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«The China Quarterly Additional services for The China Quarterly: Email alerts: Click here ...»

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The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 595–623 provinces.65 In the past few years, provincial and local governments’ “liaison offices in Beijing” (zhujingban 驻京办), the region-based Chinese lobbying groups, have rapidly increased in number. In January 2010, the central government had to issue new regulations to substantially reduce the permitted number of these offices representing local interests and to require financial auditing of the remaining lobbying groups at the provincial and municipality levels.66 In terms of social strata, Chinese interest groups can be categorized into three major groups: corporate and industrial interest groups (known as the “black collar” stratum), the previously discussed emerging middle class (“white collar” professionals), and vulnerable social groups such as migrants (“blue collar” workers). The term “black collar” was recently created in China to refer to the increasing number of the rich and powerful who dress in black, drive black cars, have hidden incomes, live secret lives with concubines, have ties to the criminal underground (heishehui 黑社会, or black society) and, most importantly, operate their businesses and wield their economic power in an opaque manner.67 China’s most active corporate and industrial interest groups consist mainly of two clusters. The first includes business elites who work in state monopolized industries such as banking, oil, electricity, coal, telecommunications, aviation, railway, tobacco and shipping; and the second consists of the lobby groups who work for state, foreign or private firms in sectors such as real estate. It has been widely reported in the Chinese media that business interest groups have routinely bribed local officials and formed a “wicked coalition” with local governments.68 For example, the various players associated with property development have emerged as one of the most powerful special interest groups in present-day China. The strong power of this group explains why it took 13 years for China to pass the anti-monopoly law, why the macroeconomic control policy of the last decade was largely ineffective and why the widely acknowledged property bubble has continued to grow. In each of these cases, corporate and industrial interest groups have encroached upon the governmental decision-making process, either by creating government policy deadlock or manipulating policies in their own favour.

According to the official state account, more than 70 per cent of the total 120 companies under the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) were engaged in the real estate business and property 65 Yao 2010. Also see http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65947/the-end-of-the-beijing-consensus?


66 Liaowang xinwen zhoukan, 23 January 2010.

67 It is unclear who first coined the term black-collar stratum. Most online postings in China attribute the label to US-educated economist Lang Xianping (Larry Lang), but Lang has publically denied that he wrote the widely circulated article that popularized the term. See “The Black-Collar Class” (www.

chinatranslated.com/?p=407). Translated: “Commentary and Analysis on China’s Economic and Political Situation,” June 12, 2009.

68 Zhongguo xinwen zhoukan, 13 January 2006, Liaowang, 5 December 2005, and also see http://www.

chinesenewsnet.com, 12 December 2005.

The End of the CCP’s Resilient Authoritarianism? 615 development in 2010.69 In response, the State Council ordered 78 SASAC companies to withdraw their investments in the real estate business.70 But resistance from these companies made the government order largely ineffective. Some have speculated that a significant portion of the stimulus package (4 trillion yuan or US$586 billion) implemented in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis was misdirected to property development. According to a senior researcher of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, about 32 per cent of the stimulus package was invested in real estate.71 As for the lower social strata, a manual labour shortage in some coastal cities in recent years reflects the growing political consciousness of these so-called vulnerable social groups (ruoshi qunti 弱势群体), especially among the younger generation of migrant workers, to protect their own rights. They have become increasingly resentful over all sorts of discriminative policies against migrant workers, farmers and urban poor. They have moved from one job to the next in order to receive a well-deserved, decent salary. At least partly due to their tireless demands, China has recently witnessed a dramatic increase in wages.

Challenges arising from restive social groups and greedy corporate interest groups are not unique to reform-era China. Democracies in the West (and the East) are certainly not immune to these problems. Quite the contrary, public petitions for social justice and protests against governments’ domestic or foreign policies are often seen as part of the normal socio-economic and political life of these countries.

As for the corporate and industrial interest groups, they are probably equally, if not more, powerful and influential in some Western countries than they are in China. In the US, for example, hundreds of lobbying groups have flooded into Washington DC and now constitute an essential feature of American politics.

From time to time, these business lobbies have been caught manipulating the democratic system for a company’s commercial gain. In his classic work on democracy, Robert Dahl argues that the development of Western democracies is a process dominated by many different sets of leaders, each having access to a different combination of political resources and representing the interests of different sectors and groups in the society.72 The democratic pluralist system disperses power, influence, authority and control away from any single group of power elites sharing the same social background toward a variety of individuals, groups, associations and organizations.73 In a sense, democracy is a matter of establishing rules for mediating conflicting interests among social groups in a given society. Yao Yang 姚洋, a professor at Peking University, has argued along the same lines: “An open and inclusive political process has generally 69 Qianjiang wanbao, 11 February 2010. Also see http://www.chinanews.com.cn/estate/estate-lspl/news/ 2010/02-11/2121577.shtml.

70 See http://bt.xinhuanet.com/2010-03/19/content_19293215.htm.

71 See http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2009-03/17/content_11024848.htm.

72 Dahl 1961, 68.

73 Dahl 1961, 252 and 270.

The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 595–623 checked the power of interest groups in advanced democracies such as the United States. Indeed, this is precisely the mandate of a disinterested government – to balance the demands of different social groups.”74 Interest group politics should be seen as neither a threat to socio-political stability nor a challenge to the legitimacy of the government, but rather are regarded as necessary components of democratic governance. The key to coordinating interest group politics, both Dahn and Yao argue, is to establish institutional and democratic mechanisms. Various interests groups can exert their influence through elections, bureaucratic decision-making and judicial processes. In response, the independence of the media and the supremacy of the constitution supervise and safeguard the democratic process. Political crises do occur from time to time, but democratic institutions in general and interest group politics in particular (including the important role of the middle class) are not the source of socio-political instability, but rather the foundation of long-term stability. The rapid emergence of various forms of interest groups and resulting new dynamics in Chinese politics has already profoundly changed how the country is governed.

