Dan Lynch, Associate Professor of
International Relations here at the School of International Relations at USC
and an executive board member of the US-China Institute. You know the reason
I decided to title the book “China’s Futures” is because all along from the
start, what I wanted to do was understand the Chinese peoples and then by that I
mean elite people in a position to either reflect the desires for the
future for China’s trajectory on the part of the party leadership or to
actually influence those policies that will lead to the trajectory and thence
to the future. So but I assume going in that there would not be a single state
of consciousness in each of the five areas I look at which are the economy,
future f the domestic political system, the internet, public culture, and two chapters
on international relations or soft power on one and more strategy on the other.
I got the feeling from reading what other people had written on China’s
future before, where they use the singular term future, that they assumed
only one possible trajectory and they actually ironically tended not to talk
to or read that many Chinese people. And that struck me as likely to leave, it’s
very hard to predict the future anyway as everyone knows, in fact it’s
impossible. It’s impossible to predict the future because it hasn’t happened
yet. But you can sort of think of the future is like history. You don’t know
everything that went on then but you can learn enough, you can get some hints as
to what might happen. But I want to know but whether we get in the book
the emerging picture of what the future might be is turns out to be accurate.
What we can get from the book I think is the full range of views for each of
these issue areas as well as for all of them combined, for what Chinese people of
influence think is going to happen and should happen and the difference between
the two. Because most most of them think things are not on the right track, so
what policy should be adopted as a result. In the five areas, politics,
economics, communication, internet, internet culture in particular and
international relations there interestingly enough well there’s two
wide areas one is for the book as a whole.
The other in the individual area is the internet and there the views range
from extremely optimistic that the internet is paving the way via personal
emancipation giving people access to much more information than ever before
and the ability to initiate information flow on our own part, it’s giving rise to
the potential for democratization. Fact some people say it’s now impossible to
avoid ultimate democratization. Then in the middle you have a government party
sort of line which is we’ll make the internet work for the party state. We’ll
find a way to manage it and put it to use for us. On the very other extreme
is something you would be very unlikely to see in any other country, you
often read in other countries that the internet is a destructive force. There
the specific analogy alluded to although usually not directly mentioned by name
is the Cultural Revolution. One of the most Hobbesian moments in political
history by which I mean a war of all against all prevail during that time
period, especially from 1966 to 69. So people who remember that period I
suppose think there’s a chance because of all the barbs traded on the internet,
all kinds of phenomena, that the internet it reminds them of the Cultural
Revolution, so they’d like to see it entirely suppressed. It’s just as new
almost in the United States as is in China. It only came to the United States
to three years before China so really no one knows exactly what’s going to happen
and there you see the greatest range of views. When I started the book I wasn’t
sure you know which chapter should come first democracy, politics and
possible ability for democracy or what but very quickly I decided on the
economics chapter. The reason being that economics, the economic growth is the
foundation for China’s rise in international relations terms. And here’s
the thing, the economists are, I’d estimate, ninety percent pessimistic and
united in their pessimism. They as a profession I suppose is the reason they
more or less fully imbibe what is actually called by many of these
economist, the standard model of economics which is the monodevelop
in the West. And so for that reason they’re highly critical of Chinese
economic practices institutions going back to when the search
period started in the late 2000s, when I started reading about it. So once I learn,
once I realized that these economists, who know were patched into the
government publishing, enabled know what’s going on, have access to data that
outsiders don’t, they are this pessimistic. At a time, remember this is when I was
starting, this the outside world was ecstatic about China’s so-called
successful response to the global financial crisis they were saying just the
opposite. And so slowly but surely as I read more economists, as I read more
demographers, although I don’t have a book on the pollution problems, some
environmental specialist, I realized that if these economists are right. China’s
rise will stall if it hasn’t already stalled and may end, or at least be pushed
back for a long time. And that I think looking back on this book from ten years
perspective that is going to be the major surprise that people discover that,
you know if you read what Chinese people are actually saying themselves, they knew
