Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

How to get Chinese elites to support democracy

By Yasheng Huang

24 Sep 2023 · 7 min read

informed Summary

  1. The recent downfall of high-ranking Chinese officials, such as former Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defense Minister Li Shangfu, highlights the precarious nature of political life in China, with the potential for sudden purges being a feature of the country's system.

The sudden fall of former Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defense Minister Li Shangfu in recent weeks shows how precarious life can be at the top in China. We do not know much about what happened, but one thing is certain: There will be more purges in the future. This is a feature, not a bug, of the country’s system, and one day, it just might serve as a motivation for political change in Beijing.

Since Beijing showers elites with privilege and power, it may seem unlikely that they will ever reject autocracy and pursue another form of governance. Yet the famous “veil of ignorance” thought experiment proposed by political philosopher John Rawls suggests that there is, in fact, an argument for democracy that might appeal to Chinese elites.

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