Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Vatican and the Chinese Party-State: Where Do the Parallels End?

The Vatican and the Chinese Party-State: Where Do the Parallels End?


Some observers are drawing parallels between governing the Catholic Church and governing the party-state in China. Analogy can be illuminating, but it also can obscure or mislead. This article contends that there are three quintessential similarities between the two polities. Both are permeated perennially by agency problems. Each is a self-claimed “virtuocracy.” And both hold aloft distributive justice, a mission that, if overlooked, would undermine the polities’ raisons d’être. This essay also contends that the two polities differ in three fundamental aspects. Seemingly functioning beyond a legal framework, the clerics and others who broadly implement the policies of the Catholic Church actually are as subject to the law as anybody in a liberal democracy, unlike the leaders of the party-state in China. Second, the party-state in China is more obsessed with blame avoidance than claiming credit, while the reverse is true for the Holy See. Finally, and paradoxically, the party-state in China is far less ideologically constrained than the Vatican. These comparisons and contrasts between the two polities help to shed light on the intrinsic nature of each regime.

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