Podcast: Understanding the Internal Debates Among China’s Top Thinkers

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Episode Guests
  • Elizabeth C. Economy
    Senior Fellow for China Studies

Show Notes

While China’s leaders may hew to one political and economic line, there is an ongoing, vibrant debate among China’s top thinkers and scholars about the future of the country. In his new book, China’s Futures: PRC Elites Debate Economics, Politics, and Foreign Policy, University of Southern California Associate Professor Daniel Lynch delves into the internal publications of China’s elites to discover what they truly think on issues ranging from the economy to the political system to the role of the Internet. Much of what he shared with me during our discussion surprised me. For example, as early as 2008–2009, he finds an overwhelming pessimism among Chinese economists concerning the trajectory of the Chinese economy and the need for fundamental reform. Yet their voices are largely ignored in the swell of enthusiasm for the vision generated by China’s security analysts who argue that China’s rise as a global power is inevitable. Another significant debate Lynch uncovers concerns the oft-discussed topic of soft power. Here, China’s international relations experts argue that there are vast numbers of people in other countries who are looking for leadership from China to get out from under the yoke of the West, yet many of China’s regional experts—those who focus on studying other countries—suggest that China’s political system constrains its soft power. Lynch’s book suggests that there is no excuse for China watchers not to understand the debates that roil the political system behind the seeming unanimity that is often enforced publicly. Fortunately for us, he has done virtually all of the heavy lifting.

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