Predicting the fall of the Chinese Communist Party has turned into a decades-long guessing game of sorts. But according to The Economist’s Gady Epstein, who spent 13 years reporting from China, the Party has endured—and will continue to do so—due to its willingness to study the failures of others and adapt as problematic issues arise, he said today at the University of Chicago.
Describing himself as a child of Francis Fukuyama, whose 1989 essay, The End of History, predicted the inevitable triumph of liberal capitalist democracy, Epstein began by sharing stories from his travels as a teen to the Soviet Union, where he observed communism and its ensuing collapse. When he arrived in Beijing in 2002, China was about to undergo its first leadership transition since the fall of the Soviet Union. Epstein quickly realized that China’s government had no intention of following in its neighbor’s footsteps. “There is this intellectual fallacy where China is viewed through the same lens as the other collapsed communist states,” Epstein said. “But, it’s not quite the same situation.”
While China has risen to the status of global superpower, “its leaders remain a little paranoid,” Epstein added. “This has probably contributed to their longevity.” Paranoia aside, the rise of President Xi Jinping, who has quickly moved to consolidate power, has seemingly established the Party in firm control of China’s future. “Xi has made it plainly obvious that China does not intend to evolve into a western-style system.”
But, with China’s economic growth slowing and nationalism on the rise, Epstein argued that the CCP must now build a third pillar of legitimacy: governance. A crackdown on corruption and the revision of cadre performance targets to include more holistic performance expectations (instead of a narrow focus on economic development) appear to reflect the Party’s latest adaptation.
“China has the market power and muscle to maintain its repression of human rights,” Epstein said, not to mention the fact that “the Party’s only credible rivals lie within the system.” Those anticipating the imminent collapse of the Chinese Communist Party may have a long time to wait.