This half-sentence about China jumped out at me yesterday:
“…economic crisis will spawn a crisis of legitimacy for the deeply corrupt communist party.”
It was part of a heavily apocalyptic Guardian article, but on its own seemed a neat and plausible statement. And then today, I read a Standard column about China’s stock-market circuit-breaker capital-flight screw-ups…:
“In a positive light, at least [the reversal on circuit-breakers] shows Beijing has the courage to make things right. However, it also implies Beijing has no large-scale vision, judging by the repeated volatility.”
Maybe it’s my Twittering echo-chamber, but I am getting this whiff of a revelation and a turning point dozens of times a day right now. Finally, it seems the mask is slipping from the China Economic Miracle that enabled authoritarian technocrats to outsmart decadent old capitalist democracy. The text-book recovery from Mao’s economic disasters has run its course, and the real test of competence and institutional capability starts now. Even starry-eyed observers are sensing that China’s leaders have no secret formula or magical vision – Xi (as Hu and Jiang) and company are simply making it up as they go along.
Beijing’s response when it finds its Midas Touch has suddenly stopped working is extreme frustration. Amid the anti-corruption/rectification purging, fund managers, CEOs and regulators are being detained/defenestrated as scapegoats for mismanagement (or leaders’ incomprehension) of China’s quasi-markets. Tolerance of overseas critics is wearing ever-thinner; along with French journalist Ursula Gauthier’s expulsion we now have Communist academics claiming Chinese jurisdiction over on-line blasphemers of Mao world-wide. And of course there’s the abductions of five Hong Kong publishers, subject of yesterday’s march.
Further 99% proof that Beijing kidnapped and is holding the five comes in the form of reports of supposed messages from missing publisher Lee Bo asking for the public to cease taking an interest in his disappearance – or perhaps even be conscious that it ever happened. Perhaps we are seeing the Chinese Communist Party’s limitations in microcosm here: most five-year-olds caught with hands in cookie jar come up with something more convincing than these abductors’ spin-doctors.
In Hong Kong, we can see some specific signs of a shift in the landscape – or at least signs that opponents of Beijing-appointed Chief Executive CY Leung think a shift is coming.
The abductions can only bolster the credibility of the pro-dem camp. All your favourite demonized pan-dem personalities appear in one professionally – and promptly – produced video here (this one here is also attracting international attention).
More to the point, elements of the pro-establishment camp are getting visibly fractious. Tsang Yok-sing, elder statesman of the Communist Party’s local front, joins calls for the Hong Kong authorities to badger Mainland counterparts about the five missing publishers and tentatively backs colonial-era civil servant and current uninspiring Financial Secretary John Tsang as CY’s deposer/replacement. The New Territories’ Heung Yee Kuk mafia threatens to end cooperation with other pro-Beijing groups in elections. And the tycoon’s kid running the government’s Youth Commission loses his ‘Belt and Road Opportunities’ script and suggests unaffordable homes and an undemocratic system really are making kids pissed off.
None of these people (or their string-pullers) have noble intentions. But they are supposed to be united and disciplined by Beijing’s Liaison Office, and that clearly isn’t happening.
Maybe the Mandate of Heaven is every bit as secure as at any time since, say, 1989. But if you are looking for signs that it’s not, there are a few at the moment.