Pei: Signs of a new Tiananmen in China
April 4th, 2012
02:27 PM ET

Pei: Signs of a new Tiananmen in China

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin PeiThe Diplomat

The Western media has largely missed the most significant development in Chinese politics these days.  It’s not the dramatic downfall of Bo Xilai, although the incident is one of the most important events in elite politics in post-Deng China.  Rather, it’s the stirrings that have revived contentious political issues banished from polite society in China since the Tiananmen crackdown more than two decades ago.

Of course, one is unlikely to find the discussion of such sensitive issues in most official publications (although some media outlets affiliated with official publications have been particularly adventurous in carrying articles on these topics in the past few months). The range of issues is wide and diverse. Despite disagreement among participants in this incipient post-1989 Chinese intellectual renaissance, the discussion is fast converging on three critical issues. FULL POST

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Topics: China
March 16th, 2012
04:54 PM ET

Pei: China's politics of the economically possible

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.  For more, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

By Minxin PeiProject Syndicate.

When sound economic advice is divorced from political reality, it probably will not be very useful advice. The history of multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is littered with well-intentioned and technically feasible economic policy prescriptions that political leaders ignored. But that has not stopped these institutions from trying.

The latest attempt is the World Bank’s just-released and much-applauded report China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society. As far as technical economic advice goes, the report is hard to top. It provides a detailed, thoughtful, and honest diagnosis of the Chinese economy’s structural and institutional flaws, and calls for coherent and bold reforms to remove these fundamental obstacles to sustainable growth. FULL POST

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Topics: China • Economy
Pei: Nixon then, China now
February 13th, 2012
01:56 PM ET

Pei: Nixon then, China now

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.  For more, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

By Minxin PeiProject Syndicate.

When U.S. President Richard Nixon embarked on his historic trip to China 40 years ago, he could not have imagined what his gamble would unleash. The immediate diplomatic impact, of course, was to reshape Eurasia’s geopolitical balance and put the Soviet Union on the defensive. But the long-term outcome of America’s rapprochement with China became visible only recently, with the economic integration of the People’s Republic into the world economy.

Had Nixon not acted in 1972, China’s self-imposed isolation would have continued. Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening of China to the world would have been far more difficult. FULL POST

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Topics: China
December 22nd, 2011
05:00 PM ET

Pei: How Kim's death risks China crisis

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin PeiThe Diplomat

The sudden death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il poses another, and potentially very dangerous, new challenge to U.S.-China relations. Possible knock-on effects of Kim’s demise – ranging from a regime collapse to provocation by a weak and insecure successor or other forms of civil strife in North Korea – will force China, the United States, and South Korea to respond. If mutual distrust drives Washington and Beijing to take actions that each believes would serve its security interests, but which might be perceived by the other as provocative and ill-intentioned, the United States and China could be plunged into a crisis neither wants.

Sadly, as the two great powers have little control over the succession process in Pyongyang, factors determining the stability on the Korean Peninsula and the complex geopolitical relations in East Asia are the factional dynamics, leadership personalities, and unknown levels of popular discontent inside North Korean. External influence exerted by great powers may affect the political calculations of North Korea’s ruling elites, but only to a very limited extent. Students of history should find this situation familiar: it’s not the first time that the geopolitical fortunes of great powers are held hostage by the political machinations of the rulers of a strategically located small nation. FULL POST

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Topics: China • North Korea
Pei: Swimming naked in China
November 3rd, 2011
02:37 PM ET

Pei: Swimming naked in China

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin PeiThe Diplomat

For quite some time, analysts of China have been puzzled by a strange phenomenon: the country’s public and financial institutions are decidedly subpar by any international standard, but its economic growth rate is anything but. This puzzle can only be explained by two conclusions: either China has been fudging its growth data, or Chinese institutions aren’t as bad as outsiders commonly think.

There is, however, a third possibility. During the peak of the credit bubble in the United States, bankers on Wall Street had a popular saying: “When the tide is high, nobody knows you are swimming naked.”  What this aphorism means is that apparent economic prosperity can cover up many dubious if not outright shady practices that eventually lead to financial calamities.

FULL POST

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Topics: China • Economy
Can China rescue Europe?
A bailout from China may be the last option for the debt-laden eurozone. (Getty Images)
September 30th, 2011
08:15 AM ET

Can China rescue Europe?

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.  For more, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

By Minxin Pei, Project Syndicate.

The debt crisis in Europe is no longer a European affair. Coupled with fears of a double-dip recession in the United States, the European debt crisis is dragging the global economy into another cycle of financial panic and economic recession.

Sitting on the sidelines, emerging-market economies in general, and the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) in particular, may feel fortunate to be spared this financial maelstrom. But they should think again. With closely integrated global financial markets and trading networks, financial crises and economic contractions in the developed economies, which still account for nearly 60% of the world’s GDP, will inevitably undermine emerging-market countries’ prosperity. FULL POST

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Topics: China • Economy • Europe
September 28th, 2011
11:00 AM ET

China’s dictator complex

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin PeiThe Diplomat

The conventional wisdom about China’s foreign policy in the post-Mao era is that Beijing is the world’s quintessential practitioner ofrealpolitik – it pursues its national interests without ideological biases.

