George Friedman
A spate of recent articles in Chinese state-run media has raised speculation that the country's leadership may address the issue of political reform. Though the issue is by no means a new one, slowing economic growth, a widening income gap and public alienation from the political system are all threatening to undermine the Communist Party's claim to legitimacy, lending a new urgency to the problem. In order to head off the kind of unpredictable or even violent change that could accompany a political crisis, CPC leadership will try to introduce reforms from the top down, but because the current business and political elite have a disproportionate stake in the status quo, this will be easier said than done.

Analysis

Over the past week several Chinese state-owned media agencies, including the People's Daily and Xinhua, have commented extensively on the need for political reform. One People's Daily article published Feb. 23, while highlighting the challenges political reform would entail, suggested that failing to enact reforms would have a far more dire consequence: a full-blown political crisis. The following day, semi-state owned Global Times ran an article entitled "Reform Is a Consensus, The Path Is In Debate," which echoed the People's Daily article and laid out a conservative discussion of political reform and China's path forward.

For the Communist Party of China (CPC), the need for political reform is not up for debate. Since 1978, the CPC has staked its legitimacy on economic growth, but this is showing signs of diminishing returns as growth slows amid the global downturn and as the inefficiencies of China's export-dependent model become more apparent. CPC leadership realizes that to stay in power, the regime will have to implement political reform to address the country's many social and economic inequities. However, top-down political reform has always been difficult to implement because it challenges the interests of people benefitting most from the current system, while bottom-up political change in China historically has taken the form of revolution. To pre-empt rapid or even violent change that would threaten the current system and the party's hold on power, CPC leadership will introduce political reform slowly and incrementally.

Reform in a Chinese Context


George Friedman

George Friedman is the CEO and chief intelligence officer of Stratfor, a private intelligence company located in Austin, TX.