Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts On the Horns of a Dilemma: Will Corruption Bring Down the Chinese Communist Party?
On the Horns of a Dilemma: Will Corruption Bring Down the Chinese Communist Party?

On the Horns of a Dilemma: Will Corruption Bring Down the Chinese Communist Party?


Executive Summary

When the People’s Republic of China’s president and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping took power in 2012, he publicly acknowledged that the Party faced an existential crisis from pervasive corruption at all levels of Chinese government and business activity. Such corruption has put the Party’s leaders on the horns of a dilemma: If they fail to adopt political reforms that could root out corruption independent of Party control, like a free press, competitive elections, and the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary, then the crisis of corruption will continue to fester; but if the Party were to embrace such reforms, then that would inevitably lead to democratization and the Party’s loss of autocratic control of China. As one Chinese scholar aptly sums up this dilemma: “There’s a commonly used phrase: Not reforming means to wait for death. Reforming means to court death.”

China’s crisis of corruption should be of immediate interest to American political and business leaders. China is the world’s largest developing nation with the world’s second largest economy, exceeded only by that of the United States. It may justifiably be said that the United States and China are now the two most significant nations on earth, so American interests will be profoundly affected by China’s future economic and political development. A better understanding of the challenges the Communist Party faces in the coming years may prove invaluable for effective U.S. policy formulation. Such insights may also contribute to enduring and mutually beneficial economic and political relationships with China.

Accordingly, this report initially examines the historical development of China’s regime of institutionalized corruption and the toll it has already taken on the Chinese people, economy and governmental process. Then it turns to an evaluation of divergent perspectives on the future for China’s now thoroughly corrupted Communist Party and the extraordinary civilization and people it continues to rule. Finally, the article will conclude by addressing the question of whether the Party can overcome corruption and survive in the 21st century.

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