Beijing (AsiaNews) – The end game for "communist rule has now begun,” writes David Shambaugh, one of the world’s foremost China experts. In his view, the rot “has progressed further than many think.”
In an op-ed two weeks ago in The Wall Street Journal with the headline ‘The Coming Chinese Crack-up’, Shambaugh labelled the nation's political system "badly broken".
Since he took office, the George Washington University professor noted, “Mr. Xi has greatly intensified the political repression that has blanketed China since 2009”. Such a crackdown “is meant to be the opposite of Mr. Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost”; yet, “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’état.”
According to Shambaugh, the leadership is well aware of this, and, by cracking down on dissent and corruption, President Xi Jinping hopes to avoid the dissolution of the Communist Party. Yet, his "despotism is severely stressing China's system and society, [. . .] bringing it closer to a breaking point".
The regime’s demise will likely "be protracted, messy and violent", and Xi could be deposed in a power struggle or coup.
When someone like Shambaugh “comes up with a prognosis of the [party's] 'crack-up', people pay attention," said Dali Yang, faculty director of the University of Chicago's Centre in Beijing.
Kerry Brown, the director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, agrees.
"Shambaugh is a widely respected and deeply experienced expert on China, and so his views deserve to be taken very seriously," Brown said.
This is even more significant since, his views have changed over time. Seven years ago, in his highly regarded book China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation, he noted the party's potential to overcome or contain its problems, such as corruption and eroded authority, through learning and adaptability.
The current government had instead turned towards harsh repression and abandoned the proactive political reforms endorsed by former president Jiang Zemin, Shambaugh told The New York Times to explain why his views had shifted.
For him, “Until and unless China relaxes its draconian political controls, it will never become an innovative society and a ‘knowledge economy’.”
Still, "Even Shambaugh admits that prediction is risky,” said Xiaoyu Pu, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno.
But “Beijing,” Pu said, “should wisely view Shambaugh's analysis not as yet another American conspiracy, but as 'good and bitter medicine' for China's future".