In recent months, the issue of cybersecurity has become a major source of both tension and potential cooperation for the U.S.-China relationship. With Western assessments pointing to China—not only to Chinese individuals, but also most likely the Chinese government (and especially military) sources—as the source of an increasing number of destructive cyberattacks on commercial enterprises and government institutions, Washington has greatly intensified its expression of concern to Beijing.
The political turmoil created in Taiwan by the Kuomintang’s move to oust Legislative Yuan speaker Wang Jin-pyng in mid-September capped off several months of tumult over such issues as the abuse-related heatstroke death of a military recruit, the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, and the recently signed cross-Strait services trade agreement.
Since the 18th Party Congress in late 2012, CMC Chairman and CCP supremo Xi Jinping has sought to aggressively confront PLA corruption using classic Mao-era methods, including “mass-line educational campaigns” designed to “rectify work style” through criticism and self-criticism. These organizational techniques, combined with discipline inspections and control of the personnel promotion system, allow Xi to quickly place his stamp upon the PLA, though they will not likely root out the deep structural causes of military corruption in the system.
Rather than pull public opinion together, Xi Jinping’s call for realizing the “China Dream” seems to have revealed the depth of cleavage among China’s intellectuals. The newspaper Southern Weekend set off a drama when it responded by writing a New Year’s editorial calling the China Dream the dream of constitutional government, only to have provincial propaganda authorities rewrite it beyond recognition before publication. Subsequently, Xi Jinping authorized a sharp attack on “Western values,” including constitutionalism. This internal talk, written into the now infamous “Document No. 9,” prompted several publications to run articles against constitutionalism, provoking liberal intellectuals to defend the idea. This deep divide suggests there is increasingly little middle ground left among China’s intellectuals, while the backing of different views by different officials reflects a politicization of seemingly intellectual debates. These debates are ultimately about the legitimacy of the government and thus reflect fragility in the political system.
The reform policy process this year will culminate in the Third Plenum, which has now been pushed back to November. While the process is on track, delays show the difficulty in crafting a reform design that must adapt to the privileged position of state-owned enterprises and other limitations on reform design. Turbulence in short-term financial markets in June indirectly illuminates some of these problems.
Since the 18th Party Congress, the Xi leadership has launched two carefully orchestrated, interrelated campaigns to demonstrate its seriousness about eradicating corruption and to improve public support for the regime. The twin campaigns appear aimed at paving the way to economic and government reforms at the 18th Central Committee’s upcoming Third Plenum that Chinese media promise will be substantial.
Crucial to any analysis of China’s political trajectory is an understanding of the kind of leadership that is governing the country. This is even more important now, given the emergence of new political elites with distinct educational and professional credentials who will be running the country for the next decade and beyond. Throughout PRC history, changes in the composition of the political elite have often reflected—and sometimes heralded—broad social, economic, political, and ideological changes in the country at large. This essay examines the rapid rise of lawyers and legal professionals in both Chinese higher courts and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, and it links the trend of professionalization of the court judges and the emergence of legal professionals in the CCP leadership with paradoxical developments regarding the rule of law.