This month, China celebrates the 65th anniversary of the proclamation of the People’s Republic by Mao Zedong in 1949. Few countries have changed so much and so fast since then. In 1949, the landscape peeking from the Forbidden City could not be bleaker, and the contrast with the dynamism and complexity of today’s China could not be greater. In 2012, the last generation of leaders of the Communist Party, the new and last China dynasty, took place. It is a Marxist dynasty, not feudal; administrative technocracy whose story seeks to satisfy the old “mandate of Heaven”, ancient source of legitimacy of the Chinese emperors, by which power derives its legitimacy of exercise as long as it is able to ensure the safety and welfare of the people. After the failure of Maoism during three decades of upheaval and famine, Deng Xiaoping made a complete turnaround in Chinese politics, from the ideological autarky to openness and pragmatism; growth took precedence Marxist dogma faith. Globalization, the growing role of markets and the private sector did the rest.
While China awoke, their old political structures remained unchanged: Chinese corrected direction without changing the boat. The mechanisms of power established by Mao proved to be very useful to Deng, real architect of the new China and statesman without which it is impossible to understand the geopolitical configuration of Asia today, who used to pilot the program “reform and opening” which has marked the political agenda since the late seventies. The new ruling tandem, Xi Jinping (president) and Li Keqiang (prime minister), have two priorities: continue reforms and fight against corruption. Regarding the first point, little has been done. The reform aims to deepen the modernization and promote the gradual integration of China into the global economy, which is already a major player. Despite the well-intentioned statements, in the last decade legislative progress has been rather shy and many analysts described it already as the lost decade. The privatization of many state enterprises is postponed sine die, and so does the liberalization of certain markets, especially the banking and financial markets.
There are important and very powerful vested interests of a few that are impeding reforms for the whole. The Asian giant must not only advance their reforms, but to do so harmoniously and prudent, following the classic precept of “crossing the river by feeling the stones.” Therefore, it is essential to have a strong and legitimate leadership basis for the assembly to complete its particular path of prosperity and growth in the coming years. Political reforms crosses at this point: the inevitable battle against endemic corruption that threatens the legitimacy of the structures and, by extension, the Party, which is the main instrument of governance and economic transformation. Xi Jinping, a ‘prince of the Revolution’ as it is called on leaders to come from illustrious families who fought to regain sovereignty of the republic back in the thirties and forties, is probably the leader who concentrates more power since the times of Deng Xiaoping. They say he is a person of great virtues: possessed great intelligence, very confident, with high self-esteem and good control of his emotions, that he does not let it to interfere with his decision making process. It’s not as charismatic as the ousted Bo Xilai, but arouses sympathy among the Chinese people, who see him as a person of great preparation and courage to make tough decisions, for instance, against corruption. Xi belongs to the generation of leaders who faced harsh and complicated personal situations during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which has forged strong-willed leaders and fully vaccinated to the fantasies of Marxist creed.
At the beginning of his term, Xi said that he will fight against corruption against “tigers and flies.” So it has been. Under his tutelage and control many scandals, of all kinds and at all levels, have been uncovered. Some can only be understood from the political angle (such as the aforementioned Bo Xilai, who wanted to played the position of supreme leader against Xi), others respond to genuine desire to clean up institutions to strengthen the country and had reached the highest levels of the superstructure: Zhou Yongkang, is going to be the first former member of the Politburo Standing Committee to be judge for corruption. If the progress of reforms alone is already a challenge, the battle against corruption is even higher, since it poses important dilemmas for the fragile balance between what’s good for the country and what is good for the Party. Any false movement could jeopardize the historic transformation that China is living.
Rule of Law
In the West, the fight against corruption is achieved with a continuous institutional improvement based on the principles of rule of law, separation of powers and an effective and continuous self for each of them, especially by civil society, the last audit system: the stronger it is, the more stressed and healthy institutions. At the end, the system works the better because it produces higher levels of wealth and its distribution is considered also, right and fair by society in general. In a libertarian social order we all are, in a greater or lesser extent, a counter-power peace, contributing to stress, in a good way, constantly between ruler and ruled. Principles, such as freedom of the press, are essential to keep alive our democratic systems. So keep in check and correct situations of discretion, abuse of power or monopoly of state power. When situations “mass dismissal” occur in the civil society and, as citizens, we stop to control the power, or the state colonizes dangerously too many areas of civil society, the framework of coexistence becomes more fragile, institutions fall prey to vested interests and the economy is irreparably damaged, as professor Niall Ferguson from Harvard University argues in The Great degeneration.
But in China, a civilization disguised as ‘nation-state’, these concepts inherent in a libertarian free society are not met. There is no separation of powers, no rule of law, and no freedom of press. The state-party supplies all these functions and is flaunting a very strong monopoly power. This basic facts, makes that the fight against corruption in China involves simultaneously to erode dramatically and inevitable the power structures which are, at the same time, essential to ensure the governance of the nation and the progress of reforms. In other words, the fight against corruption is an inevitable battle to save the country, but doing so involves taking a high risk -risk that Xi Jinping is currently taking, (for many, even too much of this risk)- because it involves torpedo system legitimacy which, at the end, could open the way to the hull the whole ship. A failure in the intensity of the shot could you end up causing the collective shipwreck scenario not interested nor China nor for the rest of the world (if there is still someone who thinks can benefit from the collapse of China this is due to simply miscalculation).
It is impossible to ignore the protests these days starring Hong Kong citizens to democratically choose their political leaders. The authoritarian and standardizing Chinese mentality collides with a polychrome and complex reality where political factors are mixed with cultural-identity, ethnic and historical issues. Sovereignty over its territory is always a delicate issue for the Asian giant. Many of the wounds during the so-called “century of humiliation” when the country was under the control of various foreign powers, remain open: Hong Kong it’s a very sensitive terrain. Beijing does not avoid talking about political reform and many coteries of the capital are discussed the next steps for the regime to move towards a system that can become more likely to a constitutionalism regimen. However, the ruling elite will not allow, as it once did, that the tempo and the agenda of the further reform came imposed from third parties outside the Party, hence the fragility of the situation. As Xi Jinping said the very beginning of his term: “We have to fix the engine of the plane without losing altitude.” Quite a challenge for the longest living civilization on the planet.