period of political radicalisation, known as the Cultural Revolution. Within society at large, Mao preferred ruling through disruptive street campaigns and ideological movements that criticised the enemies of the day, rather than regular institutions of governance. This commutated, of course, in the period from 1966 to the mid-1970s, known as the Cultural Revolution, in which all political institutions, including the party itself, essentially dissolved amid political struggle. And that’s the first three decades of the People’s Republic of China.
The China that we know, is the second three decade, or the post-78 period. That’s the reform-era China.
Economically, this period is quite different. China experienced decades of rapid economic growth. Reforms launched in the 1980s led China to average 10% GDP growth year after year, over the next three decades. And in the 1980s in particular, this was a broad-based economic growth that benefited all, particularly the rural poor.
Ideologically, China opened up. In Deng Xiaoping’s famous words, ‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice, it is a good cat’. Within the Chinese state and within schools, that opened up a range of area for people to begin to import practices, or ideas, or concepts from abroad that they deemed useful. The party also backed out of people’s lives. The ideological fervour of the Maoist era faded.
Religion came back. Muslim mosques and Christian churches reopened. Socialism began to fade into a series of slogans that were repeated on television, but were more or less meaningless. Privately, long as you don’t cross that key line of attempting to organise politically, you had a broad degree of freedom to do what you wanted in your private life.
And politically— this is the third element— politically, China’s party leaders supported the emergence of a range of partially institutionalised political norms. I’m underlining, partially, in large part to address the chaos and instability that they had personally experienced during the late 1960s and the early 1970s. These were not political liberalisation. Chinese party leaders during the reform era were not pursuing political liberalisation; particularly after Tiananmen Square, particularly after the events of 1989, and the fall of the Soviet Union. Beijing drew a hard line at anything resembling political liberalisation. Nonetheless, during this period, the reform-era, China’s one-party political rules became somewhat more clear, partially institutionalised, and, let me give you a sample of what I mean by that.
So Deng Xiaoping, China’s preeminent leader during the 1980s and early 1990s, he designated his two immediate successors, so Jiang Zeming and Hu Jintao. That ensured an unusual level of elite political stability, during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
Similarly, there were development of internal norms within the party itself, regarding the succession and retirement of top leaders. There was partial de-politicisation of the bureaucracy. So party authorities backed out of attempting to manage every nitty-gritty detail, and they turned over responsibility for managing the day-to-day affairs of state to a wide range of government technocrats. There were also an emergence of bottom-up input institutions. Local elections, administrative watch channels, and a partially commercialised media which allowed a degree, a limited degree of popular input into the system, and provided some degree of checks against the abuses of local officials, contributing to state legitimacy.
In short, if we are thinking about this era, the reform-era, it’s marked by three things. It’s marked by rapid economic growth, a degree of ideological openness to the outside world, and relative political stability marked by these partially institutionalised political norms.
Now, we’re entering a new period. We can debate over when this new period started. Some of the, you know, some people, It’s not all 19, it’s not all 2012, it’s not all Xi Jinping. Some of the trends I want to discuss date back to the early 2000s. But they have become particularly clear since 2012.
So, first start with the economic picture. Economically, China is beginning to undergo a big shift. China’s era of rapid growth is coming to an end. Those ‘go-go years’ are over. If you’re an optimist, what you’re going to say, is you’re going to say, well, China’s slowing down, it’s following the trajectory of Japan, it’s following the trajectory of Taiwan, where after an era of rapid growth, you settle down into a slower period of growth. If you’re a pessimist, you’re going to flag a series of unsustainable pressures building up in the Chinese economy that you worry might cause a dramatic hard-landing, such as these rapidly increasing debt-levels. But one way or another, regardless of whether you’re an optimist or pessimist, the ‘go-go years’ are over. China’s entering a different period.
Ideologically, China is also changing— it’s gradually turning in on itself again. This is showing up both in society, so, some of these examples are these renewed popular interests in Confucianism, a proliferation in one of my example I’d like to use is Chinese college graduation. This sort of proliferation of Han Dynasty clothing. But it’s also showing up in state actions. So Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader, made a pilgrimage to Qufu, which is the birthplace of Confucius in 2013. And he declares that the Communist Party, after spending the better part of the 20th century attempting to wipe out Confucianism, attempting to wipe out China’s own ideological and religious traditions, needs to actually embrace those and fuse them with Marxist-Leninism into sort of a new ideology that will guide China into the future.
Now, of course, when you look at these trends, part of them are just the renewed interests in part of the citizens themselves in their own heritage. Many Chinese people are beginning to quite understandably question— after several decades of absorbing huge numbers of things from abroad, perhaps shouldn’t we focus a little bit on our own culture and our own traditions rather than simply, sort of, sucking stuff in from the outside. But, it’s important to realise, although that’s taking place, there is a very crucial state element that’s taking place as well.
