“How China Is Ruled - Why It's Getting Harder for Beijing to Govern” is the subject of an adaptation in Foreign Affairs (January/February, 2014) by Professor David M Lampton from his book “Following the Leader: Ruling China, From Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping”, University of California Press, 2014. Professor Lampton is George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies and Director of SAIS-China at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Click here
Professor Lampton highlights a sea-change in how China is governed with better-educated and more open civil society, people power with a plurality of views and interests, and the imperative of responding to, rather than suppressing, people’s expectations except the most destabilizing of forces.
This periodic sea-change was also heralded by an earlier report of the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) (Mark Leonard, ed., November, 2012), epitomized by the following observations –
"China is trapped in its own success and needs to enter into a new era. After Mao’s political revolution (‘China 1.0’) and Deng Xiaoping’s economic revolution (‘China 2.0’), they are (the country is) expecting a ‘China 3.0’”. I have looked into what a China 3.0 would mean in “In face of multiple crises, China 3.0 needs to stay ahead with the times” Click here
Lampton's analysis is spot on with the key driver of change – the need to regain legitimacy in face of civil and economic plurality. The Communist Party of China (CPC) has been continually re-inventing itself to stay ahead.
To appreciate how the CPC works and how it hones its leadership, please visit "How China's leadership is tempered" here
Nevertheless, despite continual evolution, there is no sign that the CPC may contemplate eventual embrace of Western competitive multi-party democracy. The CPC does not believe that the Western model is suited to China, nor for that matter, it has always been effective in the West. Examples of government dysfunction caused by fractious party politics come to mind. Neither does Professor Lampton suggest that Western democracy is a pre-condition for preventing regime collapse
In fact, whether Western multi-party rule is necessary for China’s long-term sustainability was the subject of an earlier heated debate between Will Hutton and Martin Jacques over the latter’s controversial book “When China Rules the World”. Hutton argued that China would never be able to rule the world and would in fact eventually unravel if the country continued to resist Western democracy. On the other hand, while admitting China needs to become more liberal and enlightened, Jacques did not agree that the Western model is the only formula for China’s continuing survival, if not dominance. Click here
The Hutton/Jacques debate seems a little convoluted and confused by terminology at times. The real differences in opinions seem to boil down to the following questions –
(a) Would China eventually become at least one of the world’s dominant countries?
(b) Would a One-Party system be sustainable, and if so, how?
As for (a), I have provided an analysis In “Will China dominate the 21st century?” here
As for (b), perhaps it may be helpful to first answer the question whether "Western liberal democracy would be wrong for China". This very question took the form of a motion debate in London on 9 November 2012 sponsored by Intelligence Squared, a premier forum for debate and intelligent discussion. In the context of this question, the pros and cons of (b) are addressed at some length in my piece “China may not need to abandon one-party rule any time soon?” here
Coming back to Professor Lampton’s article in Foreign Affairs, governing a country the size of a continent with a population numbering a fifth of mankind has never been easy. Under Mao, it was the huge challenge of feeding so many mouths in face of unfriendly and vastly superior superpowers. Under Deng, it was the herculean task of unleashing the productivity of a behemoth steeped in abject poverty and bureaucracy. Under Xi, it is the harnessing a rising tide of civil and economic aspirations to achieve China’s Renaissance amidst growing global uneasiness with China’s ascendance.
How China rises to her destiny and how the world responds to China will not be just a matter for China and her people, but as Napoleon once said, “When China wakes, she will shake the world.”