The Future of China: Status Quo, Reform or Chaos?

Date: Monday, 7 March

Venue: MY 632, Murphy Building, Kelburn Campus

Speaker: Mr Roger Garside


The model by which the Communist Party has ruled China since 1978, a semi-free market under a one-party dictatorship, has produced spectacular economic growth, but at great moral, environmental, and cultural cost. Now, the contradictions inherent in economic without political reform are becoming ever more evident and acute. The transition from command to market economy has been stalled for over a decade; it cannot be relaunched unless the Party relinquishes its control over the “commanding heights” of the economy, but to do so would undermine its political monopoly. Growth is slowing, domestic and foreign confidence in the Party’s economic management is declining, capital flight is accelerating, corporate debt is dangerously high and rising, and so is inequality of wealth and income. The anti-corruption campaign is creating strong enemies for the current leadership, but can corruption be eradicated without the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press? At home, increasing repression of human rights activists and heavier censorship does not suggest confident leadership. The “brain drain” of high-achieving young people is continuing. Abroad, a more assertive foreign policy is creating antagonism across the Taiwan Straits, and more widely in East and South-East Asia.

What does the future hold? Can the one-party dictatorship continue without reform? What are the prospects for a managed transition to democracy, as on Taiwan? What will happen if there is an economic “hard-landing” without political reform?

About the speaker

Roger Garside is a former British diplomat who has been an eye-witness to the Great Famine of 1958-60, the Cultural Revolution, the Democracy Movement of 1978, and the struggle for the succession to Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong; his book, Coming Alive: China After Mao, told how and why Deng Xiaoping won that struggle. He is now working on a new book that will assess the impact of the one-party dictatorship across society, and its chances of survival.