China’s new leaders are attempting to deploy Chinese tradition as a shield against foreign values, or foreign, particular Western ones. There’s a sense of the collapse of Communism after 1989, and this sort of rampart material culture in China, has left kind of a spiritual void. You know, people were looking for, what does life mean. And this void, the spiritual vacuum, has led a wide-range of external value systems are begining to come in. These include, of course, Western liberal ideals, they include underground Christian house churches. They also include Islamic influences as well. And Chinese leaders themselves are worried about this. That if your propaganda, you’re a party hard-liner, you worry about these trends and you’re thinking: we need to do something to resist these. So what they’re doing, with some what in the party propaganda leader doing, is they’re trying to mobilise China’s own tradition as a shield, as sort of something that we can hold out, reassert our own culture, reassert our own, something that’s ours, in a way to hold off these foreign things coming in. You’re starting to see this appear in academia as well, with this pressure to sort of begin to politically rectify, for academia to sort of address some of these foreign values that they’re concerned about.
Now, I’m going to say one more element about the ideological component, because it’s particularly of interest to Brit, UK-based audience. When you reassert this very close and more close, more narrow version of what it means to be China, what it means to be Chinese, it does have another effect as well. It generates increasing tensions with the people within China, or in the borderland areas who fit least well into that narrative. So for example, look at Hong Kong. Beijing begins to decide it wants to push patriotic education into the Hong Kong schools. What does that do? You get this push-back in the form of young, Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers who are saying: that’s not my identity; I disagree with that. They radicalise our, in terms of being more intend about: I have my own identity. Same thing happen out in Xinjiang, out in the you know, Muslim, Uighur-Muslim area on the other side of China. You start pushing, you know, efforts, anti-veiling efforts, in which you sort of, and you try to encourage people to eat during Ramadan, and some pretty crazy stuff. What does that do? It encourages similar push-backs on the part of radicalisation, on the part of folks living there. Same trends are taking place with the underground Christian community. There’s more pressure on those, that’s generating a range of disputes that are beginning, blow-back from attentions with the Christian community.
None of these are imminent threats to stability in China, but they are a real clear indication of how things have shifted, even compared with ten or fifteen years ago.
Hong Kong as a source of radicalism and protest? I remember Hong Kong in the late-1990s and 2000s. That’s almost, it’s, this is, we’re coming into a new world here.
Now. So I talked about the economics, I talked about the ideology. Let me talk a little bit about the political dimension as well. This is the interest, which the, many people’s interest right now, because it’s showing up in the papers.
Politically, what you’re seeing is a breakdown in those partially institutionalised political norms that we thought were, sort of, the way China was run post-1978. Since Xi Jinping’s rise in 2012, China’s new leader, he’s broken with many of these norms. For example, there used to be a norm that high-level party officials, Politburo standing committee officials, were immune from prosecution, from sanctions once they stepped down from the office. Zhou Yongkang, the former security tsar, he falls in 2013 and he’s spending a life in prison. This is a clear signal, ‘I’m, breaking with those prior norms’. Similarly, there’s a range of ill-defined leadership groups that are beginning to concentrate power back in the hands of a single individual, namely Xi Jinping. Previously, it used to be, power was divided between several people at the top. One person bearing the responsibility for the economy, another person bearing the responsibility for the propaganda, and the like, and security. Now, increasingly those have been concentrated in one person. And the Premier, Li Keqiang, who theoretically should be the one running the economy, he seems to be marginalised. And there’s also the sort of long-standing official version of anything resembling a cult of personality, that’s starting to give way as well. You’re starting to see much higher attention in the state media devoted to Xi Jinping alone.
Within the past couple of months, you’ve seen other norms fall as well. At last fall, the 19th Party congress, they didn’t name a successor to Xi Jinping. At this period in, Xi Jinping going into a second term as general party secretary, you would expect some kind of signal as to the person who would follow him. We didn’t get anything like that. Instead, they altered the party charter to include this reference to the party is guided by Xi Jinping Thought on ‘socialism with China’s characteristics’. It’s a very stilted phrasing. What it means though, is that it puts Xi Jinping in the party constitution, in the party’s charter, on a level that’s higher than his two immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. It arguably puts him past Deng Xiaoping as well, Chinese leader during the 1980s, and starts to take him into language, or that, it has some resonance with Mao Zedong.
Okay. Specifically, what this is going to do over the next couple of years, is you’re going to see documentaries, you’re going to start to see media presentations that begin to identify the party with one individual. They’re going to be, you know, illustrating how Xi Jinping embodies the characteristics that all party members should be following. And you already start to see this if you look at some of the documentaries that are starting to come out.
Everyone’s recent focus has been on his party leadership, his immediate leadership, the constitutional amendments that took place recently, that is, they removed the term limits on the Xi Jinping’s role as state president. That, theoretically, you know, you used to have these two limits, you can serve two terms as state president. Theoretically, that would have created a situation where Xi Jinping would have to leave the role of state presidency after ten years. Somebody didn’t want that to happen, so we changed the constitution in the spring, which arguably means maybe he’s staying around much longer. Again, this would also be a break with prior precedent in which top leader, namely, the top leader had stepped down after five, after ten years.
