The Price Of Paramount Power: Xi Jinping’s Ascension Could Make China A Much Riskier Place To Do Business

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 3, March 2018

By Richard Hornik

One of the peculiar pathologies of western businessmen active in China is an almost religious reverence for its lack of due process, enthralled by the combination of free(ish) markets and political stability proffered by China’s Market-Leninism (a term coined by Nicholas Kristoff). What they miss, however, is the price that must be paid for such short-term control, and during the course of Chinese history that price has proven to be very high.

The latest convert to this envy for authoritarian efficiency is Tesla’s Elon Musk who has spoken and written extensively about China’s ability to conceive, approve and build enormous infrastructure projects in a matter of a few years – or less[1].  No zoning rules, environmental regulations, cost-benefit analyses — much less property rights — can stand in the way of the gleaming high-speed rail lines, shiny new airports, massive harbors and 12-lane highways and bridges that have covered the Middle Kingdom in the past two decades. Likewise with housing developments and mega industrial installations like petrochemical plants, steel mills and refineries.

The fact that many of these projects made little or no economic sense and often created enormous capital, environmental and human costs for decades to come does little to take the shine off the power to command society and the economy to do the bidding of a brilliant meritocracy. Japan went on a similar splurge in the last three decades of the 20th century, also directed by brilliant technocrats, ending in two decades of economic stagnation, but at least Japan had its flawed democracy to serve as a break and a safety valve, something missing from authoritarian regimes.

A vendor (R) takes a nap next to posters showing the late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong (C) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) at a market in Beijing on May 15, 2016. Fifty years after the Cultural Revolution spread bloodshed and turmoil across China, the Communist-ruled country is driving firmly down the capitalist road, but Mao Zedong’s legacy remains — like the embalmed leader himself — far from buried. Credit: AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI / Getty Images

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China Grew Up, and Now? Utilitarianism, Democracy and A Moderating Role for the Holy See

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

By Francesco Sisci

In the past few months, stretching out no longer than a couple of years, an important controversy has mounted in America and the West, in which some argue that we foreigners were fools to believe we could change China. China in the past 40 years, since the U.S. started cooperating with her, taking her under wing, just fooled us and did what it always wanted – remained communist (thus anti-capitalistic) and with a value system different than ours (and thus against our value system). The Holy See, who has proven capable of striking deals in China and also holds a high moral ground in the West, may be able to find a middle way.

Red Guards of the China Foreign Affairs University make a vow with “from Chairman Mao” in hands in front of Tiananmen Rostrum in October, 1966 in Bejing, China. Red Guards were a mass paramilitary social movement of young people in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), who were mobilized by Mao Zedong in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution. Source: VCG via Getty Images.

Chinese soldiers march with riot shields outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, after the introduction of the Communist Party of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the nation’s top decision-making body, on October 25, 2017. China unveiled its new ruling council with President Xi Jinping firmly at the helm after stamping his authority on the country by engraving his name on the Communist Party’s constitution. Source: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images.

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China’s Sociopathy, and its Cowardly Watchers

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2018

WHAT’S WRONG WITH CHINA
By Paul Midler
227 pp. Wiley. $25.00

Paul Midler’s What’s Wrong With China doesn’t disappoint. Anecdotes, theories, and historical curiosities fall from its pages in answer to its titular question. Midler’s stories of caution are current, enjoyable, accessible, historically grounded, and witty. But the deeper importance of the book is that Midler, as a sharp and knowledgeable outsider to academic China studies, can criticize, revive, and develop theories in a way that staid academics would never dare. In a field careful about even mentioning sensitive topics like Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, Midler’s latest book is a bulldozer with bumper-stickers to offend almost anyone. Which is why it’s a great read. The field is being shaken up by President Trump’s tweets, President Xi’s disconnect with how his increasingly totalitarian government is perceived abroad, and now by Midler.

Guangdong, China, in 2011. Source: Paul Midler.

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