Serious discussion about the demise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—how it might happen, what it would mean, and what repercussions might follow—has for a long time been missing from the discourse on China by both academics and policymakers.
Gordon G. Chang is trained as a lawyer and is the author of the 2001 book, The Coming Collapse of China. Over 10 years ago he famously predicted that the Communist Party would collapse—and famously, it did not come to pass.
Chang may yet have his day in the sun, however, as the ongoing political crisis in China reveals the institutional weaknesses of one-party rule.
The Epoch Times took the opportunity to ask Chang about the current stability of China’s communists, and what might happen if the Party’s power fails. Chang, who has spent his career watching China and thinking about the questions at stake, says the world shouldn’t be surprised if rapid change suddenly unfolds in China.
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The following is an edited transcript of a recent question and answer session between Chang and The Epoch Times.
The Epoch Times: To what degree has the CCP institutionalized leadership succession?
Gordon G. Chang: At the beginning of last month, virtually everybody was saying that the CCP had institutionalized itself with rules, guidelines, and limits, but we learned with the Wang Lijun incident that that is not true, that the Communist Party of China has not solved the one problem that has plagued authoritarian governments from the dawn of time—and that is the problem of succession.
Epoch Times: Why is succession a problem for authoritarian governments, and for the CCP in particular?
Mr. Chang: Because they don’t have rule of law, they don’t have constitutions that mean anything, and the transfer of power is merely a naked struggle without rules.
Epoch Times: What sort of disruption have we seen to the Party’s rule recently?
Mr. Chang: We’ve seen a big disruption because there’s been these rumors of coups, and the last set of them is the third we’ve heard this year.
We have heard the premier of the country warn, not only China but the rest of the world, that China could fall into another Cultural Revolution. It’s obvious that there are some real problems at the top of the Chinese political system.
Epoch Times: What could trigger the Party’s collapse?
Mr. Chang: You never know. When these things occur, they occur rapidly and without warning. If you were to say, for instance, in the beginning of December in 2010, that a fruit seller in a backwater Tunisian city was going to set himself on fire and lead not only to a change in Tunisia, but also in Egypt and Libya and set the rest of the Arab world aflame, you could have been derided as a madman. But that is in fact what happened when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire.
Epoch Times: What steps have to happen for change in the political system?
Mr. Chang: There are no specific steps that have to happen. Political scientists come up with lists for things that have to happen for revolutionary change in a society, and people continue to prove them wrong. It is just the nature of change in our society, and since 1989 we have seen governments fall almost overnight. And all the time, we are stunned by what happened. … Governments that look seemingly invulnerable one day, fail the next.
Epoch Times: Why must change occur? Where is the inevitability?
Mr. Chang: Most Chinese citizens believe that a one-party state is no longer appropriate for China’s modernizing society. You’ve got to remember that at this moment the Chinese economy is faltering, [and] the Communist Party is splintering. The authority of the central government is eroding, the military is breaking free of central control, and the Chinese people, from one end of their country to the other, are taking to the streets in violent protest. The top of the Communist Party has got people that are the most insecure folks on the face of the Earth. And that should tell us something.
Epoch Times: What are the issues with military control?
Mr. Chang: Hu Jintao just a couple of weeks ago issued a public warning to generals and admirals reminding them that they’re subservient to the CCP. Now, is that something you do if you take the loyalty of the flag officers for granted? You don’t have coup rumors in stable governments. When’s the last time you heard talk of a military takeover in Canada?
Epoch Times: Communist officials profit immensely from their current positions of power, why would they relinquish that?
Mr. Chang: They’re not going to voluntarily relinquish it, but when they feel that the end is near, these guys are going to get on planes and take their money with them. And that’s what’s happening right now, there’s a lot of money coming out of China.Epoch Times: This set of questions, of Party collapse, or post-CCP China, does not seem to be part of mainstream scholarly discourse on China or U.S.-policymaking. Why?
Mr. Chang: If you had asked your questions in August, very few people would have been thinking about the failure of the Communist Party, but now people are actually starting to talk about it, because signs of erosion in the system are unmistakable. Why has it not been part of the discussion? Because on Sept. 10, 2001, people weren’t thinking about al-Qaeda flying planes into American buildings, although al-Qaeda had for five years been attacking American interests around the world, including the World Trade Center. Tell me why Americans are blind.
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