Though, there are two other shifts that I’m going to mention. One is, there’s a re-partyisation of the bureaucracy that’s taking place. The party is beginning to get into much deeper into the management of the day-to-day affairs of state. If you look at the new government reorganisation plan that came out, you’re starting to see things like the government and the party being fused together. Government bureaus that used to play this intermediary role— party on top, government here, and citizens below— they’re getting merged with their party core now. You folks in the business community, you’re seeing an element of this, because the party-cells, or the party committees that are operating in your firms are beginning to, you’re starting to see more pressures to give them more, role in the operating decisions. It’s unclear how far this will go. But what it as a signal is, Xi Jinping’s attempting to re, reactivate the party as a ruling force, and as a direct managing force in a range of organisations that we thought it was stepping back from. Again, an erosion of one of those earlier norms.
I’m going to just sort of stop and sort of go onto why this all is happening. Why are these political norms coming undone?
The core answer that I would say is that because of China’s failure to build alternative institutions during the reform-era, Xi finds himself forced back to yet earlier and older methods to make things happen. And put yourselves in Xi Jinping’s shoes. You’re a committed believer in the party’s continued political dominance in China. You sense that China is slouching towards increasing problems as you rise up in the early 2000s. You see corruption beginning to seep into the party’s bones. You see a fraction that, fractionalised party system that looks more like an oligarchy, where different people manoeuvre and control their turf. You are worried about what’s going to happen in the system but you also reject any move towards deeper political liberalisation, precisely because you and others in the system drew the lessons of 1989 were never going to let what happened to the Soviet Union happen to us. What do you do? I think you sort of look at what he’s doing and you say, he’s using the levers that he has. You try to centralise power in your own hands. You launch politicised purges of your rivals. You try to cultivate this populist image among the citizens at large. And you promote this ideological shift back towards nationalism and cultural identity.
What does this mean for the future? Well, some people are saying: Well, this is, Xi Jinping is the new Mao. I don’t go that far. There still are couple of those reform-era norms that haven’t broken. The big one is— no bottom-up social mobilisation. The Maoist era, Mao was calling people out on the streets to attack his enemies. At the moment, what is taking place in China is still a top-down process, where, you know, you’re trying to control the system but you don’t want the people getting on the streets, kind of beginning to, sort of, mobilise in sort of unpredictable ways. But the key point is the reform-era is unravelling.
The economy is slowing down. Ideologically, it’s closing up and those political norms are becoming undone. And once you start reaching the conclusion that that’s what’s happening in China, the real operative question is: what are the next norms that could start to fall? And that starts be, where I get very worried. Just to be clear, while this is a China-centric story, and actually it’s a story of political erosion within China’s one-party system, I’m not bashing China.
The idea is that political norms are coming undone. It has resonance in a wide range of other countries, including democratic ones. Look at Turkey. Look at India. Look at the Philippines. And Americans, I have to say: look at the United States as well.
If I was a US expert, I would tell a story in which the last two decades of the twentieth century, some money and power, fused together, in, that led to the erosion of our political norms and institutions by the early 21st century. Norms began to give away by powers and compromise, actually having a federal budget. Senate rules regarding the use of the filibusters. There was a slide towards alternative measures of governance. Direct communication over Twitter, rather than, you know, press conferences. The use of sort of, vaguely defined leadership groups, the cult of personality over experience. These purges that, you know, losing your head of the domestic security services, the FBI, or, and the, you know the purge of the state. You know, we lost (inaudiable) in the state department, et cetera. I can run that down. I can use the same title, but then start to tell a story about the United States. But of course there are crucial differences.
What’s taking place in the United States is a bottom-up erosion in a democratic system where the, you know, rules of the game, you know, we still have institutions that are still in existence. Whereas what is taking place in China is a top-down process of erosion, you know, one-party state that is driven by Xi Jinping and those around him.
But I think if you’re worried about the trends that you’re seeing in the United States, I think you have to be even more worried about what you’re seeing in China, because what happens when this political erosion takes place in a country where the entire institutions that we’re accustomed to are much more recent. This is, this is a situation where these things are rooted in very, you know, it’s within living past. Remember. And severe political violence is also of very recent vintage. And that’s why I think what’s happening is so risky, because I think once you start pulling these norms and you start to see things erode (inaudible) you start seeing pre-existing things that existed. You know, things start to go quickly. And of those earlier patterns of behaviour from the pre-78 period start to reassert themselves. And so, yeah that’s why I’m worried. Eh, you know, the possibility of you know, local officials beginning to assault the top-leaders again. The possibilities are starting to happen. Breakdown in sort of flows of information of the top, where people don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. More internal vicious score-settling within the party bureaucracy itself, as people try to compete to take one down. And the spread of these controls are deeper into society. You know, where the party in post-78 retreated and now they’re coming back in. And you know at some point, re-politicisation of society and maybe, you know, more unrest.
So, in the short term, I think it spells for more hard-line, personalised authoritarian system. But in the longer term, I worry that it’s a recipe for revival of the kind of internal, some of the kinds of internal unrest that we have seen in the pre-78 period.
I’ll stop there and I’ll take questions. Thank you.
Dr John Hemmings: Excellent.
