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The CCP’s Political Security Faces Nine Challenges

{Editor’s Note: Since taking office, the Trump administration has adopted a new approach to China. In 2018, the U.S. announced sweeping tariffs on imports from China, which triggered an escalation into a trade war, followed by ongoing trade negotiations. The U.S. has also targeted Chinese IT firms such as ZTE and Huawei, including the arrest of Huawei’s CFO. The American society has also developed a bipartisan consensus on the China threat. To Beijing, external pressure translates into a heightened sense of insecurity. Deng Yuwen, an independent political commentator and scholar, and a former editor of Study Times, the flagship publication of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote an article on the challenges that the regime faces.
The following is a translation of the article.} {1}

The CCP’s Political Security Faces Nine Challenges

Since the beginning of 2019, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) has grown increasingly alert to major risks. In his opening speech at the provincial and ministerial level leading cadre seminars, Xi Jinping has emphasized the need for preparation for the worst-case scenario, preventing and mitigating major risks, and ensuring security in politics, ideology, science, technology, and society. During the National Public Security Bureau Directors’ meeting, “color revolution” was even placed directly as the main challenge this year. With a high sense of insecurity, the CCP has positioned itself in a defensive stance. Is the party just being overly sensitive or does it feel that the crisis is right in front of it?

Frankly speaking, after Xi Jinping took office, a large number of problems accumulated in Chinese society. Some of the problems were very serious and constituted challenges to the Chinese Communist regime’s rule. These issues and challenges are as follows:

One: The economic growth rate has been slowing down for a while. Over the past 40 years of economic reform, the average 10 percent (economic) growth has constituted an important basis for the legitimacy of the CCP’s rule. However, in recent years, the high growth rate has no longer been there. The downward pressure on the economy will be difficult to mitigate over the next few years. The fact that China’s economic growth this year is targeted to be between 6 and 6.5 percent is a strong signal. Some economists believe that, as far as the current national condition is concerned, the future economic growth cannot be below 6 percent. Otherwise there will be big problems. The reason is that, although the size of China’s economy is huge, it still needs a certain growth rate to solve the problems that can only be solved by a growing economy. If economic growth were too low, the problems and conflicts that the previous high growth rate obscured would stand out and intensify. These problems would impact unemployment, central and local fiscal revenue, social security, and other expenditures, weakening government’s ability to solve the problems.

Two: With intensified income disparity and the polarization between the rich and the poor, the relative deprivation {2} is approaching people’s psychological bottom line. Although the 40-year economic reform has raised the people’s absolute level of income and living standards, the relative income distribution gap has been expanding. This situation has worsened in recent years, and even caused a decline in absolute income {3}. China’s Gini coefficient has already broken the internationally recognized 0.5 psychological redline. The widening gap between the rich and the poor will not only restrict China’s economic transformation, but also cause serious political consequences, such as social class conflict, and especially, the impoverishment of the middle class.

Three: The emergence and growth of the power and wealth of the privileged interest groups. A major consequence of China’s economic reform is the emergence of large and small interest groups, mostly in the form of collusion between officials and businessmen. Political power permeates economic and commercial activities, forming a so-called crony capitalism. These interest groups largely control, influence, or counteract the policies and decisions of the Chinese government. Although Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption effort has sacked some of the interest groups, it only resulted in the wealth shifting to the hands of other interest groups. The people have not benefited from such a transfer of wealth.

Four: Rural decline and urban migrant refugees. China is a dual-structured society. The dual structure manifests in many ways. The most prominent of these is in urban and rural areas. The prosperity of the city is in stark contrast to the decline of the countryside. China’s urbanization ratio has grown rapidly in recent years exceeding 50 percent with more than half of the population living in cities. However, this urbanization is a delusion without substantial content because urbanization is at the expense of plundering the countryside. China’s urbanization policy has resulted in over 100 million urban farmers being unable to enjoy the public services that the government offers. This situation is more pronounced when the economy is in a difficult situation. As a result, a large number of the migrant population has been emerging in the city. In the long run, they will pose serious challenges to the stability of the CCP’s grassroots political power and urban social security.

