On Monday, October 31st, AmCham Shanghai hosted Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College in London, for a discussion about politics in China.
Brown’s lecture focused on the evolution of the Communist Party (CCP), how President Xi Jinping’s leadership fits into it today, and changes we may see in the years ahead. He also spoke about the changing nature of politics in China as it adapts to an environment where GDP growth is no longer the sole objective. Whereas past leaders could push difficulties down the road, issues such as an aging population, social welfare funding, and the shifting structure of the economy now require swifter and more effective solutions. At the same time, the CCP’s success has called into question a common assumption among political scientists that growing affluence leads to greater pluralism and openness in those societies.
Despite press chatter that Xi has amassed power second only to Mao, Brown stressed that President Xi remains a servant of the Party. He also spoke about rhetorical changes in the Chinese view of the world, with Xi now speaking in terms of grand visions, ambitions and goals and the realization of China’s rightful place in the world. The Party, he said, today functions as much as a risk management agency as a political party, and he added that risks in China, of whatever kind, are now a global concern given the interconnectivity of world economies. The party has evolved from a revolutionary party into a governing one and is now also one of the world’s greatest money making machines. It has become the network of networks.
Following the lecture, Brown fielded questions from the audience and an interesting discussion ensued. Topics ranged from next year’s leadership change to UK-China relations after Brexit, free trade agreements, and the tactical use of rule of law. Brown provided a bounty of well-founded knowledge and insight.
Brown’s latest book, CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping, and his previous release The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China focus on China’s current leadership and the internal workings of the CCP. Prior to becoming a scholar, Brown was a diplomat at the British embassy in Beijing.