I think with the chairman’s prerogative, maybe I’ll make a comment and a question, and then I’ll open it up to the floor. I suppose my comment was, you know, in seeing your book and seeing the rate of change in the conversation that’s occurring here and in the US, some of the West more generally has been how impactful Xi Jinping’s decision to get rid of term limits was, you know, really for a lot of people that was the tipping point. There have been so many debates back and forth in the Asia community that I was a part of, of whether this or that could be excused or shifted to one side, or it was a necessary requirement for continued, you know, we’re still not sure. But now, as your book makes very clear, and as you just eloquently said, you know, these things are at least for the permanent. At least in the long-term this is the new China that the world has to deal with.
I think what I’d like to explore in my question to you, and this is one of the big questions in international relations, and also, probably one of the biggest question about China at the moment, particularly for people working in the city, and that would be: how is the authoritarianism that you speak so well of and clearly, how will it slow down the economy?
Like, what are the mechanisms that you think will be impactful? You know, we know that centralised economies did poorly in the 20th century, we know that false quotas often were the result of political pressure. You know, there is a little bit of that in the reporting of the July, was it stock market in 2016? Or 2015? So can you maybe run though, just for a few minutes on what would be the mechanism that you see the rise being stopped, within the party to economy? And I realise you’re not an economist, but I’m, I’m quick (inaudiable).
Professor Carl Minzner: Sure. I think that’s an excellent question.
So, the first thing when I was taking about, sort of the economy trends slowing down— one thing that’s important to realise is, that’s not necessarily direct. There’s an element of that, that’s just secular change.
China, China is now, you know, it has had its period of rapid growth and it’s going into a different era. Now, the real operative question for this is, sort of the economics and the finance and the business people is: does it kind of, you know, start to slow-down like this, or is it something more sharp? I’m not entirely sure which of those that is. I do think, even if you’re entering into this era of sort of secular growth, this is going to create a whole range of new problems that, frankly, the people that I’ve talked to in China just haven’t fully began to grabble with.
So for example, the idea that you have hard budget constraints. The idea that the pensioners aren’t just going to get 10% cost of living increases going forward, forever. That’s, I think a lot of people, including like recent retirees, don’t have that in their mind. And that’s going to become, there’s going to be a whole set of pressure that sort of work their way through the system. Politically as well, when that happens.
You are talking, you are specifically asking me about, how this authoritarian shift, politically, could play into the economics. And I’ll flag, I think the key thing that I would say, is I think it makes, decision-making gets increasingly problematic. If you’re thinking about the reform era itself and you think about sort of, you know, China’s ability to manage a pretty significant transition. Part of it was, when you open out, you allow space for discussion. You allow people some room for debate. Deng Xiaoping versus Chen Yun in the 1980s. So what correction, what’s the correct direction forward? People don’t become scared when they’re sitting at the table. Earlier, people would say maybe we’ll try this, maybe we’ll try that. Whereas now, the thing that really worries me is that, as those information channels tighten up, you start to see a couple of things like— the guy at the top says X, and people are like, I’m going to over-fulfill X because I want to prove. And no one starts to question, well, is there a better way of doing things. You start to do the stock market. That is actually a fairly good example where, they decided they were going to talk up the stock market, and it ended up creating a really big bubble. So one problem when you move towards that authoritarian system is, people just start to jump at random things that are coming out of the top.
The other element is, people seem not to want to funnel back bad information. And I worry that maybe that’s what’s happening with the debt bubble. I worry that there’s more serious trouble that’s building. Maybe they will address, and maybe they won’t. But that’s the type of thing, over the long period, where I think, you start to see risks get masked. And again, if you’re flipping back to the earlier pre-1978 period that’s exactly the type of problem, Great Leap Forward, where people didn’t want to tell folks at the top exactly where the problems were. And then that means they metastasise at some point. So those would be the two issues I would flag, as potentially (inaudible).
Dr John Hemmings: Excellent. Well thank you very much for that. I think with that, I’ll it up to the floor, if you wouldn’t mind just introducing yourself perhaps and your affiliation that would be lovely. So, perhaps this gentleman, then that gentleman back there, Matthew, and then perhaps this lady here, and then we’ll go to the next round.
Question 1: Okay. Ben Nathan. No particular affiliation apart from the society. Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders have constantly talked about this century and a half of humiliations. Constantly. One wonders: are they bent on revenge on the West?
Professor Carl Minzner: I could take one at a time or I can take a couple different questions.
Dr John Hemmings: Shall we, yeah, how do you prefer?
Professor Carl Minzner: I’m good with whatever your standard.
Dr John Hemmings: Well, there’s no standard. Ad hoc in English. Matthew, do you want to go for yours as well?
Question 2: Yeah. We’re all keen to see the effects of decades of Western efforts to establish good practice, good norms of audits, and integrity, and so on in business. Other organisations have come and try to promote democracy. Now, these organisations are still very active, and we hope that audits and so on are still deliverable. But is the state sector business, affected by any incentives at all to behave in what is an internationally acceptable way. And if not, what does it mean for foreign investments?
Professor Carl Minzner: That’s a good question. I’ll start with the first one and hence a little time to think about that one. I mean, in terms of bent-on revenge, I think in his mind, I believe he thinks this is China’s moment to stand up and sort of show the world that we are. And so I think that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to take Nicaragua or Wales. I mean like, it’s not like, you know, you took Hong Kong and therefore we’re, whatever, therefore we’re going to take. I don’t think it’s quite the same. But it is (inaudible)
A member of audience: What about Australia?
