Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Nation or a Continent?

As China has prospered economically, have the bonds of central control frayed too much to hold the periphery?

This is interesting:

The problem for Xi is that the remedy for China's ailing economy - the attempted imposition of decisive rule by a single individual - is one that produces factions in the first place. And any resultant groups that form could be more dangerous to him that any that existed before his presidency. If Xi fails to control the development of factional rifts in the Communist Party, the prospects for maintaining a coherent central government could be near impossible. And, like China's experience following the Qing, if control were to falter, the restoration of effective central government could take years, if not decades.

Do read it all.

Does the faltering of the central government just mean a weakening of the central government's authority?

Or are Xi's worries deeper than that?

China's economic growth has been substantial, despite real questions about how good the official statistics really are. Could rising incomes be insufficient to deliver a modern, secure, state run from Peking; yet enough to give the periphery options to exit the Chinese state that once were impractical?

I've long wondered whether China is a continent masquerading as a state.

Could all our debates about which path China might follow be in error by not including "all of the above?"

Really, centralization and regionalism has long been a feature of Chinese history. Yet until the 19th century when the world reached China, China as the Middle Kingdom dwarfed neighbors and so was fairly immune to existential consequences of rounds of regionalism that weakened China. No neighbor was strong enough to really exploit the fleeting weakness of such a large and dominant entity as China.

Who on the periphery could decisively exploit a period of Chinese weakness and survive a rebound of Chinese central authority when the empire strikes back?

Now, a round of Chinese weakness invites foreign exploitation as happened in the 19th century when foreigners like the West, Russia, and Japan could take advantage of Chinese weakness. China still hasn't recovered from that demotion from their status in a region that was once a world all by itself.

Of course, rising Chinese military power might give China's rulers a hope that they can avoid that traditional swing between strong central control and strong regional resistance. I also wonder if the communist rulers of China would provoke a "foreign" war for what we could see as a "domestic" problem of maintaining Chinese Communist Party control of all (or even just most) of China.

And unlike the pre-globalized world, when China falters the rest of the world doesn't have the luxury of remaining ignorant of either the titanic events or remaining immune to the consequences of that upheaval.

Answering the question of whether China is a nation or a continent could be rough on a lot of the planet.