Reliving an Ancient Past
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) consists of twenty-two provinces, four municipalities, five autonomous regions, and two special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau. The Economist Intelligence Unit designated China as a highly authoritarian regime in 2019 (“Democracy Index 2019”, 2020). The government is generally thought of as centralised. Yet, the ability to disseminate policy to local provinces is limited, leading to a decentralised structure where reports are nominally made to the central party. The President of China is a ceremonial figurehead, with the Premier acting as the head of government and presiding over the State Council, which is composed of four deputy premiers. Since 1993, the offices of President, General Secretary, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission have simultaneously been held by one person (Darlington, 2018).
China does not act even with the pretence of attempting to be a democracy. The Constitution of the PRC was first declared in 1954, and was last updated in 2018 (Haibo & Dan, 2019). The document is anything but static, and has varied dramatically over time (Balme & Pasquino, 2005). The decisions within the country are made and approved by the party’s Political Bureau or Politburo. In China, personal relationships account for more than positions, and a leader creates influence through personal loyalties and interactions (Bol & Kirby, n.d.). The Central Committee is elected every five years by the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Yet, voting is nominal, and all the individuals are approved in advance of the votes. The National People’s Congress (NPC) has demonstrated increased independence of late. Formally, the Congress elects the country’s leaders, but it has been growing in power as the economy expands. Large provinces such as Sichuan and Guangdong provide most of the tax income for the country. The necessity for Beijing to ensure the growth of such regions may suggest that the power at the center of the country could be waning (Kraft, 2017).
China’s court system is not independent (Buckley Ebrey, 2010). The court answers to the National People’s Congress. The Supreme People’s Court is the highest court, overseeing a multitude of lower-level courts that exist down to the local level. Public security organisations incorporate investigations and examinations in a manner that presents a mixture of systems from France and England, mirroring the history of the country’s occupation by European nations. The unicameral National People’s Congress consists of 2989 delegates that are selected by the various provinces and regions. Some members are selected directly by the Armed Forces. Chosen individuals are appointed for five-year terms.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plays a critical role in the stability of the country, whereby the party leaders understand that they only rule with the support of the army. The power of the PLA was demonstrated extensively during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests (Nathan, 2019). Simultaneously, senior military officials and leaders understand the necessity to court the political leadership to obtain pay, ensuring budgets are in place to modernise the Armed Forces and for general advancement. The PLA is large and politically powerful, and has agitated for several recent changes within and surrounding China (Cochran, 2020).
There is little stability that is brought by the economic policies issued through the Chinese Communist Party. China simultaneously presents a communist society that incorporates open markets in certain provinces that are incredibly capitalist. Here, economic policy is liberal, whereas the political system is totalitarian. The disjunct comes when individuals become too wealthy or consequential, in which case the party acts to remove individuals from companies. Darlington (2018) has analogised the system President Xi Jinping has introduced to one of bread and circuses. In particular, he notes that the Chinese economic policy is one that says, ‘You leave us to run the country and we’ll leave you to make as much money as you can’. Corruption is still widespread within China (“Understanding China’s Political System”, 2013). Xi Jinping has pledged since 2012 to act to mitigate many of the problems of corruption, but it remains an ongoing issue. Socialist control, coupled with corrupt practices, makes dealing with China for business purposes economically challenging.
Recently, China has often been in dispute with India. The larger disputes are well-known, but in total, China is currently embroiled in at least seventeen territorial disputes (Krishnankutty, 2020). Of note, as many areas that were held under agreements of freedom of navigation operations have effectively been seized by China, Chinese interaction has negatively affected the global commons. As Skidmore (2020) explained, the Chinese Communist Party is facing growing resistance from its periphery. As China seeks to expand its borders, the growing Han nationalism is excluding many of the other regional peoples that make up the country.
China has a poor record of delivering liberty and justice. The population of China is free to earn money if they follow the party line and do not cause problems. As the Chinese economy is growing by over 5% year-on-year (IMF, 2017), the focus on economic growth is leading to increases in prosperity. Nevertheless, the illiberal nature of China is aiding in the widening of the deficit and the trade gap between China and the United States of America, as the US imports more and exports less (Bol & Kirby, n.d.; Buckley Ebrey, 2010; Hucker & Lieberthal, 2020; Kroeber, 2016). Together, the problems associated with ensuring that growth continues and expanding the country are leading to increasing levels of instability. The increased pressure from above is creating a system of “one country, two systems”—isolating and radicalising non-Han ethnic groups. Simultaneously, brewing trouble with the US and existing trade problems could further increase internal tensions, within China, and external problems with the USA (Layne, 2018).
Balme, S., & Pasquino, P. (2005). Taking Constitution(alism) seriously? Perspectives of constitutional review and political changes in China. Constitutionalism and Judicial Power in China. Sciences Po.
Bol, P., & Kirby, W. (n.d.). ChinaX: China’s past, present and future. Harvard University.
Buckley Ebrey, P. (2010). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge University Press.
Cochran, E. S. (2020). China’s “Three Warfares”: People’s Liberation Army Influence Operations. International Bulletin of Political Psychology, 20(3), 1. Available at: https://commons.erau.edu/ibpp/vol20/iss3/1
Darlington, R. (2018). How would one summarise the current Chinese political system? – NightHawk. Rogerdarlington.me.uk. Retrieved 8 November 2020, from http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/nighthawk/?p=22697
Democracy Index 2019. Eiu.com. (2020). Retrieved 8 November 2020, from https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=democracyindex2019
Haibo, Y., & Dan, Z. (2019). The Evolution of Constitutional Review in China: Theory, Norms and Practice. Law and Modernization, (5), 4. http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-FZXY201905004.htm
Hucker, C., & Lieberthal, K. (2020). China. Encyclopedia Britannica.
IMF. (2017). China’s GDP. International Monetary Fund.
Kraft, H. J. S. (2017). Great power dynamics and the waning of ASEAN centrality in regional security. Asian Politics & Policy, 9(4), 597-612.
Kroeber, A. (2016). China’s economy: What everyone needs to know. Oxford University Press.
Krishnankutty, P. (2020). Not just US, India — China is involved in 15 other territorial disputes in Asia. ThePrint. Retrieved 8 November 2020, from https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/not-just-india-tibet-china-has-17-territorial-disputes-with-its-neighbours-on-land-sea/461115/
Layne, C. (2018). The US–Chinese power shift and the end of the Pax Americana. International Affairs, 94(1), 89-111. https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iix249
Nathan, A. J. (2019). The New Tiananmen Papers: Inside the Secret Meeting That Changed China. Foreign Aff., 98, 80.
Skidmore, D. (2020). Trouble on China’s Periphery: The Stability-Instability Paradox. Thediplomat.com. Retrieved 8 November 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/trouble-on-chinas-periphery-the-stability-instability-paradox/
Understanding China’s Political System. (2013). Everycrsreport.com. Retrieved 8 November 2020, from https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/R41007.html
[Image: Flag of the People’s Republic of China, Drawn by User:SKopp, redrawn by User:Denelson83 and User:Zscout370Recode by cs:User:-xfi- (code), User:Shizhao (colors), Public domain, Wikimedia Commons]