Professor Carl Minzner: But let me, let me pull that. That’s an interesting point, and I’ll.
So I don’t think it’s so much tip-for-tag. Do you think it is? So we’re going to, Hong Kong, Taiwan, our near borders. We’re shaping international, you know, there was a Western dominated international order. And we want to re-work it, we want, I think, that’s definitely it.
You raised the issue of Australia. I think there’s the, where it gets complicated is the diaspora overseas. So I don’t think it’s so much we, you know, we’re interested in Chile because of, you know, maybe rum, minerals and having, you know, having you know, general foreign policy. But I don’t think that’s (inaudible)
But the diaspora. The Chinese, Beijing is interested in getting control of Chinese people. Where-ever they see the possibility for, the party itself looks at any area where there is possibility for organisation outside the party, particularly among Chinese community and once again its foot among them. Part of it is actually defensive. They’re worried about others, the Falun Gong, or other organisations organising among that community. Now, what that means in an era when you got international borders and where you got international flows of people, and where Beijing gets more and more influence, is that’s going to get, that’s already getting really nasty. Chinese-language media, in Australia, Canada, totally, you know, that curtailed.
I think you’re looking at this in the UK context. So that I don’t think Beijing is not very good about, they have no interests in drawing lies on that. The United Front activities among the Chinese population, they kind of look at it as just an extension of stuff. So I think that’s going to be something to be watching going forward. I don’t think it’s a sense of revenge to take over X. But, what’s going to get interesting is, they don’t realise it’s some of the things that they’re getting into with, the, like the port in Sri Lanka.
Dr John Hemmings: Hambantota.
Professor Carl Minzner: Yeah. It’s a 99-year long lease? I mean I, I don’t think they fully appreciate that.
Dr John Hemmings: Hong Kong. Hahahaha.
Professor Carl Minzner: Sri Lankan is going to look at them the same way that. And so, revenge is blundering into a situation where they’re becoming the new quasi-colonist that generate the resentment. With respect with the sort of, you know, the international, the China’s, the, the.
The reform-era. The name of the game was, partially, it’s the party itself. China itself said: we want to sign up to a range of international agreements and because we think that’s how we join up, that’s how we attract investment, that’s how we improve. I mean, there were people in the party itself who were looking at sort of the rule of law initiatives, looking at, you know, even a range of democracy and they are supportive of some of those, because they were trying to address problems within their own system.
So, it wasn’t like this was, oh, China was (inaudible). There was a live debate in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, you know, which direction China should go. That debate has been shut down in some areas. What, you’re pushing on the auditing front? You’re pushing on some of these other fronts? I don’t know about that. I think that’s an interesting situation.
When the party says it wants to get stronger controls over, when the party committees needs to exercise stronger influence over state-owned enterprises, over foreign enterprises, control over those finances and flows of financial information are going to be of top interests. So exactly how do the party, do the auditors have to first send this stuff to the party committees for a look through or not? I think these are the types of questions to be watching, because I think that’s where these political pressure that start to bump up against, you know. The corporations thought: we do business, we have no interests in politics. But at some point, maybe somebody is interested. And that is not just because are there going to be lay-offs? Could this engender social instability? Let’s take a look at the books first and figure out where the problems are. Yeah, so watch that.
Dr John Hemmings: Okay. Excellent. This lady was waiting, and then Andrew, and then Charlie.
Question 3: Okay. I suppose the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So is there any, what’s the relationship with Muslim world, a? And, b, with Russia? And finally, I thought they’re bleeding it dry in Africa and is thought to be taking the world supplier of minerals and everything.
Dr John Hemmings: You’ve got three questions there. Let’s just, something on foreign policy generally, but we’ll kick it into all three cause otherwise we’ll…
Professor Carl Minzner: I can try, I can try, I can try. I’ll keep with the Muslim world. I think that you say. This is an interesting area to watch. Well, I can try to do both, Muslim world and Russia together. I mean both of these are interesting areas to watch.
Currently, you know, China’s have a very positive relationship on the surface with Russia, you’ve got military exercises together. Both of them, I think, look at each other as natural allies, in terms of you know, US pressure on both of them. Behind the scenes, with respect to Russia, I think there’s some really latent issues. Namely, China is rising, Russia is kind of stagnating. What that means for control over the Far East when permafrost melts, that’s a lot of oil and gas up there.
I’ve been kind of wondering. You should go to the, you’re raising the question of revenge, you know. When Xi Jinping arises in 2012, he takes, his first official act was to take the new party leaders to the newly opened history exhibits in the National History Museum. The first map that’s in there is the territories that China lost during the period of humiliation. Of course, that includes Hong Kong, that includes. It also happens to include a series of territories in Siberia. It, interesting at some point, people have forgotten. If I was a Russian consul, I’d be like that’s an interesting thing to be putting in; the same colour as Hong Kong. And so it’s not, eh, it’s kind of interesting to see that flag. So that’s a latent, there’s some latent issues that you wonder.