But the portrayal of Beijing as a non-ideological pragmatist in international affairs is at odds with its policy and behaviour toward some of the world’s worst dictatorships. For example, China maintained its support for Slobodan Milosevic’s regime almost until the very end of his rule. In Africa, China stuck by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, inviting him to visit Beijing even when he was an international pariah.  Of Latin American leaders, the mandarins in Beijing seem to have taken a particular liking to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, a dictator in all but name. FULL POST

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Topics: China • Foreign Policy • Strategy
China's summer of discontent
Hundreds of Chinese protesters gesture during a protest against the building of the Fujia chemical plant in Dalian, in northeast China's Liaoning province on August 14, 2011. Authorities in the Chinese city ordered the immediate shutdown of a chemical plant as thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding the factory be moved over pollution fears. (Getty Images)
August 21st, 2011
03:30 PM ET

China's summer of discontent

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin PeiThe Diplomat

The temperature isn’t the only thing that has been rising in China this summer – public outrage is also apparently boiling in the sweltering Middle Kingdom.

The most powerful expression of popular discontent was, without doubt, the nationwide outcry over the crash of China’s new bullet train in Zhejiang Province on July 23 that killed 40 and injured close to 200 passengers.

Occurring barely three weeks after Beijing’s high-profile launch of its Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail service, the tragic accident wasn’t just an embarrassment for the Communist Party. The mishandling of the tragedy by the government, ranging from releasing little information on the causes of the crash to hastily burying one of the mangled carriages, further enraged an irate public suspecting a crude cover-up.

FULL POST

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Topics: China
August 1st, 2011
11:30 AM ET

China’s $2 trillion hole

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin PeiThe Diplomat

The political drama in Washington over raising the United States’ federal debt ceiling has grabbed the world’s attention.  While the main protagonists in the play are the Republicans and Democrats, one spectator anxiously awaiting the outcome of the bitter partisan struggle is undoubtedly China, the largest single holder of U.S. Treasury debt (roughly $1.1 trillion).

In a nightmarish scenario of an American debt default, the prices of the Treasury bonds China has accumulated are bound to decline significantly. Even if the U.S. government decides to pay the interest on outstanding bonds before honouring its other obligations, the financial markets will likely demand higher interest rates (especially if the U.S. credit rating is downgraded), thus causing the prices of U.S. bonds to fall. FULL POST

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Topics: China • Debt Crisis • United States
Chinese foreign policy after President Hu Jintao
Chinese President Hu Jintao attends a signing ceremony with Ukrainian president in Kiev on June 20, 2011. (Getty Images)
July 21st, 2011
11:15 AM ET

Chinese foreign policy after President Hu Jintao

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. 

By Minxin Pei, The Diplomat

In about a year’s time, a new group of leaders in Beijing will succeed President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

At the moment, analysts are focused primarily on the make-up of the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme policy making body of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Vice President Xi Jinping and Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang, both members of the standing committee now, are assured of succeeding Hu and Wen, respectively. As a result, the guessing game that has engrossed many China watchers is over who will replace the other seven retiring members.

Speculating about top personnel decisions is both risky and not all that interesting. Such decisions are reached through intricate factional bargaining and compromises, and the ultimate outcome is typically not determined until the very end.

Worse, handicapping the chances of frontrunners usually distracts us from trying to understand the broader policy implications of leadership transition. We become too preoccupied with the shifting fortunes of factions within the CCP leadership to explore whether leadership change actually affects policy.

So a more fruitful way of getting ourselves prepared for China’s upcoming leadership transition is to look back at history and examine whether the past top leadership changes resulted in significant foreign policy changes, and what explained such major shifts.  FULL POST

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Topics: China • Politics • Strategy
China’s ticking debt bomb
Workers labor at the construction site of the South Xizang Road Tunnel on September 6, 2007 in Shanghai, China. (Getty Images)
July 5th, 2011
08:30 AM ET

China’s ticking debt bomb

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and an adjunct senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Read The Diplomat for more excellent coverage of Asia.

By Minxin Pei

China’s remarkable economic rebound after the global economic crisis in 2008-2009 has been a source of envy and puzzlement for the rest of the world. Instead of recession, the Chinese economy has recorded double-digit growth, and is actually showing signs of overheating – a sharp contrast with the stagnation in most Western countries.

How did the Chinese do it?  Perhaps advocates of ‘Chinese exceptionalism’ are right after all: Beijing has found a secret formula of economic success that has eluded the West.

FULL POST

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Topics: Asia • China • Economy
3 reasons for Beijing's current campaign against dissent
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is pictured on April 10, 2009, at his home in an arts district on the outskirts of Beijing.
April 11th, 2011
11:08 AM ET

3 reasons for Beijing's current campaign against dissent

Editor's Note: Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and an adjunct senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

By Minxin Pei, Special to CNN

With the arrest of one of China’s most famous artists, Ai Weiwei, in early April, China’s crackdown on domestic dissidents’ movement has reached a new high.

Given his reputation as a world-class artist and a fearless critic of the Chinese government, Mr. Ai is viewed as barometer of the Chinese government’s tolerance of what little dissent there is in China.

In all probability, the decision to put Mr. Ai behind bars must have been made at the highest level - given the all-but-certain international repercussions of such a move.

Mr. Ai’s arrest is the culmination of the recent crackdown on human rights activists, lawyers, and dissidents.   Many have been arrested.  A few have been sentenced to jail terms.

The question is: What is driving the current campaign against dissent in China?

FULL POST

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Topics: China • Culture