One of the things that made the Chinese Communist Party so dangerous was that they had learned from the mistakes of European Communism. Whereas Moscow and its satellites tried to be factory managers, the cadres are comfortable as conglomerate heads - or what the folks in the nineteenth century called "trusts." The Soviets broadcast their anti-American propaganda for all to hear; the CCP does its best to ensure it only reaches target audiences. The Soviets tried to latch on to any anti-American group in sight and incorporate it into the Eastern Bloc. The CCP, far more mindful of the benefits of anonymity, are more than happy to let anti-American terrorists keep the entire spotlight for themselves and hide Zhongnanhai's aid. Even with its own satellite state and de facto colony (North Korea), Zhongnanhai has used subterfuge and Kim Jong-il's tremendous ego to downplay its own vital role in keeping his Korean puppet regime afloat. In just about every respect, the CCP figured out what the Soviets did wrong, and made sure they didn't do it.
Thus, one can imagine my shock as, over the past few months, the cadres have driven right into the same trap that the ensnared the Soviets in the 1970s: a rickety economy ignored in pursuit of the fantasy of global domination. Like the USSR, the CCP will fail, but they will have a hand in killing plenty of innocent victims along the way.
We'll start with the economy. Already, the cadres are facing an economy that is not keeping up with population growth (Bloomberg). The last time that happened was in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, during which economic growth was hardly a priority. Citizens are already getting nervous (Agence France Presse via Yahoo).
Meanwhile, the usual perks that go with a white-hot economy - namely the license to steal that comes with Party Membership - are in deep trouble now that there isn't as much to take. Moreover, fleecing foreigners won't be so easy either. The World Trade Organization just called foul on the mass counterfeiting operations that made Communist China infamous (Bloomberg), and while that means almost nothing in actual terms, it is a signal to the rest of the world that they should be more careful in dealing with the CCP - and they will be more careful. Already, the Obama Administration seems more willing to go after the CCP on the currency issue (AFP via Yahoo) - although it is early, and previous American Administrations waited until later in their first year to show their true colors.
The other major prop on which the Communist economy rests - exports - continue to be hit with the double-whammy of the global slowdown (Yahoo) and tainted products (United Press International).
So, are the Communists taking stock and trying to fix the problem? Nope, they're too busy trying to take over the world.
As the Chinese people look worriedly to the future, the cadres are looking up to the heavens - to create their own GPS-like system (Strategy Page). They are continuing a military build-up that they hope will make them equal to the United States (SP), and then pass us to become the world's leading power. Much as Mao let his people starve but sold grain to the Soviets for arms, Hu Jintao and his crew are sending money to allies in Pakistan (Newkerala) and Zimbabwe (London Telegraph) to keep their economies afloat.
As for dissidents, it's business as usual (Radio Free Asia).
The Soviets could not avoid their day of reckoning; nor, I suspect, will the Chinese Communist Party (the Japan Times has a decent summary of the economic reality). Again, the question is, when will the day come?
This is a more important question than it seems. The Soviets had a pretty good idea they were in deep trouble in the 1970s; they just managed to keep it a secret for roughly a decade. In that time, they sparked bloody civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador while invading Afghanistan and setting in motion events with which we are all still grappling. One can only imagine what the world would have been like if the USSR had been allowed to survive into the 21st Century (think Putinism on steroids).
The Chinese Communist Party's downfall may be inevitable, but every day it remains in power is a day that it helps anti-American terrorists, fuels the ambitions of Kim Jong-il, and indulges its hidden but always present lust for Taiwan, all in the pursuit of power - and adding more days to its reign. The longer the free world waits to help the Chinese people free themselves, the more blood and treasure it will take from both of them to succeed.