The Muslims. The repression has been really dramatically ramped up in the last year in Xinjiang, the Muslim area out in the West. At the moment, that doesn’t seem to have attracted a lot of attention among you know, with the focus in the Islamic world. It’s much more in Israel, much more in the United States. It’s interesting where, what happens in the long term if that repression keeps ramped up, if Al-Jazeera covers. I mean, there is some possibility for some real problems there. And Chinese authorities themselves are publicly saying, we’re worried about Uighurs leaving China to go into Afghanistan for training. I don’t know that there has been that much clear, there’s been a little bit of evidence, but not that. But it’ll dramatically increase the pressures.
Really, it’s a very, you know the pressure that are in Xinjiang are of a different order from what anything else you see in China. It’s like really strong pressures on, you know, give up. Drink during Ramadan, eat during Ramadan, to proof that you’re not, and you know, women take off your veils. It’s people living in a party cadre, living in people’s houses demeanour, it’s getting to a very scary level.
Dr John Hemmings: Andrew Leung. And then Charlie Parton.
Question 4: Well. My name is Andrew Leung. Independent China Strategist. In fact, on the Middle East, Xi Jinping was in the UAE (inaudible), and he was given a red carpet.
But anyway, my question is more focused on this, the topic you’re focusing on, which is the perceived rolling back of reform. The more authoritarian kind of model China is putting forth. How much is this is due to the fear [sic]?
That, you know, remember, when Xi Jinping first took over, the book by Alexis de Tocqueville, the French revolution and the Ancien regime, was circulated amongst the top leadership, suggesting that that was a very dangerous moment. When the economy was starting to open up, as in the case of the French revolution. So that’s why, the (inaudible) dimension, huge corruption. Even in the Hu Jintao era, Jiang Zemin era, the so-called ‘more relaxed collective leadership’ has led in [sic] huge systemic reform. Now, at the other side of the coin is that China is not exactly stopping reform in its tracks. It’s just its reform, it’s at odds with the West’s expectations. For example, there’s a climate change, you know, movement, the one-child policy and so on.
Dr John Hemmings: It’s a good counter-argument. It’s a good counter-argument.
Question 4: So, would you address this argument (inaudible)?
Professor Carl Minzner: Absolutely. That’s actually one of the questions that I get often. Because people are saying, what you’re saying is the end of reform. Well, I say, actually it’s the end of the reform era. And the reason why I draw the distinction between those is because, the term reform, gaige in Chinese, you know, it’s now become so over-used both in Chinese and English to be kind of, meaningful.
When the one-China policy goes into effect in the late 1970s, early 1980s, it’s a reform! Similarly, when the one-child policy is revoked and becomes two-child, it’s a reform! So it’s kind of like, well, if you’re talking about just reform, anything that’s changed can be reforms, right? I prefer to focus specifically on the reform era.
Reform-era: rapid economic growth, certain degree of ideological openness to the outside, and partial political institutionalisation. That’s what’s coming to an end. There’s always going to be change going on. There’ll be something moving one way or the other, but that’s the.
What you pointed to, and I think it’s really important, which is that the, when Xi Jinping comes into power, I think he does think that there are problems that are blowing up, and I’ve got to change in order to address them. And one of the arguments that’s lay down in more detail in the book is: there might have been a period in which you could sort of start to change the system in a more gradual direction in a different way. You could have taken any of those reforms, you know, inter-party democracy, dangnei minzu, you could have taken village democracy, you could have taken those rule of law reforms. And gradually run with them, not in a way that results in liberal democracy, but maybe create some kind of more institutionalised checks on power. You could have taken some of the partially institutionalised norms. They don’t go into liberal democracy but they start to change the system in that direction. That’s off the table. The story of the 90s and the 2000s was all of those reforms: one step forward, one step back.
And the sad thing for me is, what that means when Xi Jinping comes into power in 2012 and wants to address all those problems you raised. What does he do? He starts to have to go back to yet earlier periods. And that involves putting back from the anti-corruption campaign. It’s investing a lot of power in Wang Qishan himself, rather than any other Politburo standing committee members. So, arguably right now, who is running China? Is it really the Politburo standing committee? Or is it Xi Jinping, Wang Qishan, maybe Li Keqiang? Are you starting to see the marginalisation of the party structure itself?
That’s why, you know, you see the forced confessions on television. New, you know, these pull-out journalists, pull-out human rights advocates, pull-out party officials themselves and have them make self-confessions on television as a signal to the state, to others within the state. You know, don’t go there. That’s a revival of some earlier Maoist practises that we thought have kind of gone by the wayside. And that’s gotten worse. And so I think your analysis is correct. I think he’s sort of thinks, that’s what I’ve got to do, but that makes me worried once you start walking down that path. Once you start change in the direction. I think you can kind of, start to continue, starts China down its own new trajectory that worries me where it could end up.
Dr John Hemmings: So institutionalisation rather than Western-style liberalisation? It’s a fascinating.
Professor Carl Minzner: He could have, he could have done that. But now we’re in the political erosion and the revival of some earlier practices.