Five: Social stratification and class conflict. Chinese society also exhibits the characteristic of a high degree of polarization. It exists not only between urban and rural areas, but also between the government and the people, between the lower class and the elites, and even between different schools of thought and groups of intellectuals. The solidification of the upper class and the fragmentation of the lower class, the conflict between the government and the people, and the clashes among the intellectual elites make it difficult to bind the whole society together. This is undoubtedly unfavorable for the CCP’s rule.

Six: Internet politics. The emergence of the Internet, especially the self-media, has changed the ecology of Chinese society. With the new tool, the Chinese people have raised their awareness of civil rights, especially among those at the bottom level of society. A unique Chinese style Internet politics has come into being. The Internet provides an opportunity to expose the negative side of society and the fight for the people’s rights. Even though it has reduced the possibility of large scale social unrest, with the real time and magnifying effects of Internet communication, the pressure it brings (to the CCP) cannot be underestimated. At present, on the one hand, the CCP strengthens its control over new media and suppresses dissident voices and online media; on the other hand, it uses government social media to guide public opinion. As a whole, its governance is seriously incompatible with the reality of the Internet age. Although the Arab Spring has not appeared in China, it still can’t be ruled out that it will appear in the future.

Seven: Ethnic conflicts have intensified sharply. The CCP’s ethnic policy has failed to cope with the changing world and economic development has become a catalyst for ethnic divisions. Under the influence of the third wave of democratic movements, {4} China’s ethnic conflicts have also emerged in the form of fighting for democracy. As the CCP has spared no effort in suppressing Tibetans, Uighurs, and other ethnic groups over the years, their efforts to promote democracy have suffered setbacks. However the separatist movements also emerged amid the suppression, posing challenges to national unity.

Eight: Corruption and the loss of political identity. Corruption is not only the result of the abuse of public power and the failure of state governance; it has also destroyed the public’s approval of the regime. The CCP’s corruption has gone out of control. Although Xi Jinping launched a massive anti-corruption campaign and arrested many senior officials, it still failed to improve the credibility of the governments at all levels. The confrontation between the government and the people has further deepened and friction has further increased. This will disintegrate the foundation of the CCP’s rule.

Nine Weakened geo-strategic politics. In the past few years, a series of aggressive foreign expansion policies Xi Jinping implemented has weakened China’s external environment and geopolitical condition. The full scale contests and conflicts between China and the U.S. have unprecedentedly intensified the conflicts between China and the Western world. The deterioration of the external environment will squeeze China’s international space, lead to the stagnation of the economy, and catalyze and intensify a number of existing conflicts. A prolonged intense geopolitical environment is undoubtedly not to the CCP’s advantage.

It should be pointed out that the above problems and risks are not stand alone issues. They influence and reinforce each other. They form a synergy and constitute a major challenge to the security of the Chinese Communist regime. The CCP is now able to take strong measures to stabilize various crises. However if it can’t improve its governance and can’t rebuild the legitimacy of its rule based on democracy and the rule of law, then suppression is not the solution; in fact it cannot be.

Deng Yuwen is an independent political commentator and international relations scholar. He is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Nottingham and also a member of council at the Beijing Reform and Development Institute.

{1} BBC Chinese, January 31, 2019. The CCP’s Political Security Faces Nine Challenges.
{2} Relative deprivation is the lack of resources to sustain the diet, lifestyle, activities, and amenities that an individual or group are accustomed to or that are widely encouraged or approved in the society to which they belong. See
{3} According to official statistics, the overall income in absolute terms is growing. Chinascope believes the author intended to mean the decline of absolute income for some of the population.
{4} According to the Journal of Democracy, “Between 1974 and 1990, at least 30 countries made transitions to democracy, just about doubling the number of democratic governments in the world. . . . The current era of democratic transitions constitutes the third wave of democratization in the history of the modern world.”