17 December 2006

Not a comunist state...

One of the interesting things about China is that it is not in anyway a Communist state. But the whole of the world does not seem to have noticed. It is a one party state. Maybe there is a proper word for that, but I do not know it. There are lots of misnomers out there. In the west we call ourselves a democracy. We are not we are a collection of republics. I remember reading a quote once from a founder of the USA that they chose a republican model because they did not believe that a democracy could work. However, they were wrong. They should just ask the Swiss. They have a working democracy. Though the Swiss complain that it is too much effort.

Back to China. The people of china know it is not a Communist state, so do the academics, so does the communist party. But no one seems willing to admit that it has happened. I described it to the communist party member (I think) I had lunch with this analogy. They (the Chinese) are like a bunch of penguins. No one wants to be the first to jump. I will now add the following: They saw what happened to the last lot. There are seals out there. One day they will all have to jump together.

So if China is not a Communist state, what is it? This next hypothesis is just an initial observation. In the world of China there used to be two main groups. The emperor and the mandarins. In the world of the ROC, this was replaced by a coalition of warlords and other sundry groups, such as the communists to form a democracy. When that fell apart the democratic forces (though they were still mostly warlord forces) retreated to Taiwan or joined the Communists. It was the latter that really did in the KMT. Within the communists, a new group of mandarins slowly infiltrated the organisation. Or the member mutated into mandarins, I am not sure on this one. The communists lost power with the removal of the gang of four. China is now one giant public service. I was completely reminded of an organisation here in Australia. When I first started working, I worked for Telecom Australia. This was an engineer run public service department. It had the engineering equivalents of fat cats, the Chief State Engineer. The organisation was a collection of powerful public service fiefdoms. Within each fiefdom were other fiefdom. Politics was rampant and internal politics ruled the roost.

The China of today is like this Telecom Australia of old. There is one giant party. Within the part at the top level are the central power groups. Most obviously the most powerful one is headed by the current president. Then there are the regional leaders. The one in the headlines who recently lost power was the head of Shanghai. He could not escape the fate of the head of the head of Beijing. Then there are the heads of the cities, and so on down to the local villages.

There is a constant power flux between these groups. For example, in many places the local officials may take a loose view of the one child policy. Money starts at the top, and usually does not reach the bottom in any significant way. In one place they told the the locals had made their own secondary road with their own money as they needed to be able to get their goods to market.

One thing that is difficult to tell in this is the role of the military. They are invisible to one such as me. However, they have a role. The question must be, how independent are the generals? Would they take action on their own as they would say in Thailand or Fiji? They must be complicit.

Before I head off into the final section, I will add two stories I have from my travels in China.

In 1999 I traveled from Shanghai to Xian and then Beijing. Two weeks before I arrived I saw the riots outside the American Embassy on the TV, as a result of the US air force bombing the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia. Every where I went I would be asked, say 10 times a day, Are you American? to which I would reply no, I am an Australian. People would smile and life was OK. In Xian, I met an American man who was living in Taipei. When asked about being an American, he would reply, yes. There would then ensue a discussion. (His Chinese was much better than mine.) In the end ever discussion he had the others would end up accepting his point of view. I will go into this in more detail another time. But what is important here is that I learned that the ordinary people in China generally do not believe or trust their leadership.

The second story is one I heard of a movie maker and the comments that he made. This happened on my last trip to China, just finished in 2006. I have hard this sentiment else where. These are not his words, it is my paraphrasing of comments made by several people. To get ahead in China you have to be on the side of the Communist party. You will be locked out of the system if you are not. So everyone is saying this... things are getting better, generally we are better off. So we will agree to go along with the system for now. It is delivering the goods. It is far from perfect. But we do not want to descend back into civil war. We do not want to be shot. We are not really happy, we have not yet crossed that line.

So where is all of this heading, how will China advance into the future. Here are some possible scenarios:

The scenario I like is a difficult one. There is this little island called Taiwan, that contains a democratic government. One interesting thing to note is that all of the people in this argument think that that other Hakka person, San Yet Sen is a great hero and hold him in almost god like status. They all agree that the first republic, formed in 1912, was a great time and a wonderful new beginning. So they should resurrect the long lost Sun Yet Sen. There should be a reverse takeover. In the past Scotland did a friendly takeover of England with King James I of England. Taiwan should take over China. If the communists are as serious about the reintegration of Taiwan being their number one priority as they say, they will readily accept. (ha!) Elections would be held and China will become a democracy. Of course there are a million details that would need to be take into account. But it is a doable.

Another scenario is that China continues on the way that it is. The mandarins have been able to keep the empires running in China for hundreds of years. Each time the empire lasted longer. Perhaps they can keep it on an even keel. However, I think that there is a problem here. With any system like this the problem occurs when the leader are incompetent. It is really hard to remove an incompetent leader at the top of a system bent on keeping them in power. You only have to look at the last 100 years of the Qing dynasty to see how long they can hang onto power. The other problem with this type of government is that the only way out in this situation is civil war. Would the army step in, in a situation like this?

Another scenario is similar to the first. The communists gradually relinquish power and open up the system in an organised manner. There would be steps forward and backwards. I actually think that this is quite likely. It will require a new generation who are unhappy with the old system and want to change it to something better. There are many unhappy people. Generally, their is a tendency for governments to open up and become more transparent as time goes by. But it can be a slow progress. It took the English nearly a thousand years, many civil uprisings and a civil war to go from a feudal dictatorship to a republican monarchy.

Another approach, though extremely unlikely is to take over the communist party from the inside. The membership level of the communist party is very low. A simple branch stacking approach could elect members to the party intent on change. The incumbents would fight back, that is for sure, but it would be very interesting.

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