December 08, 2005

The Theory of a Violently Declining China

It's very unlikely that this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back but chinese villagers getting shot over eminent domain compensation complaints is a new level of disorder in a rolling wave of rural protests that have spanned years. As long as it was truncheons and tear gas, deaths were rare and you could legitimately say that the PRC was not in crisis.

Now, it's more difficult to maintain the "all is well" mantra. It's still too soon to say definitively that there's a crisis but if protests don't slacken, if gunfire turns into a pattern instead of a one-time aberration, the entire world is going to have to rethink making the PRC its low-cost workshop. That would have disastrous consequences as the PRC's heretofore virtuous cycles turn into vicious ones.

The PRC risks everything, every day on several fronts. Pollution, courts and police that can be bought, a rickety banking system, a state employment sector that is still way too big, a system of crony capitalism that defies description, there are plenty of ticking time bombs in the PRC today. Any one of them can bring down the regime and provoke dissolution of the present order.

Each of these problems, and the several others that I didn't bother to list, are not especially high probability events. Collectively, though, they seem to me to be the more probable outcome of the great PRC experiment with authoritarianism than the popular "theory of a peacefully rising China" that PRC scholars push out to the world and among themselves as the future they are trying to create.

We can watch. We can try to provide help to reduce the chance of international spillover. What we cannot do is intervene more than nibbling around the edges because these problems are chinese and the PRC will either solve them or founder on them. Hopefully a Gorbachev will be at the helm if they founder.

Posted by TMLutas at December 8, 2005 10:27 PM