Here’s an interesting thought about Xi Jinping’s tutelage of China’s economy: If he succeeds, China’s entire government is likely to become less effective. Time is on the side of Western initiatives as they gauge how best to prioritize a framework to counter Chinese regional belligerence.
Why is this the case? It rests on what the West already knows about transitioning to knowledge-based economic growth. Simply put, knowledge economies work best in open societies. Any view of Xi’s recent trajectory to consolidate power envisages political defeat.
Any brief study of America’s entanglement with Russia procures insights about capitalism, free societies and scales of growth. The West overcame the challenge thrown down by Karl Marx because it offered the most salient model for economic and geopolitical success. All of it was based on the supremacy of civil society over the passionate claims of revolutionaries.
Autocratic regimes like Russia and China compete with liberal democracies, but at the height of their influence, command-based economies only managed to offer an ideological appeal. They could never construct new indigenous economies from autarky to meet the moral challenge of liberty.
Throughout its violent entanglement with the West, Russia along with hosts of novel Third World revolutionaries sought resolutions in self-imposed militancy instead of innovation; they never sought new ideas about scale or social relations to compel growth. All they could do was unify their political domestic appeal at home. This places emerging forms of authoritarian capitalism in a new light.
Can China innovate? It remains a delicate but cogent question when you examine what underwrote China’s path of economic growth. Are there limits to soaring debt bubbles and favorable demographics? And what of near-permanent environmental degradation or lack of social safety nets?
Xi’s reversal of Deng Xiaoping’s opening will lead China back to where Mao Zedong left it: ameliorated, exhausted and bereft of direction.
Because China isn’t a market-based economy, Xi’s overt centralization was imposed openly to solicit political constraints of ensuring conformity. It is the maintenance of political unity, not innovation or self-determination, that serves Xi’s ambition.
Second, Xi has rarely demonstrated leadership abroad. There is absolutely no sense or willingness for Chinese leaders to ground their policies in reciprocity, subsidiarity or the common good. Statesmanship isn’t a domestic enterprise, but one that openly and willingly gives to the world efficacious ideals that both solicit and work.
Third, Chinese Marxism does not permit the emergence of the very social capital that would coalesce growth in new directions. There is no counterrevolutionary consensus to validate the primacy of civil society as a rival to government. Even conjugal relations between spouses in China’s abortion and one-child policies reveal a dystopian challenge to the very foundations of both state and moral life.
Having eliminated distinctions between domestic and foreign policy, Xi’s brand of authoritarianism is no longer confined to China’s own society, but buttressed abroad in its One Belt One Road scheme. We should anticipate witnessing Xi navigate the perils of Chinese power plays in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
In a sentence, Xi’s reversal of Deng portends profound vulnerabilities that are evidenced in daily life.
China’s economic policies already show signs of social strain. Overreach and repression will not alleviate the burden of growth that Xi must navigate. Throughout China, labor protests are growing. There have been confirmed reports among Chinese officials of attempts to overthrow Xi.
Even so, the die is cast. There is no way to reverse Xi’s revolution.
This illiberal juggernaut moves on in defiance of its own history.