Trend three: weak party, strong country The Chinese Communist Party is the world’s largest ruling party, consisting of 4 million grassroots branches and 82.6 million members, and it continues to grow. In the absence of any organized opposition, the Party seems unchallengeable in the near future. It should be noted that China’s political reforms, including intra-Party democracy, have made almost no progress at all since the Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee in the autumn of 2009. This may be attributed to two situational factors. First, the 2008 global financial crisis revealed problems in Western democracies and thus led some left-wing Chinese leaders and public intellectuals, especially advocates for resilient authoritarianism, to argue for the vitality and advantages of one-Party rule in China.

Second, the Arab Spring presented a disturbing picture to CCP leaders, as they could face the same outcome as the Mubarak regime. As a result, a majority of CCP leaders across the factional dividing line have decided not to pursue further political reforms. Instead, they have exerted tighter control over social gatherings, grassroots elections, the media and civil society.

One can reasonably assume that the paranoid and excessive use of police force in reaction to the so-called “Chinese Jasmine Revolution” in front of the McDonald’s near Tiananmen Square in February 2011 was a sign of the Party’s weakness.75 It is also a sign of weakness that the total amount of money used for “maintaining social stability” in 2009 was 514 billion yuan – almost

–  –  –

identical to China’s total national defence budget (532 billion yuan) that year.

The Chinese government’s budget for national defence in 2012 was 670.3 billion yuan, but the budget for the police and other public security expenditures was

701.8 billion yuan (an 11.5 per cent increase).76 It is widely believed that the Chinese authorities spent 60 million yuan annually looking after Chen Guangcheng 陈光诚 alone, mainly by hiring about 100 local police and other cadres.77 The large-scale outflow of capital in recent years (presumably by corrupt officials) further indicates Party elites’ lack of confidence in the country’s sociopolitical stability. According to a 2011 report released by Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI), from 2000 to 2009 China’s illegal capital outflow totalled US$2.74 trillion, five times more than the total amount from the second-ranked country, Mexico.78 The People’s Bank of China reported in 2011 that from the mid-1990s to 2008, thousands of government officials and state-owned enterprise executives moved a total of 800 billion yuan (US$126 billion) overseas.79 According to an internal report by the CCP Organization Department, of the 8,370 senior executives in China’s 120 companies directly under the leadership of the SASAC, 6,370 have immediate family members who live overseas or hold foreign passports. In Guangzhou, of approximately 1,000 corruption cases under investigation in recent years, half have occurred in SOEs, and of those who escaped overseas with foreign assets, 70 per cent were from SOEs and central financial institutions.80 Li Chengyan 李成言, director of the Governance Studies Center of Peking University, recently told the Chinese media that “the large scale of capital outflow by corrupt officials shows that these CCP leaders know better than anyone else that the so-called China model (the CCP’s resilient authoritarianism) is false – one that is not sustainable.81 Despite the fact that the dismissal of Bo Xilai can be seen as an important move in the right direction, this dramatic incident has nevertheless damaged the reputation of the CCP leadership. The troubles within the CCP leadership, however, should not necessarily be viewed as a problem for, or weakness of, the country. In his now well-known speech at the China Reform Forum on December 2011, Zhang Lifan 章立凡, a public intellectual in Beijing, argued that “China is not in danger, but the CCP is.”82 In his view, many CCP members do not care whether the CCP will collapse, but are instead only concerned about the wellbeing of their own families. CCP leaders are also well prepared for their own future. Zhang Lifan stated bluntly: “if the next generation leaders do not 76 Shijie ribao, 3 May 2012, A4.

77 Ibid.

78 Shijie ribao, 20 April 2012, A4.

79 Shijie ribao, 7 June 2012, A1.

80 Shijie ribao, 14 May 2012, A3.

81 Shijie ribao, 4 June 2012, A1.

82 Zhang Lifan’s blog, post on 1 February 2012, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4b86a2630100zhuv.html.

The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 595–623 pursue political reforms in their first term, there is no point in doing so in their second term.” In his words, “China should witness either reforms in the first five years, or the end of the CCP in ten years.”83 Recent demand for constitutionalism among liberal intellectuals and calls among some military officers for a “state army” rather than a “Party army” both constitute new challenges to CCP rule. As the CCP becomes weaker, many commentators in China have given more attention to the intriguing role of the PLA. Qian Liqun 钱理群, a distinguished scholar at Peking University, recently warned that “if the civilian leadership cannot form a strong coalition for political reforms, the young officers in the PLA will seize the moment. It would be a tragedy if the military presents the loudest noise for “democratic change” in China. That was the nightmare of 20th-century China, and it was also the grave lesson of the rise of Japanese militarism in the last century.”84 Qian believes that the princelings within the PLA will bolster the army’s power in the upcoming Xi era, thereby increasing the risk of military interference in domestic politics.

Qian’s worries were reinforced by recent remarks by Zhang Musheng 张木生, a well-known conservative scholar who has close ties with General Liu Yuan 刘源.

General Liu is a princeling in the PLA, a controversial rising star in the military’s senior leadership who is the son of former PRC president Liu Shaoqi 刘少奇.

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