feels threat of a China Spring By Brendan O'Reilly
from China's new leadership suggest a growing
awareness of serious economic and political
problems. The era of relative political stability
garnered through rapid economic growth may be
coming to an end. A rising tide lifts all boats,
but structural problems in the world's second
largest economy have the potential to dam the flow
of increasing prosperity. Concrete reforms must
accompany the promising slogans if the Communist
Party is to maintain its monopoly on political
Xi Jinping, the newly minted
General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP), spoke some of the harshest and most
dire of warnings to date
about the threat that corruption poses to China.
Xi reminded the Politburo:
In recent years, the long pent-up
problems in some countries have led to the
venting of public outrage, to social turmoil and
to the fall of governments, and corruption and
graft have been an important reason... A mass of
facts tells us that if corruption becomes
increasingly serious, it will inevitably doom
the party and the state. We must be vigilant. In
recent years, there have been cases of grave
violations of disciplinary rules and laws within
the party that have been extremely malign in
nature and utterly destructive politically,
shocking people to the core. 
China's leaders have denounced
corruption for thousands of years while corruption
has run rampant in Chinese society. The Communist
Party is no exception to this historical trend.
However, Xi's warnings go beyond previous
platitudes in that he specifically cautioned that
increased corruption would "inevitably doom the
party and the state". Furthermore, Xi's rather
direct reference to the Arab Spring demonstrates a
growing awareness of the very immediate threat
that entrenched corruption poses for contemporary
rulers. This warning also contains a clandestine
suggestion for the possibility for serious
economic difficulties in the People's Republic of
A recent study by the Pew Research
Center found that the largest perceived problem in
China is inflation. Concerns over corrupt
officials were a close second - fully half of the
Chinese population views corruption as a major
problem, up from 39% four years ago.  Worries
about the growing gap between rich and poor are
also higher than they were in the previous survey.
What this polling reveals is the
increasingly widespread nature of economic
insecurities in China. Economic concerns represent
a greater potential source of instability than
anger over corruption. China's current rulers gain
much of their popular legitimacy through improving
the material conditions of their people. The last
three decades of Chinese economic growth have seen
the greatest reduction in extreme poverty in world
history. Some degree of graft has been tolerated
so long as the rising tide of economic development
lifted all boats. However, if the majority of
Chinese people do not receive direct improvements
in their quality of life from the governing
system, then the system itself will face an
Xi Jinping's warnings
on corruption contained a fairly obvious reference
to the ongoing revolutions in the Middle East.
Indeed, there are two important parallels between
the situation in many Middle Eastern countries and
contemporary China - the autocratic nature of
their governments and entrenched corruption.
However, the general economic trajectory
of the two regions could hardly be more different.
While corruption was of course a factor in the
popular Arab revolutionary outbursts, lack of
economic opportunity was the defining motive for
the mass movements of the Arab Spring.
Doctor Ali Kadri, the former head of the
Economic Analysis Section of the United Nations in
Beirut, pins the blame for the Arab Spring
revolutions squarely on economic underdevelopment.
According to his research, the overall per capita
GDP growth in the Arab world was negative between
1971 and 2000.  Furthermore, the very genesis
of these movements occurred in Tunisia when
Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death in
response to a situation of individual economic
If trapped in a condition of
economic hopelessness, individuals have little
stake in their contemporary socio-economic order.
Revolutions are most often carried out by young
and desperate people with little to lose. This
scenario is very much in contrast with the Chinese
situation in recent decades. China has sustained
double-digit growth for most of the past 30 years,
and real average wages have increased more than
sevenfold since the reforms of the late 1970s.
However, the era of breakneck growth in
China may be coming to a close. China's heavily
export-dependent economy has suffered both from
the prolonged global slowdown and the ongoing rise
of Chinese wages. Many labor-intensive industries
are relocating to areas with cheaper workforces,
such as Vietnam and Cambodia. The current rate of
economic growth in China has slowed to an annual
rate of 7% - the slowest since 1989.
Premier Li Keqiang, Xi Jinping's
second-in-command, alluded to these difficulties
in a recent speech at the State Council: "It is
hard to maintain double-digit growth, but 7% will
be enough to achieve an affluent society by 2020."
 This rather blunt dampening of economic
expectations may signal a governmental awareness
of impending structural problems for the Chinese
economy. Beyond the previously mentioned concerns
over a slowdown in exports, there is the very real
fear that China's inflated housing market may be a
bubble waiting to burst.
If and when China
faces serious economic difficulties, these issues
can quickly transform into political instability.
The greatest crisis to face Chinese leadership
since the era of reform began in the 1970s was the
widespread protest movement that formed in 1989.
These protests, which ended with the crackdown at
Tiananmen Square, were originally sparked by
popular concerns over rapid inflation.
Furthermore, the current potential for
widespread political dissent is rooted in changing
demographic realities. Just as Xi Jinping and Li
Keqiang represent a new generation of Chinese
leadership, the wider demographic nature of the
Chinese nation is undergoing momentous changes.
The older generation of Chinese, who
remember the widespread hunger and universal
poverty of the 1950s and 1960s, are too pleased
with the relative prosperity of modern China to
wish to destabilize the current system. The
younger generation - those born in the boom times
of the 1980s and 1990s - will be less patient with
blatant corruption and political autocracy.
Xi's warnings on the existential threat
posed by entrenched corruption reveal an increased
awareness of the vital necessity of meaningful
changes to China's political system. Given the
opaque and autocratic nature of the Chinese state,
deep and lasting reforms will be necessary to
combat corruption. China's new rulers must make
concrete efforts to enact reforms before economic
concerns and political impatience begin to pose
real threats to the Chinese state.
leaders must also take concrete and politically
risky measures to crack down on corruption and
stimulate continued economic growth if they hope
to maintain their political monopoly. Recent moves
to promote domestic consumption by implementing
universal medical coverage are a step in the right
direction. However, in the current globalized
economy, no government policies, no matter how
far-sighted and practical, can guarantee sustained
and rapid economic growth.
reforms will be increasingly vital as the growth
rate of the Chinese economy slows. The patience of
the Chinese people is only assured so long as
their material and political circumstances
continue to improve.