For one of Hong Kong’s leading political commentators, with an insider’s perspective of China’s rich history, it’s not the currency, capital flight or a peasant uprising that’s keeping him awake at night.
The “real Black Swan” that China has to face up to is the enemy within — in the upper echelons of the military and government — as well as its inability to transfer power peacefully and the threat of a long and bitter civil war.
TL Tsim has studied the Chinese political scene since the 1980s, with a background in journalism, including the South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Economic Journal before starting his own consultancy. In an interview with Real Vision TV he said the greatest misconception among its people is that Chinese dynasties are super stable structures that last a long time.
Long civil wars follow Chinese dynasties
That’s not really the case, he argued, because none of them lasted longer than the Habsburgs in Austria, who ruled for over 800 years. The last one in China – the Qing dynasty – lasted 260 years, which is much shorter in comparison. People also underestimate the length of the civil wars between Chinese dynasties, which can last for 150 years, he adds.
“That is something most Chinese people do not understand. And it has a bearing on the way we go forward,” Tsim said. “In spite of all of the intelligence, the learning, and the experience of the Chinese people over 5,000 years, they have not come up with a system of government which can deal with the effective and peaceful transfer of power. In the West, you do it through the ballot box. So Brexit is Brexit. You accept it. But in China, the fight goes on.”
Considering the collapse of the Chinese communist party
The shortest dynasty of any size and power in Chinese history was the Yuan dynasty, which lasted just less than 100 years, Tsim said. “This government, this administration, the Chinese Communist Party, came to power in 1949. And so it’s been around for 67 years.”
“We don’t know when something like the Russian collapse, the implosion of the former Soviet Union might take place. We don’t know whether this is going to be the Yugoslavian model, when the country broke up into six or seven parts. So to speculate on the timing of it is something I do not do.
“But it is not idle to speculate on how this is going to happen. The most likely scenario is a power struggle over-spilling into a coup d’etat and then over-spilling into civil war. That would be the trajectory.”
Internal party conflict sparked Soviet breakup
The real concern for Tsim – and he said for the Chinese leaders as well– is that if you look at the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the problem was internal, arising out of disagreements within the center of the party itself.
“And this is what they need to guard against,” Tsim said. “This is why you’ve seen the arrest of Bo Xilai, the arrest of Zhou Yongkang, who was the former security czar, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Then you have the arrests of the two generals, General Xu and General Guo. Those are the players that could have toppled a government because they are strong. They have the backing of armed forces behind them”
The Chinese model is bitter long standing civil war
What was ultimately a peaceful disintegration of the former USSR, is unlikely to happen in China because there will be a fight, Tsim said. “They would not have sat down and talked about it and then take the decision to simply allow this to happen. This is not the Chinese model.
“And sadly, I think we’re not going to see a Yugoslavian model either, because there they did have a civil war. But the civil war– the war was small, in terms of size and scale, and didn’t last very long. That is not the Chinese model either. The Chinese model is a bitter, long-standing civil war– very destructive, very divisive. This is the real black swan.”
To hear TL Tsim’s views on Hong Kong’s changing relationship with China, the wealth effect and currency outlook, as well as capital flight and the growth outlook, take a free seven day trial of Real Vision TV to see the full interview.