Dr John Hemmings: It’s a fascinating, it’s a fascinating nuanced argument there. Charlie Parton.
Question 5: Charlie Parton. I’m advisor at the House of Commons on China and a fellow at RUSI. My question really is, to what degree can Xi Jinping really control China?
I would say, there are seven levels of power in China and he controls the top-six. But the really important one is the party county secretary and the one below. And despite the corruption campaign, all that he’s chiding and raving, he hasn’t managed it so far. Indeed, now he’s launched this sort of mafia-campaign, and to the extent that a lot of the counties I thought, aren’t party-controlled. And I think they may use the name of the party and they’re really criminally run. That’s surely a really big challenge. What can you do? Because the corruption warning and the disciplines doesn’t seem to be working.
Professor Carl Minzner: Right. That’s one of the things that worries me. I think you nailed it correctly, which is that he’s looking for levers, by which he can begin to control the party bureaucracy. And like you said, the anti-corruption, you can try to monopolise those top posts. You can use these anti-corruption campaigns which is what he’s kind of doing.
Part of it is actually anti-corruption, but another element is, you want to create a sort of insecurity and fear within the middle-level, within the bureaucracy where people don’t get out of line, and sort of become worried that, you know, if I go too far over here, something could happen to me. That creation of that fear, that’s sort of a useful way to instil a level of control.
The problem with that is, the actual, one of the actual effect is, it creates, people sit at their desks and they don’t do anything. You have the whole, alright, you know, these guys are falling left and right, and so, I’m just not going to do anything. That’s some of the other things he’s trying to grabble with right now. So some of the tools that he begins to do that as he begins to expand the disciplinary inspection committee, you start to not only go after grafter corruption, you also expand it to go after not taking official action. So you can start to sort of have a political purge, go after people for not doing things. So that’s a possibility.
So I think he’s kind of looking for something. What do I do? I think he’s trying to grabble with the last. You remember I said there was one thing that he hasn’t broken yet? I worry at some point, people start playing around with: how do I begin to mobilise those bottom-up pressures. Because there are people who are unhappy with the system. And if you were somebody at the centre of the system who is worried about the challenges within the party itself, you’re worried about pressures, you know, people not doing things, you know, factions, maybe people starting doing things. At some point you start playing around with those populist passions and try to get those folks on your side. At least you’re beginning to send a signal to people below you. Your middle managers. Things start to get worse for you. That’s worrying. Cause it’s like if you go down that, hasn’t happened yet, and it’s all on the table. That’s all my canaries on the coal mine. Because that’s where the last seal when stuff starts to open up. And so, but I think you analysed it right, he doesn’t have full control over how do I do this.
Dr John Hemmnings: Ian Grant, and then Barry, and then this gentleman here.
Question 6: Thank you very much. Ian Grant. Institute of Statecraft. I’m Malaysia-bound tomorrow morning. I got your points about the complexity of the Russia-China relationship. Very informative. I think, you know, if not already now, the Russians must be getting slightly worried about Chinese progress on military technologies, because at the moment that’s, relatively speaking, another of their Trump cards. But they must wonder, how longer they will have against them.
My question is something that very much concerns me. It’s based around your nationality. By which I mean, if you understand, what on earth are the Europeans thinking about all this? Because it seems to be very, very much, and I suspect I’ll hear a lot of this is in the next few days that, if China is to become contained and not go amok, it’ll be going to America. And the European countries seem a bit like (inaudible).
Where do you see the European nations and their still considerable economic, taken that Germany is manufacturing, fit into all this? I have to say, I’m not the greatest admirer of the collective European political system of economics and geopolitics.
Dr John Hemmnings: Diplomatic as ever, Ian.
Professor Carl Minzner: That’s an excellent question. Unfortunately, I don’t have any. I’m interested. That would be literally a question I would throw at you guys, because I don’t actually, as an American, this is my first exposure you know, in any sustained like, you know, interaction with folks based in the UK or Europe, and I’ve always wondered what’s the community out there, what do people look at this stuff and what do they think? I don’t know. Good question.
Question 6: Good answer.
Dr John Hemmings: Barry.
Question 7: I’m Barry McLeod. I’m policy relations manager here at Henry Jackson Society. It’s kind of interesting to hear some of the anecdotes and stories and analysis that’s coming out tonight, because it really does echo what we saw in the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, up to 89. It’s the same kind of problems driven by the same kind of political structures on top. Not understanding reality, not understanding limits of control of political structures. And undermine that, there’s a monolithic party that believes in (inaudible). We talked about different groups and different interests and so on. That’s something that perhaps needs to be drawn out more.
Also with sort of the understanding of the traditional of sort of Chinese thinking, of an earlier and I suppose spontaneous order approach to civilisation and ordering processes. That might actually be the beginning of opportunities. And so these things are there. These are the processes, these institutions are there, these things that are quintessentially Chinese in outlook. Why do you thinking back at those institutions so people can sort of look at, and looking at the sort of population and demographic change. That would seem to be the case where the case people would get concerned. Demographic getting so out of hand of male-female population levels for instance. That’s going to feed to him. When does that happen? Is there a cause for optimism?
