Most of what outside observers know about policy controversies in China revolves around the lopsided struggle between the entrenched authoritarian leadership and the small cadre of beleaguered dissidents who want human rights and constitutional democracy. But as Lynch reveals, there are real, if narrower, debates taking place inside the system, mostly among academics and think-tank staffers writing in policy journals and classified newsletters. On economics, much of the commentary runs counter to the regime’s happy talk, pointing to problems such as an aging work force, the politicized allocation of credit, and government control of the land market. On international relations, by contrast, many specialists express what Lynch calls a “belle-époque hubris,” urging the government to be even more assertive than it already is. Commentators on domestic politics do not challenge one-party rule, but some call for more “inner-party democracy,” while others view authoritarianism as a developmental stage that will lead to democracy, and a third group is even more rigid than the Chinese Communist Party itself, portraying the current system as perfectly suited to Chinese culture. No one knows the extent to which these debates influence policy, but this skillful inquiry shows how informed insiders see China’s possible future trajectories.
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