There is one pattern that I’ve noticed in Western commentary of China. What happens is that there is this belief that the Chinese authorities present this happy face, but that behind the scenes they know the situation is horrible. So people bring up the fact that Chinese officials say that the situation is horrible as proof that the situation really is horrible, and probably even worse than the authorities present it. Pretty soon China is on the verge of total destruction.
There are two flaws with this analysis…..
1) first of all, it neglects that Chinese officials may have strong political reasons to spin the situation a way that makes things look bad. Take for example, the recent notion that the Chinese economy is on the brink of total annihilation. Chinese officials say it, so it must be true and the truth must even be worse than what people are saying behind the scenes. The trouble with this analysis is that it neglects that Chinese officials might have good reason to make the situation look bad. Namely, the worse you make the situation look the more likely it is that the government is going to spend massive amounts of money on infrastructure, and infrastructure spending means lots of money for officials.
The same holds true for lots of other bad news that appears in the press. Often it’s in the interest of some group within the Chinese government to spin the news in a way to look bad, because they get more attention if this issue is brought up.
2) a lot of governence involves looking at worst case scenarios and planning for bad things happening. You plan for bad things happening so that they don’t happen. What you get when you read a lot of the “bad news” talk that comes from Chinese officials is not “this is a bad situation therefore we are all doomed” but rather “this is a bad situation and we need to do something about it before it becomes worse.” Take the banking system. Over the last decade Chinese officials have been fretting over how awful the banking system could be and doing something about it. Meanwhile. American officials were of the “don’t worry be happy” mode. I think we are about to find out the consequences of this.
So you have this weird contradiction. When people are worried, that’s the time to be less worried, but when people aren’t worried, that’s the time to worry. The reason I think that the Chinese government won’t fall soon is precisely because they are constantly worried about the government falling. When people in Beijing are convinced that the Party cannot fail, then that’s when it will fail.