There’s a very interesting article in The Economist entitled “China’s Succession: The Next Emperor.”  It provocatively begins:

“WITH you in charge, I am at ease,” Mao Zedong is supposed to have told his successor, Hua Guofeng. It proved a disastrous choice. Mr Hua lasted a couple of years before being toppled in 1978. A decade later succession plans once again unravelled spectacularly, against a backdrop of pro-democracy unrest. Only once, eight years ago, has China’s Communist Party managed a smooth transfer of power—to Hu Jintao. Now a new transition is under way. The world should be nervous about it for two reasons: the unknown character of China’s next leader; and the brittle nature of a regime that is far less monolithic and assured than many foreigners assume.

After living in China, I agree with that last part.  The Party has a diverse set of players and political stability is a far greater fear than I had imagined.  In the article, I most appreciated the discussion of the “immensity of the task” in taking over China’s leadership, and openly wonder what socio-political future is in store for China.  In my view, China wants to be like Singapore and Taiwan (hence it’s strong stance on the latter), but China is much larger in geography and population, and must deal with the influence of the West and Hong Kong.  (See books like “China Wakes” for further discussion.)  This explains China’s slow and deliberate path in reform and opening.

At the same time, I think the article concludes incorrectly stating, “The right path for Mr Xi should be clear: relax the party’s grip on dissent, lift its shroud of secrecy and make vital economic reforms. But the rest of the world would be unwise to assume that reason will prevail.”  To speak of “reason” in the abstract or in Western terms is not helpful if Chinese interests are not congruent–“The party meeting called on officials to strengthen ‘the country’s comprehensive national power'”.  The question is whether Chinese society views nationalism, stability, and ‘one China’ as primary goals and whether they can be achieved in the face of rapid and/or significant reform.

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