Professor's stark essay on China's future rebutted
Major China experts in Washington have rebutted a controversial essay on China that appeared in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal.
The column — entitled “The Coming Chinese Crackup” — was penned by China hand David Shambaugh, professor of international affairs and the director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University, who asserted, among other things, that China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign indicated vulnerability and economic weakness that put it on the verge of a governmental downfall.
David Lampton, George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, disputed the article at a panel discussion on China’s anti-corruption campaign in Washington on Tuesday.
“I don’t agree with Shambaugh’s characterizations in the article”, said Lampton, former president of the National Committee on United StatesChina Relations. “We need to be modest about what we know and don’t know about economic and political developments in China, and on making predictions.”
Amid such uncertainties, “very different predictions precisely” may be heard, he said, adding that it depended on China’s middle class’ acceptance of the ongoing campaign, since China’s opening up and reform policies since 1979 have made its society more “empowered”.
Bruce Dickson, director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and a professor of political science and international affairs at GWU, said China’s “nimble” adaptation kept the public satisfied.
“I think the Party has been more adaptable than people already give it credit for,” Dickson said. “And it is in a good place by getting people’s expectations to slow down."
Despite “the frustration with corruption, people tend to be optimistic about the future, with expectations of their incomes continuing to rise”, which in turn meets the government’s expectations, Dickson said.
Chi Wang, president and chair of the US-China Policy Foundation, said China should continue to crack down on bribery and wrongdoing.
A former head of the China section at the Library of Congress, Wang said that if the anti-graft commitment weren’t carried out in a dynamic mode, it would harm the roots and future of China as well, and all the Chinese overseas who are looking forward to a better China.
“China really needs President Xi’s idea of getting rid of corruption throughout China under the legal system,” he said. “This is the No 1 priority.”
Writing in Forbes, Stephen Harner, who lived in China for 20 years, said he “absolutely rejects” Shambaugh’s conclusions, which he called “astonishingly ill-informed”.
“The pervasive sense of dramatic change is, I have found, combined in almost all Chinese minds with satisfaction and confidence that the change is urgently needed — indeed long overdue — and in the right direction,” Harner wrote in an editorial published on March 10.
China’s “resolute, focused approach to break down the greatest barrier to development” will help it successfully “exit” or at least avoid the “systematic traps” in its economic development path, and will emerge stronger, more prosperous, and more globally engaged and competitive, he said.
Fu Ying, spokeswoman of the third session of the 12th National People’s Congress, said at a press conference on March 4 that “China would further build its institutional mechanism to crack down on corruption”.
The Chinese Communist Party vowed in 2012 to firmly fight corruption in the next five years and has brought down about 56 high-ranking government officials and more than 180,000 low-ranking officials since then. Sheng Yang in Washington contributed to this story.