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Dr. Cheng Li discusses ramifications of upheaval in China

Published: April 20, 2012
Section: News

Dr. Cheng Li, director of China research at the Brookings Institute and a member of the Academic Advisory Team of the Congressional U.S.-China Working Group, discussed the changing face of Chinese leadership in a lecture Wednesday in Rapaporte Treasure Hall. The seminar commemorated the new issue of the Brandeis International Journal (BIJ), which featured China as its central topic.

Li discussed what he views as the four largest shifts that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is currently facing: the two Coalitions within the party, the new identities of newer generations of Chinese citizens, the weakness of the faction’s leaders and the political deadlock that pluralism has helped to cause.

According to Li, the Populist and Elitist coalitions each occupy roughly half of the seats of power in the CCP’s upper government. He described the Populist Coalition as being comprised of rural and provincial leaders who follow a Marxist ideology and are known as the “New Left.” The Elitist Coalition is led largely by the sons of previous prominent leaders, who are often called “Princelings.” These officials are mainly businessmen who naturally focus on business and economic matters.

With regard to the identities of new generations of Chinese citizens, Li discussed the decline of “technocrats,” or leaders who have college degrees in engineering. Rather, he believes that “entrepreneurs are on the rise” and that businessmen are becoming the new majority among younger citizens.

He asserted that the weak leadership in the government may not be the fault of incompetent politicians but rather a public distrust for certain offices. He believes that this weakness may be countered by the usage of the “Team of Rivals” strategy, which requires leaders to appoint their chief opponents to positions in their administration, “just like how Hillary Clinton became Chief of State” under Barack Obama.

“The strategy can also lead to political deadlock,” cautioned Li. He mentioned how the nature of political pluralism, an influence of democracy, can lead to further instances of deadlock by resulting in a diverse range of leaders who don’t always agree on important issues. While this can lead to inefficiency, it is becoming more and more common in modern societies.

The presentation concluded with more light-hearted banter as well as the future of Chinese Leadership. He believes that the CCP, in order to survive, will begin an incremental transition to democracy with its largest issues as “a move to Constitutionalism, more elections and a completely open media.”

Following Li’s presentation, Brandeis Professor Gary Jefferson (ECON) responded to the presentation and added his own interpretation of the current situation. Jefferson agreed with Li’s analysis of the CCP’s eventual fate and said that he believes “political reform is as deep and meaningful as economic reform” in China.

He mentioned that the CCP needs to go about “the reallocation of property rights from the state to individuals and companies.” It also needs to address an individual’s rights to ideas and the fair distribution of human capital, as well as the overall workforce in China.

Professor Chandler Rosenberger (IGS) helped to orchestrate a Q&A session for Li and Jefferson. The two fielded a variety of questions on topics ranging from the recent Bo Xilai scandal to the role of women in the government and the treatment of minority groups in China.

The Brandeis International Journal, a student-organized international affairs publication, hosted the event. Chief editor and Europe head Sungtae Park ’12 said the journal is “a way for students interested in international relations to form networking groups as well as get their opinions published.”

Students at the seminar were receptive to what Li had to say. Abigail Steinberg, a UDR for the International and Global Studies department, said that the entire event was “beautifully planned and well-executed.” She also praised how Li “included things I haven’t heard in past responses” in his answers to questions.

Rosenberger had high praise for the BIJ, saying how impressed he was that “the journal had the foresight to make [China] the topic of their spring issue.”