Ten possibilities about the political future of China

December 13, 2017 09:10
Hong Kong and mainland China have been influencing each other over the years, and the relationship between the two is far from being unidirectional. Photo: Reuters

Due to geopolitical, historical, cultural, economic and political reasons, Hong Kong is undoubtedly inseparable from the mainland.

However, despite the city's tiny size compared to the mainland, the bilateral relationship is far from being an unidirectional one, which means Hong Kong and the mainland have been influencing each other over the years.

Even though the people of Hong Kong might not be able to directly influence the future of China, we must incorporate the mainland into our imagination about the future of our city, to ensure that we get ourselves prepared for a future that truly belongs to us.

After the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President Xi Jinping has consolidated his absolute power, and if we can think outside the box when it comes to forecasting the future of China, there are at least 10 possibilities:

1. The totalitarian rule under Xi would continue. And it is very likely that he would abolish the current term limit adopted by the CPC and continue to rule the country by other means after he has served out his 10-year term. And it is also likely that he would pass on to his successor the totalitarian form of government which he established.

2. In the post-Xi Jinping era, the CPC might return to collective leadership, under which the various leading factions within the party would share power. If this scenario happens, the political situation in the mainland could become highly volatile.

And if a new dictator emerges, China might once again return to totalitarian rule. However, there is also a possibility that this new dictator might have to carry out libertarian and democratic reforms amid pressure.

3. The CPC might take the initiative and introduce limited political reforms and competitive elections. However, it is likely that the party would devise all necessary measures and resources to manipulate the elections so that it could win them and continue to rule with a "popular" mandate. 

If the mainland public were satisfied with this kind of limited and manipulated democracy, then such political state could continue.

However, if a strong opposition force rose to prominence and, against all the odds, won the election and ended the CPC’s rule, chances are the Communist Party might overturn and nullify the election result and regress to one-party dictatorship.

Of course, the CPC might also acknowledge the election result and hand over its power to the opposition, but as we all know this is highly unlikely.

4. The CPC might take the initiative and carry out sweeping constitutional reforms, under which western-style party politics would be adopted and the CPC would compete with other parties in free elections for national leadership. But I believe this possibility is even more remote.

Apart from the above four possibilities, some other scenarios might also take place if the CPC rule suddenly collapses in the days ahead like the former Soviet Union did in 1991:

5. A new political strongman might emerge and replace the CPC and then rule the country with an iron fist.

6. The centralized government system might completely disintegrate and the entire country might sink into a state of anarchy.

7. An all-out civil war might break out in the mainland among the different political factions.

8. The various political factions in China might reach a consensus and create a democratic federation in the mainland.

9. These different factions might unilaterally declare independence and China might split into several independent states.

10. Finally, these newly independent states might return to the negotiation table and together build a Chinese confederation through dialogue.

As a matter of fact, no one can tell how the situation in the mainland is going to unfold in the days ahead, and there could well be more than 10 possibilities about China’s future.

As such, given the uncertainty and unpredictability of China's political future, perhaps all the people of Hong Kong can do right now is enhance their own sense of self-awareness and foster the city's self-reliance, so that no matter whether things in the mainland turn for the better or worse in the future, our city would be well-prepared and capable of dealing with the change.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong