Explaining Regime Strength in China

By Wang, Zhengxu | China: An International Journal, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Explaining Regime Strength in China


Wang, Zhengxu, China: An International Journal


Using survey data to analyse the strength of the Chinese regime, it is argued that economic development has generated substantial public satisfaction. The public also recognises that the Chinese Communist Party is reforming the Government. The public's satisfaction with Government performance in both the economic and political arenas translates into a high level of public trust in the regime. At the same time, the Party effectively halts any open challenges to its political power. It will therefore likely hold on to power for some time to come. Western nations can assist democracy in China by encouraging the democratic and curbing the authoritarian elements within the regime.

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How well is the Chinese regime holding on to power? Some argue that it is facing daunting challenges to its governance, to the extent that a "collapse of China" is possible. (1) The frequent peasant protests in recent months seem to vindicate this. Others, on the contrary, believe the Chinese Communist regime is able to renew and reform itself, and will stay relevant for years to come. In this article, newly available public opinion survey data is used to analyse the strength of the Chinese regime. It is argued that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still has some breathing space. As the Party has continued to deliver socioeconomic goods, it has generated substantial public satisfaction. Meanwhile, the Government has also made serious efforts to reform itself in the face of the growing governance crises. The Government's performance, in terms of both economic development and political reform, has been well received by the public. Such public satisfaction translates into a high level of public trust in the regime. At the same time, it has cracked down on potentially destabilising factors, thereby checking open challenges to its political power. As a result, the CCP regime will likely hold on to power for some time to come. Based on this, the author puts forward some policy implications for practitioners dealing with the Chinese regime.

The Regime Question

With China's growing economic power and rising global influence, understanding the Chinese regime is both difficult and critical. Observers of the viability of the Beijing regime fall into several groups. Most notably, some argue that the CCP regime is on the verge of collapse, while others argue that it is renewing its ability to hold on to power. Those predicting the regime's demise, point first of all, to the daunting obstacles it faces: social inequality, corruption and power abuse, labour discontent, social dislocation, poor public health systems ... the list goes on. Secondly, even on the economic front, despite national economic growth being enviably high, structural problems are epidemic--characterised by dying state firms, crippled banks, wasteful production, predatory government, slack technology and energy shortages. Lastly, the regime itself is dead. Externally, it has lost its ideological appeal and relies only on the delivery of economic performance to keep the public complacent. Internally, it has lost ideological coherence and organisational strength and relies only on a system of patronage to keep it from falling apart. "The Party is over", some have claimed, so Chinese society should prepare for the coming collapse of the regime. (2)

Other people argue the contrary. Unprecedented economic growth has rapidly modernised society and elevated living standards, thus boosting public confidence in, and support for, the regime. No less importantly, the regime has also gone through tremendous transformations itself. It is now more adapted to internal and international realities. The institutionalisation of a meritocracy, expansion in political participation and consultation, and co-optation of social and economic elites have enhanced its governing capacity. True, the challenges it faces seem almost overwhelming, but the regime is determined to confront them, and in doing so, it is fair to say it has thus far proved its ability.

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