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China’s Coming Upheaval

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China’s Coming Upheaval

Competition, the Coronavirus, and the Weakness of Xi Jinping

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
4 take-aways
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Is China repeating the Soviet Union’s mistakes?

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  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


Observers of US-China relations are often reluctant to compare China to the former Soviet Union, citing China’s strong interconnectedness and the historically pragmatic nature of the Chinese government, especially with regard to economic policy, as key differences. Yet President Xi Jinping’s moves to increase his power within the Chinese Communist Party and his ideological rigidity have made China look more Soviet-like than it has for decades. Will the country repeat the Soviet Union’s mistakes? In this essay, political expert Minxin Pei argues that China is on a trajectory to do just that.


Under President Xi, the Chinese government has become ideologically rigid and averse to reforms.

As US-China tensions increase, China has adopted a posture similar to that of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Under President Xi, the Chinese government has expanded its control over the economy, ramped up censorship and surveillance, and has gone after protesters, critics and minorities in an increasingly ruthless fashion. Ironically, this show of strength reflects growing weaknesses within the regime. 

Historically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made decisions in a way that demanded broad consensus and, thus, encouraged debate between different factions within the government. Xi’s ideological rigidity and centralization of power makes it increasingly difficult for the CCP to adjust policies to changing circumstances and events, and to implement reforms when needed, however. This does not bode well for the longevity of the current system.

An economic slowdown and rising US pressure on China are bringing out the weaknesses of the Chinese system.

The US policy of economic...

About the Author

Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. 

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