Monday, June 24, 2013

The economic and political upheaval in China in 2013

A crisis is coming. Today stock index in China fell for more than 5%, sending a shock wave around the globe (The New York Stock Change lost 200 points in the opening hours). Today’s stock downfall in China follows its deep fall in last week, which happens together with bank cash shortage and spiking of short-term interest rates. These are signs of crash landing of China’s economy after more than 20 years of spectacular growth. Experts say more bad news are coming, given the structural problem of Chinese economy.

Coincidentally, the debate on Constitutional Government (宪政)has gathered momentum in China since May. Thousands of intellectuals have come out and openly support constitutional governance. They call for independent judiciary, multi-party system and protection of private property. They extol democracy and human rights, and praise capitalism for its freedom and fairness. Similar discussion and demand sent Liu Xiaobo to prison in 2008. Considered to be subversive then, these ideas are now openly discussed and generally accepted on the Internet forums, blogs and Chinese twitter. If Liu comes out of prison today, he would be surprised by how free and profoundly open the political discussions are. Such liberation of thoughts is unprecedented. It foresees a big change in China.

The spreading of “subversive” ideas heralds any political movement, as we saw in 1986 when national debate led to student protests in December of 1986 and later to 1989 student movements. This time it is accompanied by economic crisis. The call for political change will be joined by normal citizens and the well-to-do middle class. In other words, a perfect storm in brewing and all conditions are ripe for another big mass protest.

The government will likely take some preventive measures such as opening up some political fronts to release tension. Possible reforms include legal reform (which is safer for the government), leading up to free press and local election. With any of these happening, China is on the way to irreversible democratization. The wind of democracy is blowing strong, and it is going one way. A big change will happen in 3 months to a year (my guess is no later than the end of this year).

We are at an exciting time, where democratic transition will happen in a peaceful ways in China. Even though we may see mass protest, the public sentiment is averse to another bloody revolution. That’s because China now has a large middle class and a sophisticated economy. They want to see orderly transition and continuing economic prosperity. No one wants to see bloodshed. The flaring point for violence can come from ethnic conflict, like what happened in Burma after its democratization. That may be the most challenging task for the new democratic government.

How long would democratic transition finally complete in China, when a general election is held? We don’t know. Maybe it will take 5 years. The transition can be gradual. After Jiang Jingguo removed restriction on press and party organization in 1987 in Taiwan, the general election did not happen until 1990. In addition, Taiwan had had a history of local election 10 years prior to the ending of the martial law (in 1977) . Could it take the same amount of time for mainland China for its transition? It may be much shorter this time. One reason is that the external condition for democracy is much favorable for China nowadays.

In the South, Burma, Vietnam and Malaysia are all moving toward democracy.  To the East, South Korea has become a mature democracy. In the north, Mongolia is now a full democracy. Not to mention Taiwan and Hong Kong are serving as a great springboard for people and idea coming into China. In addition, old democracies such as the United States and European nations have much closer trade relationship with China now. All of these strong influence can make the democratic transition happen faster. Once the political opening has started, the final transition will take less than 5 years.

We are at the dawn of a big upheaval, and a big change for humanity. When China finally steps into the rank of the democratic nations, 1.4 billion people are liberated, and military threat and potential war in Asia is removed.  Human suffering will be greatly reduced and big productivity will be unleashed. It is a blessing for the whole Chinese people, and also for the world.

Once a dream, a democratic China is now so palpable at hand. Let us embrace this coming change.

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