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Daniel Lynch on "The Next Chinese Revolution"

USCI scholar looks at what changes in China's economic climate might mean for its domestic political environment.
October 1, 2009

 "Today marks the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. There will be massive military parades and many speeches by the leaders of the Communist Party. But no one will mention the very real possibility of political upheaval in the near future, or the economic inequality, job losses and slowdown in economic growth the country is currently experiencing."

So begins Daniel Lynch's October 1, 2009 opinion piece in the Far Eastern Economic Review. Prof. Lynch goes on to note how much money the Chinese government has poured into its economy since late 2008 and how it has unleashed a torrent of lending. Official Chinese statistics suggest that China's economic downturn was never as deep as the United States' and that China's economy has recovered to an at least 9% annual growth rate. Why then, Lynch, asks, is Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao so worried about China's economy? Last month, Wen said, “China’s economic rebound is unstable, unbalanced and not yet solid.”

Lynch argues that Wen is right to be worried and raises questions about several economic reports. He argues that with continued weakness in China's export markets, China's economy is unlikely to be able to employ as many people and generate as much wealth as it has in recent years. Chinese, he says, will need to get used to slower growth. And that could have political consequences. Lynch concludes,

"The crucial question is how Chinese elites, encouraged in recent years to expect imminent international glory for their country, will react to this new normal. If frustrated expectations cause them to become dissatisfied at the same time as economic malaise grips the general population, Chinese politics could become severely turbulent. China’s leaders might have to make concessions of a kind that they never would have imagined, let alone wished to see. They might have to contemplate liberalization."


Daniel Lynch is a member of the USC U.S.-China Institute executive committee and teaches in the USC School of International Relations. He's the author numerous articles. His most recent book is Rising China and Asian Democratization (2006). He's currently researching elite Chinese views of the country's future.