all along that there were real problems with the rise. There are three major
concerns of most of the economist’s. First just the general state domination
of the economy. Will give you one quick example, the bank’s funnel eighty percent
of loans to the state sector, which is highly wasteful, highly wasteful and
the the result got in China into the situation where debt-to-gdp ratio is two
hundred eighty-six percent. It soared the last few years because you
can’t pay back the loans because they’re investing them in an unviable project. They
could borrow new money so to roll over the loans. Then the economists are really
worried about demography. Really worried about it because already the workforce
has started to shrink. There’s a gap opening even now between the
size of the Chinese workforce which is going down and the American workforce
which is going up, which is increasing because of immigration and higher
birth rate. So they recognize that this affects everything. And then finally
they’re worried about although I don’t talk about it
that much, pollution and how everything interacts, everything intersects. Because
you have this older increasingly old population aging into one of the most
polluted environments in human history. Unfortunately when people become older
they become more prone to illness and so you could imagine what might happen. So to start I did the economics chapters first and actually it was a surprise to me how
pessimistic they were. Honestly it was a almost a shock. But it wasn’t quite the
shock that later came when I started doing the research for the international
relations chapters. Because I naturally assumed that they would understand if
they’re recommending a more assertive foreign policy like we see in the south
and east china seas in the last five six years they would be aware and have taken
into account the Economist concerns, but say still it’s okay to do it. These are
people in People’s Liberation Army and academia, think tanks ,foreign ministry,
all over, they though did not, two-thirds did not seem to be aware at all of the Economist criticism. Even when I would go to interview them, I would say,
but what about these economic and demographic problems or sometimes some of the
interviews would say, foreigners will just never understand China. And that was
the answer. I don’t call it a kind of hubris because I think
it’s more I call it Belle Epoque optimism referring to the period in
France from 1871 roughly to World War One when everyone thought life is
beautiful, how could anything ever go bad. In the question of the future of the
political system, everybody wants to know whether China will democratize. So I
knew I could read people who are strong advocates of democracy and probably are
in prison or exile as a result. But I wanted to know the range of views
acceptable to the party state. Which is why again I consulted neibu journals and
people who had the permission of the state or encouraged to publish in those
journals. The interesting thing is there is a greater variety of views than you
would imagine in those journals. Even in state-backed book publications,
even in state-backed book publications you see Chinese communist party writers,
not usually identified by name, saying they expect democracy eventually, but the
conditions aren’t ripe yet. What it’ll take, a better quality of
person, it’ll take etc. So you can imagine but in the other articles, in the
neibu journals and other journals people are willing to broach the subject
and to predict that democracy will inevitably occur. Let me just briefly
mentioned the first author I discuss in the future of politics chapter, Xiao Gong Qing, a long time a student of China’s possible future trajectories. A
neo-conservative in the Chinese context which by which he means we need to
restore order to the corrupt country by strengthening central leadership and
then democratize eventually. Now he in the early days of his career and writing
in this back in the early 90s did not emphasize the eventual democratization.
Now its front and center, now it’s front and center is what he’s thinking. It looks
like that Xiao Gong Qing script is being followed, whether by accidental or
whatever because I’m sure a lot of other people recognize the need or perceive
the need for a stronger central state to deal with the local corruption. And it
seems like Xi Jinping is doing that to some degree. How sincere he is? Always open to
question. But the main point here is, we don’t really know exactly. Let’s say Xi
Jinping responds in all the ways he should to the corruption problems, the
other ones, the economic problems. But he’s going to face resistance. He’s going
to face people taking his policies and redirecting them
down another route. It’s a huge complicated country. So but my main
point is you can’t predict the future. The whole first chapter shows you can’t
predict the future and I take on a few people who in the West, writing about
China and other places, over confidently predict the future. It’s just folly
because so many things will change between now and then. Including people
consciously recognizing the bad trends and responding to them. So I don’t know. I
don’t know. Except, the economists certainly seemed to have the weight of
evidence on their side and so far from what I’ve seen, the economic
liberalisation sort of kind of promised in November 2013 is only barely taking
shape and because undoubtedly special interest groups are rallying
to try to stop it.