Professor Carl Minzner: The demographic side of things, that’s interesting. I think in China right now, I think that’s in the rapidly aging. Still, here’s one of the interesting facts that always stuns me since when I started doing China in the 1990s. The median age has just passed the median age in the United States. China, the median age is older than the United States. For me, I always thought China was perpetually a young country. You know, now it’s going on a very different direction. Still, not going to Japan level anytime soon. It’s starting to look like Taiwan, or South Korea in terms of its demographics.
Like you mentioned, it has a whole range of implications. It’s a much poorer country than any of those. The benefits of who gets this. You know, what do the students get, do we start charging fees? You know, that’s sort of one of the UK challenges. Those pressures are going to begin to ripple through China as well over the next ten years. So, is this optimistic? I think it’s a range of, there’s a balloon of social problems in China. You drew the comparison to the Soviet Union. It’s a balloon as well. It’s like them. It’s quite different, and it’s one of the. Even when we’re thinking about problems in the Soviet Union, you know China has different sort of problems from the Soviet Union. You know I’m not a Russia, Soviet expert. There are at least three things that come to my mind.
The first is, China’s bureaucracy is not a gerontocracy. This is not late-Brezhnev level. These are, there are people on the top who want to make things happen. Like, Xi Jinping. Now, twenty years into the future, if Xi Jinping doesn’t retire, do you end up with that situation? That’s a wonder. But at the moment, they’re struggling. And there is contention. And this is not an aging gerontocracy. There’s a lot of energy built up right there.
The second is, China’s sitting on a really active economy. Like with a lot of moving parts. Which again, has the possibility to spin in many different ways. But there’s an energy level that you know, is also very different.
The last is, China has this history of, and Russia does too, but in China it’s even more if you think about the Cultural Revolution and the Maoist campaigns. China has a history of populist domestic politics that gets used in a much more unpredictable way. And so, flipping at the question Charlie asked, I think that, you know, we haven’t been, we have been thinking about Tiananmen Square and that was a brief, but there are stuff that can come out really quickly, that doesn’t necessarily mean springtime for democracy. That populism can go in anti-Japanese nationalist directions, they can go on an anti-government direction, they can go on a wide range. So I think that’s a latent threat that’s out there, that has a real possibility that could go when cracks emerge. And that would be something to watch as well, and I think it will be a little different from the Soviet Union.
Dr John Hemmnings: Sorry, you’ve been very patient.
Question 7: If you don’t mind I’ll just pick up. I work with a lot of British companies in China. I was at a conference earlier on this year on artificial intelligence and had some long talks with students, recent graduates who were genuinely concerned about their futures. So much so that they actually dumped it on me as a foreigner. And as you know, the Chinese don’t like to do that. Do you detect a any employments that are coming along for these, dare I say, kids? They’re smart. They look to the future. What are they going to do? And artificial intelligence is a major, major problem.
A second question sort of. Is Trump doing Xi Jinping a huge favour by threatening America, threatening China, excuse me, and publicly talking about containing China. And he’s doing the job for Xi Jinping. Cause h’s saying, look, this is what we’re up against. And he’s not saying it publicly, and that’s the message. This is what he’s saying. Come on, let’s crowd together. Let the Chinese nation shine again.
Professor Carl Minzner: I have real problems with our current president. It’s hard for me to.
There are a range of latent issues that you could raise in a very good way. Whether it’s industrial practices, whether it’s human rights practices. But, our current president, a) he’s not focused I think on some of these key issues. He’s interested in, what’s the level of the total trade deficit rather than what’s the industrial practices. And the human rights stuff just gets raised in sort of a tactical manner. The real issues, I don’t think they’re getting raised in the right way. I also don’t think he’s a very effective manager.
But I think one of the other crucial things is, you want to poll with the UK and you want to poll with the other allies. The issues that matter are not solely ones that are linked to the United States. I mean, Germany, or the other European countries, also have issues with the industrial policies. And if you really wanted to raise those, America should be working with its long-term allies, particularly the UK, to sort of present a coherent front on what these issues are. I don’t think that he’s institutionally capable of doing that, and I think that’s, hopefully you know at some point in the near future you’ll see a change in the administration of the United States, and you’ll see America come back.
But I think in the short-term, you’re correct. There’s actually, you know, you create a more divisive, we lack the American leadership, we’re not able to come to these things together, and it means it’s easier to you know, to sort of pick apart, you know, China can sort of pick individual countries and work on them in effective ways.
Dr John Hemmings: It’s particularly interesting because this week, well last week, we had our White Paper launched here on investment screening mechanism. Which follows in the German wake. If people are following that issue will know that, it’s not explicitly, but very much implicitly tied to China’s industrial policy and intellectual property practices.
I think with that, we reached the end of our Q&A session, but I’m hoping not the end of our engagement with this lovely and engaging author and expert. I think if Carl, you’re happy with it, we’ll move outside to where he’ll sign your books that you will have just recently purchased.
I would like to say this is the last event for the season. Some of us are going on holiday. August approaches and Parliament closes. So for all of you, thank you for coming out this season. Can I ask you all that we put our hands together and give a big round of applause? Thank you very much.