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This analysis argues that the period of easy reforms in China has ended, and the time of difficult reforms that touch core political interests has begun. The resulting challenges facing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping when he is confirmed for another five-year-term span political, economic, and international spheres. This leadership must both maintain a domestic focus to strengthen economic growth and avoid the “middle-income trap,” while also engaging in a host of regional and global actions to cement China’s position on the world stage. Internally, Xi has consolidated significant political power, and this has created significant tension among vested interests and competing centers of influence. Externally, for the first time in several centuries, the largest economy in the world is not Western and will be under a leadership that does not share the same consensual values and political structures as those in the West. Xi has outlined several priorities, including: increased CCP control over state and society; the promotion of traditional Chinese culture; the importance of Marxism as a guiding principle; historical revisionism and censorship; the promotion of nationalism; and the pursuit of an aggressive national anti-corruption campaign. Given these goals and sets of challenges, the outcome in China is uncertain and there exist a range of possible scenarios. The most attractive for the West would be an increase in social diversity and an accommodation with society to form a new social compact. However, it is difficult to see what would cause the current elite willingly to reject the existing beneficial system. A more unpredictable outcome would be chaotic pluralization in which democracy is not entrenched and elites and their families continue to benefit from their political connections to privatize public wealth. An alternative over the short to medium term would be the continuation of the fluctuation of soft and harder authoritarianism that would make bold initiatives unlikely. Rarely does a transition occur during a period of economic growth and is more likely to occur with the system under stress. As a result, the emergence of an illiberal democracy would be quite plausible under this final scenario.


Saich, Anthony. "What Does General Secretary Xi Jinping Dream About?" HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP17-038, August 2017.